Life: An Awfully Big Adventure

This month Graham Young ruminates on the virtues of smoking too much, drinking too much and generally enjoying life too much - because, healthy living or not - life'll kill you in the end!

My doctor rang me the other for a drug review. I am glad to say that I am on very few – a statin because I don’t have enough blood in my fatstream and a PPI for a hiatus hernia. Then she started on my personal recreational drugs. Did I smoke? Yes, thank you. The odd cigar every day. Did I drink? Well, of course I do, who doesn’t?!

Did I want to come in for a smoking cessation counselling session? No, because I don’t want to stop and because you don’t need the extra money you will get from the local authority for running the thing. Buzz off and life coach someone else! Anyway, I doubt severely that, after spending the day ministering to the needs of the poor and sick, she returns to her carrel for contemplation of the scriptures denying herself all earthly pleasure.

And the point of all this? To stop needless death.

Now let’s take a step back from that objective and have a long hard think about it. Everything in health care is geared toward reducing death rates because it is a political golden fleece. “We reduced the numbers of people dying from cancer / heart attacks / ingrowing toenail (delete as appropriate) by 2.4% last year. Aren’t we clever!”

Yes, but you didn’t stop people actually dying, did you? At the bottom of it all is the fact that – and I’m sorry to break this to you gentle reader – life is a fatal sexually transmitted disease. There is no cure. You are not going to not die.

So why aren’t we allowed to have a little fun while we traverse this vale of tears? Because your misery and the denial of its relief are moneymakers for our pious medical brethren. Worse still, the politicos will happily distort any figure to suit their aims.

In the UK, the health technology wonks at NICE have decreed that smoking costs the NHS £2.7 billion a year and society as a whole £13.7 billion. This is so at odds with the £150 million figure it costs the UK health service (especially since smoking related products nets the Treasury over £1.4 billion a year) that I read only a month before that I cannot believe it at all. And as for the cobblers about the cost to society...

...all that is happening is that people are starting to die from things that they never used to die from because they had usually died from something else beforehand.

Smoking will take 10 years off your life - that’s a fact – and, yes, it’s Not Good For You. Your chances of dying from lung cancer are 15%, about 15 times higher than if you didn’t smoke 40 a day and your chances of dying from a heart-related condition are about double. But your cost to society? As a smoker, you’re benefitting society.

By shuffling off this mortal coil 10 years early you are not clogging up the elderly care homes, requiring more and more medical care and supervision, contracting other conditions which might be more costly to treat. You are not placing an ever-increasing drain on the health services or the pension providers. You are not ranging around the roads knocking into things or people because you couldn’t see or couldn’t react in time.

By enjoying a little puff of nicotine every so often one can spend time with oneself allowing one’s brain room to work out all those little problems that it couldn’t solve when poised over a laptop. And, most delicious of all, thanks to the pariah that smoking has become, one can enjoy 5 minutes of blissful peace uninterrupted by annoying humanity. That saves the health system even more by not having to call on a primary care physician’s time to ask for a scrip for an SSRI. So, you are more relaxed, more productive and less costly.

And how many perfectly healthy people die anyway?

By attempting to eradicate disease – as many health services will state as a goal – all that is happening is that people are starting to die from things that they never used to die from because they had usually died from something else beforehand (I hope you got that…). Oesophageal cancer is on the rise. Quick everybody; panic!

If you live past 85, your chances of getting oesophageal cancer rise; not because you need to be a craven alcoholic to survive to that age, but because you are getting old. It is one of God’s supreme ironies that the oxygen we need to live is the thing that ultimately kills us. We rust!

So once you’ve dodged the tuberculosis, the cholera, the typhoid, the coronary disease, the lung cancer, breast cancer, Alzheimer’s and the other things that medical science allied to the Pharmaceutical Industry have managed to either eradicate or control, then the other things will come to the surface like methane in a tar pit.

We’re doomed!

So, now what? Well, we could follow the example of my beatific doctor and devote our lives to Jesus or the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Or we could have some fun.

And this is where I get to my message for the New Year, all you folks out there in Merry Cyberland.

Get drunk. Smoke too much. If you’re single, try sleeping around a little. Or even a lot (if the latest figures are true, women have on average 8 sexual partners – be one of them!). Take up dangerous sports; break some of your bones. Try driving above the speed limit or, better still, take your car to Germany and thrash it up and down the autobahn or round the Nurburgring till your clutch smells and your brakes glow red.

Above all, don’t listen to your doctor. He / she can’t cure you of your core problem; it will finish you off one way or another. The issue is not how good a patient you were but to what extent you let your disease - Life - rule your life. 

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