Friday, October 14, 2016

What I said to the Enquiry

My Five Minutes Spoken Submission
to the Health Committee   4 pm 14 Oct 2016

I am Dave Mullan, of Red Beach, retired Methodist Presbyter, 81.
I have advanced prostate cancer.

Just over a century ago, my great-grandfather, TW Attwood, was in a deputation to the new Parliament House. He would have argued a strong case—not like mine, which probably doesn’t break any new ground. But the family say he also had great passion. I hope something of that passion in a parliamentary office long ago will be apparent in this submission.—
Tetany Spasms
After an emergency surgery, I woke in the middle of the night with the most appalling pain seizing me. Every muscle between my knees and shoulders seemed to be trying to tug on the massive abdominal incision and tear it apart. It was like every muscle was cramping at once. I couldn’t move for the moments of the attack, couldn’t even breathe, or speak or cry out. I immediately realised this was not normal post-operative pain. Something in me was creating it. Only with a conscious effort of will was I able to unravel the muscles, like easing a possum skin off the nailed board on which it’s been stretched. It took time and the pain continued throughout.
Although I reported this problem to the surgical Rounds team at 8am — and in fact had an episode right in front of them while they stood round the bed — not one of them offered any comment. Subsequent conversations with the pain specialist failed to deal with ongoing attacks for nearly 48 hours.
One night a nurse really listened to me and I was prescribed a drug that stopped the attacks. But there was still no diagnosis. Months later, a very knowledgeable nurse friend suggested that I might have experienced tetany spasms. I surfed the net—as you do—and found a surgeon who had experienced the same very rare symptoms after his own operation and was appalled at the level of pain.
If that kind of pain, even in short spasms, is what I might expect when this rather ordinary disease overtakes me some time, I don’t want it. If something like that is what broadcaster Andrew Denton described of his father’s agonising death, I don’t want it. From my own experience with the excruciating agony of those terrifying spasms, I don’t have any confidence that pain of that level will necessarily be palliated or even recognised. Nor do I believe for a moment that pain is a necessary part of the very ordinary business of dying in the modern age.
Looking over my submission, I don’t wish to change much. But I hope you will review carefully the sections on—
·       the Slippery Slope and Change and their risks and effects;
·       the suggestion that much traditional religious thinking is not helpful in this debate in the context of a secular society;
·       my claim that medicine, Government, and some Christians are trying to have a bet each way;
·       my view that full agreement on the issue should not be expected
·       but providing for choice is a demonstrably fair and reasonable expectation for some terminal patients.

In every waiting room in the Health system I’ve seen posters encouraging me to become involved in my health decisions—until my last days when my wishes will suddenly expire like a twelve months’ old Prezzy Card. Please now take that further step and allow me a little simple responsibility in my dying. Please extend my personal choice to that life-defining moment.

“Looking Great”
All through my journey with prostate cancer people—becoming aware of my rising PSA said, “But, Dave, you’re looking great.”  They didn’t realise that it was hormone medication that was filling out my face so of course I looked good. Recalling the gaunt, emaciated faces of many terminal cancer patients, what I ask of you now is that after my death, anyone seeing me might say, “Gee, Dave, you’re looking great” — because you gave me the choice of dying with dignity.
And, oh yes, my great-grandfather’s petition to Parliament? The following year, exactly a century ago, Parliament granted their request which led to sweeping changes in the fruitgrowing industry. Tongue in cheek, I suggest that is a great precedent for your Committee today. You, also, could create significant change for our country by encouraging Parliament to permit me and other terminal patients to have some say in our end of life.

Dave Mullan

28/101 Red Beach Rd, Red Beach,  0932      +64 9 426 7562

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