Sunday, 21 February 2010

Britain shall soon say " goodbye" to a brave man who was, once the infamous 'Inspector of Schools' called, Chris Woodhead

When I was a teacher in mainstream secondary education, the name of 'Chris Woodhead' was anathema. He was 'Chief Inspector of Schools' from 1994-2000 and, to a man and woman, we hated him.

Now, I read and found moving, as he writes in the 'Sunday Times':

* Ten years ago walking down a mountain in Wales, my legs turned to jelly. "I am getting old ?", I thought. "I spend too much time behind a desk. A pint or two in the pub', and I had forgotten all about it."

* Over the years I started to wonder about the difficulties I was having : "Why were the stairs beginning to be a problem? Why couldn’t I do rock climbs that, not so long ago, I had found a doddle?"

* I stopped pretending and the doctor was smart.
“Probably nothing,” he said, “but I’m going to refer you to a neurologist for a check-up".

* He noticed my jaw drop and added: “Don’t worry, there is probably nothing wrong. Anyway, you might walk out and get knocked down by a bus.”

* There was something wrong. Motor neurone disease . It sometimes feels as if the bus would have been the better option.

* At any one time 5,000 people in the UK have MND and 5 die every day. Fifty per cent die within 14 months of diagnosis.

* For some mysterious reason, messages from the brain, fail to reach the muscles that activate and muscles arms and legs, which then atrophy AND DIE.NDN

* Because the number of patients is small and the survival period short, there is not much incentive for drug companies to research a cure.

* 'Riluzole', the only drug available, prolongs life by two months. Whether an extra two months is worth having when you can't ' move, breathe or swallow unassisted', is a moot point.

* " Four years ago I was still walking in the Highlands. Today, I need help with washing and dressing. I struggle to get out of bed. Last June, lying on the floor waiting for the ambulance to turn up after I had fallen backwards off some stairs and hit my head on the slate floor, I was not sure that the struggle was worth making much longer.

* At some point I know that I am going to decide that I have had enough.

* In death, as in life, what matters is the timing.

* The timing of my decision will depend in part upon my physical decline: whether, that is, I can swallow the pills unaided, thus avoiding the threat of prosecution of anybody implicated in my death. That threat is real.

* As I write, Ray Gosling is being questioned by police for the murder of a lover dying of Aids he said he suffocated decades ago. No sane society would waste police time on such an investigation. Does anybody think that Gosling acted out of anything but compassion or that he is likely to rampage through hospital wards suffocating everyone he can find?

The fundamental question for me in deciding when to end my life concerns my own state of mind. One of my A-level texts was TS Eliot’s play, Murder in the Cathedral. Becket seeks martyrdom. Why, Eliot asks? Is this quest an act of egotism, or is he driven by a selfless desire to do what he believes to be right? Is he doing the right deed for the wrong reasons? For me, this has become a critical question.

* When the cards are stacked against us, the temptation is to complain that life is not fair, to stamp our feet. I know. I have been there. I have sat in my wheelchair glaring at the able-bodied young, and seethed with ridiculous jealousy. I also know that our lives are not toys to be thrown away when they break. I do not want to slide into oblivion knowing my death is a result of my pathetic inability to accept the cards I have been dealt.

* I am writing about my situation for only one reason. My life, still, just, a little, can have some use. So when the MND Association asked me if I would help its campaign to lobby politicians about the needs of patients, I didn’t hesitate. At present, support is patchy. Patients wait months to see a consultant. Many, after the diagnosis, are left to struggle on their own. Go to to learn more; sign the petition and lobby your MP. Somebody, somewhere, is going to be told tomorrow that they have MND. Thirty seconds of your time could make a difference to what will remain of their lives."

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