Friday 17 November 2017

A pill for all men

There's more chance of men meeting one of the many Jervis St ghosts, says Maurice Gueret, than sharing the chore of birth control

The Jervis Street Shopping Centre
The Jervis Street Shopping Centre
Dr Maurice Gueret

Maurice Gueret

Way back in the last millennium, when my career in medicine began, we were confidently assured by our seniors that a male contraceptive pill was on the way. Not possessing the scientific wherewithal to argue the point, we kept our doubts to ourselves. But my guess is that most of the males among us never bought into the hype about sharing responsibility for birth control. It always seemed a better bet to block one lumbering egg on a monthly marathon than chase 100 million highly competitive swimmers, all fired by testosterone in their tails.

The most efficient methods of male contraception have always been barrier ones - a firm no, a locked door, or consenting French letters. Well, they have developed an injection now, two jabs to be precise. Twin hormones are given: progestogen, to switch off production of new swimmers, and extra testosterone, to counteract the drop in testosterone caused by progestogen.

About 300 men in long-term relationships were recruited for a recent study, and took the jabs every two months. There were just four pregnancies, a result which was judged to be quite a success. Less popular were some side effects of mood disorders, muscle pains, increased libido and acne, which caused a fair number of the men to drop out of the study. I think men will be abdicating from full responsibility for some decades yet.

I was writing about ghostly tales from Irish hospitals over Halloween, and was contacted by a lady called Ann, who had a strange experience 20 years ago in the top floor of the Jervis Shopping Centre. British Home Stores had a premises there at the time, and, early one morning, Ann was trying a dress on. The changing rooms area was empty when she went in, but she heard a very heavy sigh coming from one of the cubicles. Thinking someone was having trouble trying on clothing, she ignored it, but then came another louder distressed sigh, and she decided to investigate to see if she could help.

Ann went outside to see which cubicle was engaged, only to find she was the only one in the changing rooms and that all the other changing cubicles had their doors open and empty! She asked the sales assistant if anyone had gone out, and she said no, that Ann was the only customer in there. It definitely spooked her. Afterwards, as she was telling of the experience, a friend reminded her that it was the site of the old Jervis St Hospital, and that her father has passed away there.

There have been similar stories from the Jervis St centre. Sightings of a nurse in a very old-fashioned veiled uniform. Children crying in the dark. Voices crying 'leave' in the elevators to upper car parks. There have even been stories of a poltergeist with a fondness for fruit. The strange thing is that there were no tales, that I am aware, of hauntings while Jervis Street was open as a hospital.

The 'Jerv' began life in 1718, on Cork Street, on the southside of Dublin city. It was the oldest public voluntary hospital in Ireland and received the charitable proceeds from the famous performance of Handel's Messiah on Fishamble Street. It moved to the quays, and then on to 14 Jervis Street towards the end of the 18th Century.

It trained medical students from the off, and had a good library and a separate corpse dissection room in a little laneway right behind the hospital. The Victorian facade that was retained when the shopping centre was built dates from 1886, when a new hospital was completed on the site. Until its demise 100 years later, Jervis Street had the busiest casualty in Dublin city. It treated victims of the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Dublin bombings of 1972.

People don't bat an eyelid when insurance companies spy on social media to get fraudulent or exaggerated injury claims thrown out of court. But you mightn't be so enamoured with the idea of your daily Facebook postings and Twitter rants being used to determine your car insurance premium or the cost of your health cover.

One of the major UK insurers is set to profile new customers based on the online data that they post. They will check what you say, what you like, and how organised you are. Then a boffin-generated computer algorithm will be used to determine what sort of claims risk you might be.

Snooping health insurers may not be far behind. Apparently they may want to look at the fitness trackers and smartwatches of their potential customers. Forget about Big Brother, and worry about Big Nurse.

Dr Maurice Gueret is editor of the 'Irish Medical Directory'

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