Rude health: Bowel obsession of Damon Hill's gran
Damon Hill's career in motor racing took him to number one, says Maurice Gueret, but his granny wanted number two
Former world champion racing driver Damon Hill has a book out for Christmas. And when you publish a new book these days, it's not enough just to write it. You have to 'do publicity' and let the world and its grandmother sift through things like the skeletons in your family's medicine cupboard.
Damon has been letting out grandma's secrets. A strong woman by all accounts - small and round, she was surrounded by similar-looking sisters who he says resembled something from an episode of Miss Marple. According to Damon, his grandma's obsession in life was bowel movements. Everything was to do with whether or not you'd done a number two. This is by no means an unusual preoccupation. Irish doctors were trained to believe that it was a peculiarly English phenomenon. Americans believed it to be a disease in itself and coined the acronym BOS on medical notes, which stands for 'bowel obsession syndrome'.
* Doctors take some of the blame for having patients so concerned about the regularity of their bowels. Following major surgery, one of the first questions that a surgeon wants answered is whether the patient's bowels have opened. They are on the lookout for an adynamic or paralytic ileus, which means that the normal wriggling motion and gravitational push of the bowels has not resumed. Alarm bells ring after three days. Doctors also like their patients to inform them of a change in bowel habit. This doesn't mean that your bowels need to open with all the predictability of an Angelus bell. But when a long-established pattern of regularity becomes something else entirely, it may be time to plug the long cameras in.
* The elevation of Bob Dylan to status of Nobel laureate in literature has been interesting. One of these cold nights, I am going to settle down by the fire with a nice glass of fortified wine and read Blowin' in the Wind from cover to cover. It's nice to see juries do the unexpected sometimes. If only for the predictable reactions that are provoked. Irvine Welsh, a real writer and playwright from Scotland, said that Dylan's win was "an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies". Now that's as good an anatomical description of a peculiarly troublesome male gland as I have heard in years. Let's hope Irvine wins next year's Nobel prize for medicine.
* A new cancer institute is going to be built at St James's in Dublin. It's a joint venture between the hospital and Trinity College, and follows a trend in Europe to create these kinds of excellence centres where cancer doctors, patients and researchers can all work together. One of its focuses will be on the genetics of cancer, which will be a very good thing. Far too much of today's health promotion on cancer seeks to blame lifestyle for contracting it. Cancer is not the simple equation that moralising pontificators would have us believe. One of the terms used to promote the new Institute is 'survivorship'. I don't care for it that much. Once you are diagnosed with cancer, survivorship will be the new label that attaches to you until the end of your life. Your family members, friends and caregivers will be considered part of your survivorship experience. It encompasses how you do physically, emotionally, financially, and all sorts of other things. The concept is interesting, but the term puts me in mind of clinging on to the Titanic. Let's hope lucky survivors are given a option of opting out of the experience. Some patients will choose to put their treatment behind them and might prefer not to be tagged, defined or studied until the end of their days.
* It's a year-and-a-half now since we heard that rules banning people who lived in Northern Ireland or Britain from donating blood in the Republic were going to be reviewed. Many thousands of potential donors who might have stayed in the UK during the BSE years of 1980 to 1996, are routinely being refused by blood transfusion clinics here. Many Irish doctors would have worked across the Border, or in hospitals across the Irish Sea, and would be more than happy to donate if the rule was scrapped. With our national blood supply in a critical state in recent weeks, somebody needs to bring these rules up to date.
* Recently, I told you about a Munster reader who was concerned about the number of ordinary domestic vacuum cleaners he sees being used to blow dust and bugs around our hospital wards. Well, another reader once worked as an environmental manager in Australian hospitals. He writes to tell me that such machines were all banned from wards, corridors, theatres and special care units by the Federal Health Department in Oz many years ago. There was a concerted move to use only special double-Hepa-filter units in all public areas. Patient areas had to use electrostatically charged mops that attracted dirt as they glided dust, plume free, along the floor. During his time in Oz, he championed contemporary state-of-the-art cleaning systems all the time. When he once tried to dispense with mops and buckets for mobile steam-cleaning systems with built-in vacuums, the measures were vociferously challenged and blocked by the hospital-cleaners' union. In his time back in Ireland he has watched with horror what he terms so-called cleaning systems utilised in hospitals and nursing homes. I think the minister for health should invite this learned gentleman of experience to peer into some very dark corners.
Dr Maurice Gueret is editor of the 'Irish Medical Directory'