Cricket Bag

November 19, 2009

Time hangs heavy when one is in exile and it is the weekend. That is why, a Sunday or two ago, I found myself in a place I never dreamed I’d visit. A romantic place: a place where Camparis were first tasted, a breeding ground for gorgeous Oscar-winning stars. Benoni. Doesn’t the mere sound of those three syllables quicken the blood, fill the head with foolish fantasies and…never mind, me neither, but we’ve got to try.

My reason for being there was that I have a hobby, one that has afforded me enormous joy since boyhood. I rarely get to indulge my pleasure when I’m home because Scallywag does not, for some inexplicable reason, share my enthusiasm and I am keener on her than on watching cricket.

Willowmoore Park is a pretty ground. The spectator area is mainly grass embankments upon which people set up their deck chairs, plastic gazebos and picnic blankets. There is a small area at the North end of the ground with standard grandstand plastic seating, which is where I went because it is more or less behind the bowler’s arm in line with the pitch—the best place from which to watch, and I don’t possess a deck chair. It was a beautiful, hot summer day.

The game began. Zimbabwe had won the toss and put us in to bat. Things were going fine, especially after that gum-chewing, spitting buffoon Smith was out, predictably by waving his bat ineffectually at a ball wide of the off stump. Will he never learn? AB DeVilliers was in fine form, as was Hashim Amla. The seat beside me, which had hitherto been empty was suddenly filled by a lady in yellow. “HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-OO. COME ON BOOOYES! HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-OO.”

I cringed. A symptom of what dread psychiatric disease could this possibly be? Could this awful howling mean that I was sitting beside a werewolf who had perhaps mistaken the Sun for a full moon? And to which boys was she referring? Her clothing gave no clue; she waved no flag. Perhaps she was unaware that there were two teams doing battle on the field and both were composed exclusively of boys.
“HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-OOOoo” She ran out of breath, then hauled another couple of lungsful aboard. “BOOOOOYES!”

This was intolerable. What happened to the traditional cricket shouts such as “HIT THE RUBBISH!” or “HEY UMPIRE! YOUR GUIDE DOG GRAZED MY HAMBURGER!” I gathered up my esky and started to trek 180 degrees around the ground to the South side where the caterwauling might be less intrusive. As I walked I recalled that I had heard something similar in a televised American reality show. When a man whom the female members of the audience deemed sexy came onto the stage, they started howling in the same manner as the cricket lady. So could this be a sign of sexual excitement? None of the women I have known have impersonated an escapee from the island of Dr Moreau, not even when I have taken my clothes off.

Perhaps it’s just that I’m not very sexy.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

Bally Ache

November 17, 2009

Lance Armstrong -- Survivor

I am not a doctor. I do, however, possess a body heir to the usual ills, so I take a keen interest in the medical sciences. One thing I have noticed is that genuine medical research is published in medical journals such as the Lancet or the New England Journal of Medicine and doesn’t make it into the mainstream media at all for the most part. If it does, it is often sensationalized by journalists who do not understand how the scientific method or the protocols of medical research work. The result is often something similar to what is reproduced, in all its ghastliness, here.

The treatment is worse than the disease!
Christine O’Brien
Contributor to Nutrition and Healing

The number of problems that survivors of testicular cancer are facing is much higher than previously thought. Simply because mainstream medicine just didn’t bother to take a look until now.

Clinicians only report treatment problems that are life-threatening or require medical intervention. And they only monitor most patients for five to ten years after treatment, meaning that many men suffering the after-effects of toxic cancer treatment have simply fallen through the cracks.

But researchers are finally getting a clue and took a look at data from the past 20 years.

Of course, what they’ve found is more or less all bad news. In a study that appeared in the Journal of the British Association of Urological Surgeons, researchers detailed an alarmingly long list of long-term effects.

Details like: Sensory nerve damage in 10-30% and hearing loss in 20% of patients on cisplatin-based (a platinum-based drug) chemotherapy. Pulmonary complications in men over 40 who are treated with bleomycin (an antibiotic) before surgery. Premature thickening of the arteries. Chronic fatigue in 17% of survivors (that’s nearly twice the normal population). And survivors are nearly TWICE as likely to develop secondary cancer.

This laundry list of threats to your health didn’t keep researchers from reaching for some good news. They reported that, “on a more positive note” up to 80% of men who try for fatherhood after treatment are successful.

I’m sorry, but with the possibility of permanent nerve damage, secondary cancer and hearing impairment, that doesn’t just seem to be enough of a silver lining.

Let’s hope that this serves as an example of why a close look at the long-term is so critical. I couldn’t help but think of the recent swine flu vaccine studies – they gave the drug the seal of approval after only a month of safety trials.

And now there are promises of protection from the pandemic – but who knows what long-term risks are waiting around the corner? And are we willing to sacrifice our lives for short-term benefits?

Let’s start with the title. Is a 20% chance of hearing loss or a 17% chance of developing chronic fatigue years or decades in the future really worse than dying of testicular cancer now? Perhaps Ms O’Brien’s cavalier attitude could be traced to the fact that she, presumably, does not possess testicles, cancerous or otherwise. Or perhaps the nonsensical headline is merely a means of grabbing eyeballs and the actual article might make some sense.

Alas, the first paragraph puts paid to that optimistic hope. The horrible ogre “mainstream medicine” couldn’t be bothered to “take a look until now”. Codswallop. If Ms O’Brien has a means of foretelling the side effects of a treatment given now which will manifest themselves decades in the future she should disclose it now; the medical fraternity will, I’m sure, be agog to hear it and the Nobel Committee will fall over themselves to honour her. Or perhaps she thinks clinical trials should last for a minimum of the average human lifespan before a drug is approved for use.

I think it was Benjamin Disraeli who first referred to “lies, damn lies and statistics”. The problem with statistics is that, whilst they are incredibly useful if properly used, they are extremely easy to misinterpret through ignorance or to misrepresent in an attempt to shore up a shoddy argument. Ms O’Brien has made extensive use of the latter technique here. Let’s have a look.

Firstly, the quoted statistics have little or no relevance to current treatments. Ms O’Brien neglected to tell us that “Some relevant observations, in particular those referring to long-term effects, are from survivors treated with ‘outdated’ therapies, although many of these survivors, treated after 1980 are still alive and with a life-expectancy of 20–30 years.” We are not told this because it makes the whole thesis of the article irrelevant.

17% chance of developing chronic fatigue? Well, unless we read the actual paper we would never know that this is in contrast to 9.5% of men who do not have testicular cancer and that “Compared to those not fatigued, the survivors with chronic fatigue were older, had less education, more unemployment and economic problems, hazardous alcohol use, somatic comorbidity, neurotoxic side-effects, mental distress after treatment, depression, anxiety, and cancerrelated distress, poor HRQL, high level of neuroticism, and a less satisfying sexual life.” Just reading that gives me chronic fatigue.

22% hearing loss? No, 22% ototoxicity, ranging from tinnitus to hearing loss, no other information provided. And so on.

A truly horrifying statistic that Ms O’Brien chose not to present is that 10% more testicular cancer survivors marry than their cancerless brethren. This is where I expect people to point out that correlation does not necessarily mean causation and that some other factor may be at play.

Ms O’Brien concludes her ridiculous rant with the question: “And are we willing to sacrifice our lives for short-term benefits?” But that is precisely what she are asking her readers to do. Sacrifice their lives for fear of long term consequences that may or may not arise in the face of the mortal peril they are facing now.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

Flax and Cheese

November 6, 2009

Flax seed oil

“Honey, I’m home!”  Fred Bakelite was in his late forties, tennis fit and looked young for his age.  His polyester leopard-skin suit was still immaculate, even after a hard day at DuBridge Industries.  “Where aaaarrree yoooouu, sweety?”

“Right here, light of my life, floater of my boat, churner of my butter.”  Margeret Bakelite kissed her husband tenderly on the lips.  They wrapped their arms around each other, stood cheek-to-cheek awhile, sighed, then split apart, she to the kitchen and he to the drinks cabinet.

“How was your day?” she called from the kitchen.

“Not Bad,” he replied. “That Barney Nylon dropped the ball on the PolySyne contract.  I’ll probably get the promotion when old Yurethane kicks the bucket.  It’ll mean a big increase.”

“Wonderful.  Did you have your medical?”

“Oh yes, I forgot to mention.  I’ve got the body of a twenty year old except for bowel cancer.  Doc Multistix says I must have an immediate operation or it’ll spread and kill me.  Well, you know what a sceptic  I am, I did my own research and you know what?  I can easily be cured!  Without an operation!”

Margeret came rushing through from the kitchen.  “What are you talking about?  Good grief Fred, this is the time to take expert opinion and to hell with these weird ideas of yours!”  Her gorgeous green eyes were humid with concern.

“Ha ha,” Fred laughed. “I understand you’re worried about me, you silly thing, but just look at this.”  He whipped open his briefcase and extracted a thick folder.  “Look, I printed this out to show you and that old fool Multistix.  There’s this woman from Germany, her name’s Johanna Budwig.  She’s been nominated for the Nobel Prize six times!  Actually some of the sites I got from Google show she’s been nominated nine times.  She has this treatment for cancer that is just cottage cheese and flax seed oil.  It has a 100% success rate!”

Margeret looked doubtful.  She took the folder from Fred and perused it, biting her lips.

“I thought nominations for the Nobel Prize were secret.  How does anyone know who was nominated, or how many times?”

“Well, I don’t know.  The people who put these sites up are probably on the committee.  They’d know, obviously.  Why  don’t they come up with the same answer?  I don’t know, how could I?  This is just typical of you—tryng to shoot down my every idea.  You really aren’t being very supportive at a hard time for me.”

“Oh, Fred, you know perfectly well I’m not trying to be nasty.  It’s just that if this was really a cure for cancer, wouldn’t everyone have heard of it?  Wouldn’t she actually have been awarded the Nobel Prize instead of just being nominated for it?”

Fred sighed.  “Well, that’s what people would say.  As you can see from this document here, the reason she hasn’t had the recognition she deserves is that the big pharmaceutical companies are making too much money selling standard chemotherapy drugs to allow this simple cure to become known.  The ingredients are not patentable, therefore no one can make money from them.”

“What’s flax seed oil?”

Fred grinned.  “I thought you might ask that, so I got some.”  He reached into a pocket in his brief case and produced a small blue bottle with what appeared to be a ghost depicted thereon.  He unscrewed the cap and wafted it under Margeret’s nose.  “Ring any bells?” Fred asked, his head bobbing idiotically in anticipation.

“Oh.  My.  God.  You’re mad.  Now I know it.  I haven’t smelt that since our schooldays.  How many years ago?  Yes, that day you shagged me in the pavilion.  I was only fifteen you bastard.  What’s that thing?”  She indicated a thin folder in Fred’s open briefcase.

“Oh.  That’s a life insurance policy I took out months ago.  I’ve been meaning to give it to you for filing.  You’re the beneficiary, obviously, it’s for two million bucks.  Thanks to Johanna you won’t be collecting. ”

“I’ll take it in any case and put it away.  I’ll be off to bed.  Enjoy your cottage cheese and cricket bat oil.  See you later.”

There was a small smile on her face and a wicked gleam in her eye as she left the room.


Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.