Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Freud, air blindness and twins: it's not all bleak out there

Since it’s sometimes good to dwell on good news stories amidst the gloom, here is my distillation from far too many hours spent in the car listening to BBC radio last week.

A lot of the better stories were related to what was in itself a sad event: the death of Clement Freud, grandson of Sigmund and brother of Lucian, chef, broadcaster, wit and one-time Liberal MP. A full list of the anecdotes quoted about him would fill several pages, so here’s just one: the BBC replayed a comment he made during last year’s scandal about MPs putting their wives on their payroll – when he was an MP, he said, the tradition was that you paid your secretary and slept with your wife.

Another story concerned Jim O’Neill who had a stroke and went blind while piloting his Cessna, 5500 feet over Yorkshire. Air Traffic Control couldn’t talk him down so RAF Wing Commander Paul Gerrard flew alongside him and did it instead –saying ‘a little to the left – a little to the right – keep coming down’ until he was back on the ground. O’Neill returned to the airfield last week to thank the people who saved him, including Gerrard. This time, though, he was flown in by a friend: he’s beginning to recover his eyesight but not to the point of being able to fly himself yet.

The third was the experience of Nina Whear. She suffered an aortic dissection. I’m not sure what one of these is but since it involves a tear to the wall of the aorta – the great artery leading from the heart – it’s hard to imagine that it could be good news. It’s particularly bad if you’re about to give birth to twins.

She was rushed into her local hospital and then to the specialist heart centre at Papworth. Ambulance crew told the BBC that they expected none of the three to survive. She was given a 7% chance of pulling through, the chaplain at Papworth visited to say a prayer with Nina and her husband and then left them alone to say goodbye to each other.

An obstetric team was flown in by helicopter from Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge. They delivered the twins by caesarean section and then cardiac surgeons took over. It was a matter of amazement when she came to: she later said, ‘when I woke up after the operation I couldn't talk, but I tried to signal to the nurse to say that I couldn't believe I was alive, although I don't think she understood what I meant.’ All three are now recovering well.

William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate who was the model for Citizen Kane, said ‘news is something somebody doesn't want printed; all else is advertising’. Real news is bad news, but what a pleasure it is to come across something more cheerful from time to time.

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