Friday, May 22, 2009

Back from Ukraine

I have recently returned from visiting my wife's family in Ukraine. My wife and son are staying a little while longer.

This was a trip planned a few months ago but the timing has turned out to be rather appropriate, if sad.

My wife's father passed away two weeks ago so the first day we arrived via Kiev, coincided with his funeral. He had been ill for some time so his passing was not a complete surprise although remained a shock as much as the ending of any life of a family member is. I did not attend as I sat with our son, who is just over a month away from his second birthday. Ukrainian funerals, in common with much of the region, seem to be open casket affairs in contrast to the more shielded practices in Britain. It did not seem right to bring a little boy into such proceedings.

We did however all attend the meal afterwards and the numerous older female faces in comparison to a mere handful of older males bore testimony to the appalling male life expectancy in Ukraine (somewhere around 60 compared to 74 for women) . It really was quite sobering to see the reality of this statistic in a cross section of the population attending a funeral of a friend and neighbour who had died in his mid-sixties.

Despite the start to this trip it has not been too sad. Having a toddler in the party doesn't allow too much time for gloom and doom. There is always a cupboard to refill after it has been carefully emptied all over the floor !

The trip has also been a revelation into the world of Ukrainian healthcare. For some while I have suffered from migraine headaches, as far as such things can ever be clearly diagnosed.

Probably with the relative fragility of male life (real or imagined) in their mind my Mother-in-law and her sister persuaded me to to see a specialist doctor on the subject.

I visited a hospital that was as green as a London park. Trees and grass were between each of the twenty or so buildings. The hospital gave off an aura of gentle decay. When we arrived to see the doctor (neurologist or equivalent) it turned out she spoke good English. Her view was that I had a classical migraine but I was "welcome" to a MRI scan. I was luke warm on the prospect but the conversation switched to Russian and the following day I was heading off for the scan.

After a long wait, some confusion and a very modest (by UK standards at least) fee, I was heading into the scan room. My wife had departed to get our son to bed and I was left with my wife's non-English speaking Aunt to explain what type of scan I needed. Somehow the scribbled note from the doctor had gone missing. I was promised a "panic button" for my time in the narrow confines of the MRI tube.

When I did make it into the scan room, concentrating on Russian instructions I only realised I had no panic button once firmly in the tube. Lying flat the plastic roof looked barely an inch or two from my eyes. I closed them and tried to think positive thoughts. That is easier said than done in such circumstances and it gives a brief insight into the possibilities from torture.

The noises of the scan were many from buzzes, beeps, a low hum that got louder to tapping. Sometimes I got the sensation of floating or spinning backwards. I tried to imagine sitting beside a stream or a river before abandoning that route as I then thought about being stuck in the tube with water coming in ! Although completely painless, lying in a confined space with a machine scanning your brain makes you realise how fragile life is. After what felt like an age, but was in fact just 20 minutes, the noises finally stopped and I heard the welcome sound of the door opening. Next I was sliding out and being told to get off the place I had been lying.

It was all over. The scan result was broadly postive. No horrors were found but I do have some modest restriction in blood flow to one part of my brain. It is manageable with drugs but could be the cause of the migraines. The terminology used in the explanation of the scan is highly technical so difficult to translate from the Ukrainian it was written in. I will probably have to end up going to a doctor in the UK but I am not relishing the prospect of another scan !

The next day our young son was found to have a tick in the top of his leg. I have never seen such things, let alone experienced them but they are apparently not so rare in Ukraine. A visit to the hospital where I had been scanned lead to the conclusion that the tick's head had come off so the body would need to be got out by an appropriately skilled doctor. A night time taxi ride to a children's hospital followed. We arrived and the grounds were shrouded in darkness in contrast to the permenantly lit hospitals of Britain. The surgeon was located and after we had pursaded him to at least let my wife stay with our son (he had wanted us both to leave, also in contrast to the UK). Agreement reached, the tick was removed in barely a couple of minutes and we returned back in the same taxi. Our son seemed considerably braver than I had been in all this !

Each interaction with doctors was pleasing although some kind of payment was expected as doctors in Ukraine do not really earn enough to live on.

Most things can be arranged in Ukraine but nearly everything has a price.

That said, Ukraine in the summer is a green and vibrant land with inexpensive and comfortable trains to travel accross it. It's vast farm lands come to life after the bleak winter and the cycle of life rolls on.

Monday, May 11, 2009

East of Westminster

Enough has been written on the subject of MPs expenses to last a life time. I won't add to the tales of taxpayer money spent on plasma screen tv's, multiple lavatory seats, mole catchers and horse manure.

As every party seems culpable to a great extent it is difficult to know what to say. Are they all really as bad as each other ?

What seems certain is that the public in general are all largely despairing of politicians. That can only lead to low turnout in elections and this will favour the small and extreme parties.

The BNP has become a regular Saturday morning fixture outside our local shopping centre and such parties can only benefit as the public shun the mainstream parties. How far this will go remains to be seen. Next month's European elections will give an indication.

However it does have an end of an era feel. It seems likely that hundreds of MPs will either step down or lose their seats at the next General Election. Talk of the death of parliament is probably premature but it is certainly a sobering lesson that democracy can be broken by the corruption of those who are supposed to champion it.

The optimist in me still hopes for better things. However this will only be possible if many MPs leave the House of Commons. Numerous MPs should be expelled to the land east of Westminster. Let us hope a parliament remains at Westminster when all this is finished.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Meanwhile, outside of London.....

.....the English summer is developing slowly. This was the scene in Cambridge yesterday.
It is refreshing to leave London sometimes....