Nuclear Meltdown, Yoga, and a Marriage on the Rocks

Tuesday, this week, was one of those days.

I, like the rest of the world, woke up to the worrying news that another reactor had blown up in Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.  Then I got on my bicycle and cycled to yoga.

During the lesson I upended myself into a shoulder lift, and wondered how many Japanese were doing yoga or something similar when the earthquake struck.  I got myself down and heard a commotion in the corner.  A fellow student was lying prone, her friend holding her arm, clearly greatly concerned. Swift action was taken. An ambulance worker arrived, and the rest of us were sent to wait in the changing room. A few minutes later our teacher came to tell us the student had had a stroke, and was in the process of being taken to hospital.

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Japanese Shinto versus man-made nuclear horror

I was hanging up the washing, when I imagined a Japanese woman of similar postmenopausal age living in Sendai,  doing exactly the same task last Friday, just before the earth heaved and the tsunami came crashing in.

Then I thought, there must have been tens of thousands of people drinking tea together, or shopping, or sending an email, or making love, or quarrelling, or tending to their child, or perhaps taking a moment to daydream. Normal everyday activities that people from the world’s third largest economy take for granted.

All wiped out.

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Japan’s tsunami and giant jellyfish

This might sound a bit callous, but I don’t know what has been more shocking for me today: watching footage of the devastating and of course tragic tsunami that has struck northern Japan, or seeing a disturbing photograph of a gigantic half-tonne jellyfish, one of millions that have apparently gathered off  Japan’s western coast.

I don’t think anyone can remain untouched by the live television footage of the tsunami sweeping away entire villages and towns as it pushed inshore. Just watching it online, I felt completely helpless. However for me, the gathering of those jellyfish tells us something even more important.

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Cause of Death: reaching the end of life

I have now had a chance to reflect on my concern over Liz Kershaw’s Sunday Times article (20th Feb), Cause of Death: the NHS (only accessible to those who to subscribe to the Times On-line).

It is about her experience of how NHS medical staff treated her 87-year-old dying grandfather.

She starts the piece by saying, ‘Tell you what: why don’t we just put a pillow over his face and finish him off?  Day after day’, Liz continues, ‘I witnessed the deliberate withholding of nutrition that resulted in his ‘accelerated, yet agonising and undignified death.’

I too, have witnessed the death of an elderly person in an NHS hospital.  He was my 87-year-old bull of a father who was struck down just over two years ago by a massive stroke.  But, I had a completely different experience from Liz Kershaw, as I have also discussed in my book, The D-Word: Talking about Dying.

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Pace-maker fitted for 97 year-old woman. Has the world gone completely mad?

I appreciate that care for the elderly by the NHS has become a contentious issue, but has the world gone completely mad?

My friend Diana popped in for a cuppa, and proceeded to tell me how her 97-year-old godmother has just had a pacemaker fitted. Since her godmother had expressly told her that she’d had enough of life, and wanted to die, Diana was understandably horrified.

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Does belief in life after death really matter?

I received a message on the answer phone last Thursday from BBC1’s Sunday morning programme, The Big Questions. Would I be interested in taking part in a live debate about life after death?  I immediately called back, and spoke to a breathy young researcher.

‘I’ve got your name because of the research you’ve done with Dr Peter Fenwick on death and dying,’ she told me. ‘Do you believed in an afterlife?’

‘I’m not sure,’ I replied. ‘But I don’t think it really matters. I believe the way we die is far more important.’

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Mandela not in danger! Of what? Dying in his nineties?

After announcing this morning that Nelson Mandela has been admitted into hospital for tests, BBC Radio 4 News continued by saying he was ‘not in danger.’  Much loved though he is, Nelson Mandela is 92, and as far I am aware, not immortal.  Clearly his body is beginning to pack up, and he is getting ready to die.  That’s what happens to people who reach this grand age.  Attributing the concept of danger to this is, for me, ridiculous.

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A lesson well learnt about the importance of living wills

Living in the same location as two octogenarian couples is a salutary experience.  One couple, Brian and Enid, are fully engaged with the reality that time is running out.  The other couple, not.

Let’s start with Brian and Enid (all names have been changed).

Knowing that I had written a book on the dying experience, hand-in-hand Brian and Enid tapped on the door the other night and asked to talk to me about their decision to make a living will.

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