Friday, March 30, 2012

Respect for George Galloway and Bradford voters

As a Yorkshireman, and a former staunch Labour voter, I am proud Labour did not win. Well done Bradford West for seeing through the neocon-zionist manipulation of major parties for perpetual war. Well done George Galloway. Well done Respect. Well done for winning on an anti-war platform. Now get rid of Menwith Hill. We have become a compliant state in the US war machine. An Englishman, Christopher Tappin, has been extradited and is in US solitary confinement on charges for which the UK government has seen no prima facie evidence.

This just shows how compliant the UK has become to US demands. The time is now to tell our transatlantic cousins where to get off.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Engendering sympathy for bankers

In the last 24 hours it has emerged that a Russian banker, German Gorbuntsov, was shot at Canary Wharf four days ago, is in a coma and under armed guard. Four days is a long time for such news to emerge but that is not really what concerns me. My concern is my own lack of sympathy.

Although nobody wants to hear about shootings it is hard to arouse quite the same amount of sympathy for a banker as it is for an ordinary person, since the banker has spent a lifetime making money his or her God, or ripping-off the general hard-working populace. Bankers have a reputation for uncontrolled theft, legalised extortion and facelessness. In fact a banker ranks alongside the fictionalised portrayal of a lawyer of whom Mario Puzo in The Godfather wrote ‘with his briefcase can rob more than a hundred men with guns’. Not only does this faceless monster award himself, or herself, an outrageous annual bonus but knows that if anything goes wrong, as it did with Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland, that you and I will bail them out at no perceivable benefit to ourselves – in fact to our detriment.

Bankers are very often the personification of evil. Ahmed Chalabi, robbed the poor people of Jordan via his Petra Bank, fled with the money, was given sanctuary in the UK and US, and used his knowledge as an Iraqi to ‘manufacture’ non-existent evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, misinformation which enabled the US and UK to go to war with Iraq. This evil being is feted by all and sundry, the good and the great, while all the perfumes of Arabia would not be able to obscure the smell of blood on his hands. Back in 2003, naively trying to avert an unjust war, I wrote a piece about this ogre in my weekly Chimps.

Likewise the UK gives sanctuary to Jewish oligarchs like Boris Berezovsky about whom Paul Klebnikov wrote a scathing book Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia. The connection is tentative but Klebnikov would soon end up dead. Four years later and although an American citizen, Klebnikov was murdered in Moscow in July 2004 and his killers never found. That is not to say Berezovsky had any connection with Klebnikov's murder but he has connections with Russia at the very highest level, and has left behind there many thousands of small investors, who have not been offered sanctuary in the UK, and who have seen their personal wealth deteriorate drastically while the wealth of Berezovsky, in whose companies they invested, has increased exponentially. Call it what you want. I call it theft.

It is hard to engender sympathy for bankers and oligarchs, who rob small investors and use their personal wealth to destabilise economies. Pray for German Gorbuntsov's recovery.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Out of the Cabbage Patch (2)

The shortest waiting list for a Coronary Artery Bypass Graft, known colloquially as a ‘cabbage’, was at Coventry Walsgrave Hospital. As others have pointed out a hospital, the name of which ends in ‘grave’, hardly inspires confidence, and the name is becoming phased out under the University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire umbrella. Despite the graveness of my situation I was rather pleased with this progressive name change, and I was further comforted by an old friend who had the same operation at the same hospital way back in 1998. Malcolm explained to me some of the statistics as they had been explained to him by the professionals of the day. They reassured him that those who died were usually the older patients. As Malcolm is younger than I am, and his operation was 14 years ago, when I had time to reflect it dawned on me that I was possibly one of the older patients, though there were others much older than me.

All my pub team, Quids In, and other friends came to visit, Sarah bringing along a first novel written by somebody she knows which has the added bonus of already having received two major book awards. I read Before I go to sleep by S J Watson cover to cover without pausing for breath. It was one of the most talented literary first efforts I can ever remember reading. All homage to the author of this tantalising crime novel about a woman who wakes up every day without any previous knowledge of her life, not even the day before. Every day she has to rely on others for links into her past. On plot it cannot be faulted. I would need more medical knowledge on the subject matter to know whether any suspension of belief was necessary but I found it very easy to dispel any misgivings that initially raised their profiles. Among the numerous testimonials dedicated to this novel was one from Lionel Shriver whose We need to talk about Kevin I read last year. That was a good read; but Watson’s book was in a league of its own.

I had been in hospital a few days when I developed an abscess under one of my top teeth, one which had been filled and re-filled by a long list of dental practitioners. This would potentially delay matters, though there was already waiting period of about a month before transfer from Solihull to Coventry. First I had to take a course of antibiotics plus codeine to deal with the pain. With heart surgery any infection in the bloodstream is potentially fatal. The codeine ought to carry a constipation warning with a skull and crossbones on the tablet. It is piracy of a normal bodily function, the details of which will be temporarily spared, of the worst kind.

There were political intrigues involved in getting me to a dentist, due to hospital procedures, but eventually, with the accompaniment of a nurse, and an ambulance, I was taken the few-hundred yards to the dental practice. Three, rather than the two teeth on my target list, were extracted and after a four hour wait for an ambulance and two stitches to help stem the bleeding, I was returned to my ward. This, and the long wait for a bed at Walsgrave, were the only two criticisms I am prepared to make of an otherwise outstanding service. Eventually my time came and the 40 minute ambulance transit turned into more than an hour due to the rush-hour traffic. There were few changes at Walsgrave from Solihull – some procedures were slightly different.

The evening before my operation I was somewhat apprehensive pondering big issues like life and death, good and evil, and took up one of the Gideon Society New Testaments on the ward seeking some kind of consolation. Flicking through I settled on Romans 5 verses 6-9 and suddenly felt that I was no longer alone in the forthcoming battle. I slept remarkably well. About 6 a.m I received my pre-med and very soon found myself being fearlessly wheeled away to the operating theatre, where in a few moments a vein was found in my hand and a drip inserted into my neck and after that I was aware of nothing.

I woke up with a big man shaking me and urging me to cough. “Cough! Cough!” I coughed and coughed and coughed up a big white tube. I was alive and breathing on my own. Very soon, almost drunk from anaesthetic I was conversing with my wife, and a friend, Garry. Through the night I got the closest attention from a nurse called Rebecca and in the morning Adrian took over. He removed three tubes about half inch in diameter which had been draining my chest . Then he tied up the loose ends. This procedure can only be described as a lively experience. The day that followed was my worst. I had to have stronger painkillers than paracetamol , which in their turn had stronger side effects, including nausea. Some time after midnight I got to sleep. All through this process I tried to eat, as advised, but it would be another 24 hours before I was eating properly and no longer feeling sick. Since then I have been on nothing but paracetamol for the pain. Other loose ends, like the jump-start wires into my heart, the catheter – something as a catheter virgin I need not have feared as much as I did – and the drip into my neck made me a free man. I had had my cabbage.

Several tasks had to be completed before I could return home, tasks like showering myself, climbing a flight of stairs and performing a bowel function. Despite regularly taking laxatives the last of these proved the most difficult task to achieve. On the morning of my release, Saturday, a team of doctors gathered round the bed to ask my progress. When it got to the inevitable bowel-function question I had to confess to some amusement: “I can produce enough wind to sail a pirate-ship, but no cannon balls to sink one.” Later that morning I succeeded in the most demanding of tasks. And two days after that the laxatives came back with a vengeance.

The whole experience in hospital taught me just how proud we should all be of the NHS, and how worried we should be about it being dismantled It was fitting that today I got an email petition from 38 Degrees which I share with you. Please sign it if you do not want a system where poor people are dying in the streets. There were poor people in my ward. I am so glad they were there.

Out of the Cabbage Patch (1)

After more than a month in hospital I came out on 10 March with some new experiences and an increased knowledge of one of our great institutions, the National Health Service. It gave me a better understanding and appreciation of just how great a service it is. Overhearing a nurse tell another that someone was waiting for a ‘cabbage’ aroused my curiosity. I had not heard of any such description before. When I was enlightened it turned out that I was waiting for a one too. ‘Cabbage’ is health-industry jargon for coronary artery bypass graft (CABG−the acronym lending itself to the colloquialism). It amused me to learn that a junior nurse had once actually written CABBAGE on a hospital form.

I have long suffered from high blood-pressure (some of it presumably the result of white coat hypertension) and had from time to time been getting pains in my chest since as long ago as 2003, especially when cycling up a steep hill, especially after an evening of higher-than-usual alcohol consumption. This led me to believe that my stomach was the culprit, further corroborated by the fact that burping alleviated the pain. A practice doctor arranged for me to have an ECG trace and a treadmill test. I could do these at either Solihull or Queen Elizabeth hospitals which are almost equidistant from where I live and I opted for Solihull. The ECG trace was fine and the doctor who oversaw it was of the same opinion as me − that it was some kind of acid reflux. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, a treadmill test was arranged for just over a week later, on 6 February.

The day of the treadmill test was very cold and, as is in my nature, I was in a hurry to make the appointment on time − 10 a.m. Knowing that hospital car-parks are generally privately-owned with difficulty in finding a space determined me to find alternative-parking and I remembered a spot some ten minutes from the hospital, near a friend’s house. Parking was free for two hours which I thought would have been more than sufficient for this test. I had walked my dogs, both up and down hill, for half an hour without problem earlier in the morning but I had to cross by some dual-carriageway traffic lights on Lode Lane. Just as I started to cross they changed from green to red. My mistake was to run suddenly which gave me a localised pain down the sternum and this was still there when I got to the cardio-vascular department just in time for the test. After being wired up there was dissatisfaction with the trace and I was not allowed to go on the treadmill for a while. When permission was granted the walk only lasted two minutes before the team were dissatisfied again. A consultant, Mr Sadiki, was called. He informed me he had a bed for me there and then and his advice was for me to stay. Although I promised to return there was no way I could take up his kind offer. If I did the car was going to incur some enormous penalty and it was due at the service department of the dealer’s in the afternoon. More importantly, my wife was at work and the dogs had been left on their own. Against advice I left the hospital, had a cup of tea with my friend to calm myself, and drove home. Later that afternoon my wife drove me back to the hospital. I had to rejoin a queue and it would be midnight before a bed was eventually available. Mr Sadiki was still there at 10.00 p.m. and quite encouraged with my return, which he may have doubted. I now think his decision to commit me was life-saving.

The next day I had an angiogram, where a die is injected into the artery, in this case the femoral artery. I was shown a screen of just how narrow my arteries had become. An angiogram from 2003 had not even demonstrated any need for a stent but now three arteries were found to be extremely narrow, bottlenecking into the heart. During the angiogram I talked about all my physical activities and it turned out I was in conversation with a young competitive middle-distance runner, who told me she could no longer compete because her work interfered with her training-schedule. Something did not make sense. I asked her how it could be that someone like me, who had kept so fit, was a heart disease candidate – in the year 2000 I had cycled the North and South Islands of New Zealand and from Birmingham to the Azerbaijan border carrying a tent and computer, and in 2001 from Birmingham to Bucharest through England, Belgium, Holland, West Germany, East Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania with just a tent. She suggested that because my heart was strong it had compensated for the narrowing of the arteries. The two options available to me, as I understood them, were to have stents inserted, little balloon like tubes which spring open when in place and widen the narrowed parts of the artery, or a coronary bypass graft. She advised the latter for the best long-term solution as did Mr Sadiki. Neither of these operations were performed at Solihull.