Thursday 26 April 2018

Helicopter parents - have fund and go see da Vinci exhibition

Want to do fun and creative stuff with your kids? Ditch the helicopter, writes Maurice Gueret, and go to see Leonardo

Drones and helicopers are now being used for tooth extraction.
Drones and helicopers are now being used for tooth extraction.
An undated self portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci (AP)
Dr Maurice Gueret.

Maurice Gueret

If a child has a loose tooth and dad has a helicopter licence, it doesn't take too much imagination to decide on the appropriate course of clinical action. Not in the weird and wonderful United States of America, anyhow.

Drones and remote-control aircraft have been used to remove wobbly pieces of dentition in the past, but pilot Rick Rahim had bigger ideas this summer when his seven-year-old son Carson reported a loose tooth on the lower rung. Rick anchored one end of a very long string to his son's gums and the other to a full-sized commercial helicopter, before taking off in reverse.

You can watch the whole painless procedure on YouTube. Mr Rahim advises parents to "do fun, creative stuff with their kids". Other options that he may have overlooked include postponing the tooth fairy by waiting for nature to take its course, or doing homework to compare dental extraction prices (currently anything between €60 and €450) with the cost of helicopter hire. There are small, but subtle differences.

People complain in Ireland about the age of some of our hospitals. But in Italy, the age of a healing institution can be a source of great pride and renown. The oldest one to still be active in Florence is the 728-year-old Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, which has long encouraged artists to intern there and decorate its wards and outpatients area. Five centuries ago, a patient passed away on the men's ward at the grand old age of 100. Leonardo da Vinci took a shine to the corpse and decided to do a dissection so that he could sketch the innards for a textbook of anatomy and explore the cause of "so sweet a death" as he put it. The result of his labours can be viewed in Dublin's National Gallery this summer in an extraordinary travelling exhibition of da Vinci's research work. But you will need to be quick.

Timed tickets are plentiful and free at the gallery website, but the exhibition of drawings ends next Sunday, July 17. It's not all sketches of gore, blood vessels and guts. There is a fine male nude, some furious horses, playful cats, a dragon and a masterclass on drawing the chubby legs of infants. Doctor Leonardo doesn't visit Dublin that often. So get along.

For generations of politicians, floaters are those all-important discerning voters who vote with their brains rather than their genes. Doctors have a different understanding of floaters. A reader has asked me to write a bit about them. Floaters are a well-recognised phenomenon arising in the eyes; they are mysterious dark specks or worm-like threads that drift around in your field of vision. They can appear to move away when you try and look directly at them.

It's not uncommon for perfectly healthy people to see floaters on a blue-sky day, or when looking at a brilliant-white object. The only time I see them is on Spanish holidays. In France they are known as mouches volantes or flying flies. A young person's eye is mostly made up of a clear vitreous or glass-like jelly. As you age, the jelly shrinks and acquires imperfections like an old window. Small shadows of these form on the retina, and we call them floaters.

The floaters to worry about are ones that are accompanied by flashes of light or a sudden loss of side vision. These ones may be caused by a tear of the eye's light-sensitive area known as the retina, and need urgent assessment to prevent permanent impairment of vision.

I have had some wonderful correspondence in recent weeks from readers whose families have living memories of the Spanish flu epidemic that began in 1918. Kay in Waterford told me of her mother, who was nine at the time, and her mother's friend Mary, who got suddenly sick one night. Mary was taken to the infirmary near her house and admitted with a diagnosis of Spanish flu.

Later, Mary's mother was told to take her to the much poorer Union fever hospital. She hired a horse-drawn jarvey car to bring them. But at the gate lodge, the official refused entry as they had no ticket for admission. Mary's mother could not afford a second taxi fare back to the city centre, so she had to walk to the doctor's dispensary to get the required ticket. By the time she returned to the gate of the Union, her daughter Mary was dead.

A bureaucratic health service is nothing new, it appears, and Kay tells me that Mary's family never got over the shock. Her own mother, Mary's friend, lived to be nearly 100 and rode a bicycle until she was 86.

Another story I received from Waterford was from Michael, whose grandfather Maurice was a real hero of the Spanish flu. Maurice lived in the countryside a few miles north of Dungarvan. His neighbours had three sons, who emigrated to Australia at the outbreak of World War I and joined the Australian Armed Forces. They returned to Waterford soon after the war, but all were unwell. Nobody knew quite what disease they had, and no one was keen on visiting the house of their parents to find out for fear of "catching something" from them. Well, the three brothers died in close succession, obviously of Spanish flu.

Maurice fetched his pony and cart to remove the three bodies to the burial ground. Neighbours tried to stop him by saying things such as "don't go near them, Maurice - you will catch something off them", but his simple reply was, "they are neighbours". He dug the graves, collected the bodies and buried them on his own. Michael tells me he has always admired his late grandfather for this unselfish and courageous act. And rightly so.

Dr Maurice Gueret is editor of the Irish Medical Directory

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