PC 201 Facts and Dying

In one of my posts from Estoril in the summer, PC 194 ‘Waiting for ……’, I mentioned the larger-than-life character who owned one of the apartments where my brother-in-law lives in Portugal. Early sixties-something Glenda told us last year that she had been diagnosed with cancer. With typical joie de vie she laughed and said how she was going to try everything but Chemo to beat it. When we saw her at the end of July this year you would not have known she was losing the battle, but by the time we left on 9th September it was quite clear her time left was measured in weeks rather than months. She had laughed and said that when it becomes unbearable, she’ll check out; she did so on the 15th of October. As someone recently said about a chum: “She loved this earth but could not stay.”

How often have looked up into the sky at the end of a holiday, after a get-together with friends off the beaten track or on Sunday afternoon when thoughts inevitably turn to the working week ……. ‘but can’t we stay’?

Someone suggested that we are the architects of our own demise and I agree. Most of us know that drinking alcohol to excess damages our livers, most of us know that smoking can cause lung cancer, most of us acknowledge that eating too much makes us fat, and we read that exercising is good for us. Only this week I read that swimming in cold water reduces the onset of dementia. We ignore the data if it suits us; a look on the bathroom scales can be fact, but we mitigate the unwelcome rise with some excuse. Those of us who smoked pointed to the 90 year old smoking 30 a day or thought that one might get hit by a bus crossing the road, so why not! We make our own luck but sometimes, inevitably one can be in the wrong place at the wrong time! Some people subscribe to the fatalist view, that no matter what they do, the outcome will be the same …… as it’s predetermined.

I never used to read obituaries published in the quality press, but do so regularly now because it’s more likely I might know someone whose life was noteworthy enough! It’s not only the rich and famous or the well-connected who feature. Often an ‘ordinary’ person whose life was fascinating appears and the compilers of the pieces clearly research their subjects with relish. I used to wonder why the accompanying photograph was of the person at 53 or 64 but never 86! We all can see that the ageing process is not flattering. Here’s an example of the little stories that often colour the summary of a life. Philip Ayrton-Grime was an established vet in Windsor and was entrusted with the health and well-being of the royal Corgis. Sharing a glass of Sherry with The Queen after one of his last visits in post, the elderly Philip was asked whether he was forgetting names and faces. As he nodded in agreement, the Queen sighed: “Fortunately everyone seems to know me!”

For the last few years I have got used to watching what is known on the BBC channel as the ‘Early Evening News’, broadcast at 1800. Since the start of the pandemic and repeated every evening since, the newsreader has solemnly read out the number of Covid deaths for the day and the cumulative total ie people who have died having a positive test. Initially it was sort of shocking, as if these deaths could have been prevented. Then it became apparent that the majority of the deceased had had ‘underlying health issue’ – suggesting that the virus had simply hastened their demise. A few months ago the public body for reporting the deaths, Public Health England, admitted that they used a different measure to that used by the other nations of the United Kingdom. Reworking the figures took over 5000 deaths off the total and introduced a measure of scepticism with the published data. So now I often scream at the television when they give the total as gospel! Now it’s just morbid mumbo jumbo. Next they will be announcing how many people have died as a result of a car accident. (Fact (check it?): In July 2020 the UK had 38,179 deaths. A daily average of 450 from cancer, 180 from heart problems …. and 17 from Covid 19)  

A headline in the newspaper concerned Russia and fake news.

You and I might think this is absurdly childish and pathetic, but if it is absorbed as the truth by those unable to make more informed judgments, it becomes a real concern, as such people are easily swayed.

Writing in The Times this week, Hugo Rifkind says: “Ideas that thrive are not necessarily the best or wisest ones. Witness a tweet saying a recent study had shown half of all positive Covid tests were false. It hadn’t at all, but that tweet was re-tweeted thousands of times. Various scientific brains tried to set the record straight, but the reality was boring and complicated and nobody wanted to hear it. What do we do with these people? Ignore them? Argue with them? Shut them up?

Recently I watched the Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ about how people use the interconnected world to spread all sorts of news. Watch it and I imagine you like me will think it’s kinda scary? Sometimes the headlines are skewed by those with a particular bias. My dear friend Jonathan, who had fought in the Falklands War of 1982, drew my attention to a claim that veterans of that conflict were committing suicide at a higher rate than the average for their age profile. He investigated; of the 21,432 service personnel who had fought in the war, by December 2012, 1335 had died (compared with 2079 civilians for that age group). Seven per cent of the veteran deaths were due to intentional self-harm, making them 35% less likely to kill themselves than their civilian peer group. So what point was the claimant trying to make? I leave that to you to figure out. Of course I accept that the figures Jonathan quoted are accurate!

Funny world, inn’t?

Richard 23rd October 2020

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