Saturday, 12 December 2015

First-world problems and free hugs

[I recently looked back through some old unpublished posts. There's better stuff there than some of the dross I've recently seen fit to publish , so I thought I'd apply some finishing touches and say to hell with it...]

I like the term "first-world problems". You hear it too often [or you did at the time this post was written], but it's a pithy reminder that if you live in the developed world, chances are you don't have that much to complain about. On a recent stag weekend in eastern Europe, a friend complained of having too much foreign currency to fit in his card holder. First-world problems.

It is easy to forget how good you have it, relatively speaking. I've just arrived home from a conference in Prague on palliative care - care for those with a life-threatening or terminal condition and their loved ones. One particularly powerful talk was about the "total pain" of people with HIV/AIDS in Africa [I think it might have been Lucy Selman from KCL talking about people in Kenya and Uganda]. Total pain is all the problems a person faces, physical, psychological, etc. For the speaker's sample this included not just agonising physical pain that had to be borne without analgesia, but also having no family support, inadequate shelter and no food.

The speaker pointed out that this was somewhat worse than it having been raining in Prague for the past 4 days, which was probably the most pressing problem in the lives of many of the people in the audience at that time. First-world problems.

[Although, to be fair, the Czech Republic did declare a state of emergency shortly after the conference ended, it rained that damn much.]

But that doesn't mean we in the first world don't have our own issues to deal with. Sitting in another talk, at the end of a very long day and probably no longer entirely with it, mentally speaking, I found myself dazedly contemplating how odd it is that we - society/the state - only really start to care about people's wellbeing and quality of life once we know they're dying or frail.

Generalists and non-palliative care specialists only treat whatever condition someone presents with, and society doesn't care how you feel unless there's something seriously wrong with you. These are resource issues: health care systems have only so much money, and there's only so much sympathy to go round.

Maybe we need something like palliative care for the general population. Nothing so specialised as knowledge of how to soothe pain, dampen nausea or quell breathlessness, but something along the lines of the friendly ear, massaging hands, warm smile and dedication of time.

Someone might sit down with you, listen to your issues with a sympathetic ear and a cup of tea, and then remind you of your health and socioeconomic status and gently show you the door with a friendly flea in your ear, your concerns soothed and your perspective restored at the same time.

Free hug, anyone?

[It does occur to me now that this might be what the Samaritans do, but aren't they a suicide helpline? I was thinking more something like surrogate grandparenting...]

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