Alexander Chancellor

Long life | 7 April 2016's 'balanced view' was anything but – and deeply unconvincing

Long life | 7 April 2016
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Forgive me if I feel a little depressed at the moment. There are a lot of contributory factors — among them the massacre of my ducks by an otter, the unstoppable rise of Donald Trump, and of course the European Union referendum campaign. This last is especially dispiriting, as I am tired of it already and there are still nearly three months to go before the vote. The first propaganda letter plopped through my letterbox last week, and doubtless it will be the first of many such. It was from the ‘Leave.EU’ campaign and its only effect was to strengthen me in my decision to vote to stay in. Written by a rich, fat businessman called Peter Hargreaves, it had a most disagreeable tone, questioning not only the wisdom but also the motives of those who don’t want to leave the EU.

These Europhiles, it said, were people from organisations that accepted payment from Brussels, whose ‘cushy lives’ would be disrupted by change, and who were engaging in ‘ludicrous’ scaremongering to protect their own interests. ‘Our politicians should champion a balanced view, but their own political futures seem to be taking precedence,’ it went on. ‘The future of the United Kingdom is at stake, which is infinitely more important than political careers.’ Apart from implying that all politicians who supported EU membership were doing so only out of self-interest, Mr Hargreaves is hardly an example of someone who champions ‘a balanced view’. In fact, I can’t imagine what he means by it.

It is possible that I would be less affected by this kind of thing if I wasn’t also a little concerned about the state of my aortic valve. I know nothing about biology, and I wasn’t even aware until recently that I had such a thing as an aortic valve to help my heart pump blood around my body. But I owe this information to the excellent Dr Akram at the Greens Norton Medical Centre in Northamptonshire, whom I visited the other day for a routine check-up. He decided for some reason to listen to my chest and pronounced that I seemed to have a heart murmur. What was a heart murmur? I asked. ‘It means that instead of going “boom, boom”, it goes sort of “whoosh, whoosh”,’ he replied. ‘And I think you should have an echocardiogram.’

I should say in passing that, living in the country in south Northamptonshire, I had a choice of NHS medical centres to attend; and I chose the one at Greens Norton because the staff at its reception desk were particularly friendly and nice. And it was an excellent choice, because the doctors and nurses turned out to be very nice as well. This is a useful thing to remember about almost any organisation: if its receptionists and telephonists are friendly and happy, they almost certainly work in a happy place in which those above them will be nice and friendly as well.

Anyway, I went and had the echocardiogram at the hospital in Northampton, and this showed that my aortic valve had got seriously narrower than it should be and might need replacing or something if it was going to do its job properly. I should see a cardiologist, Dr Akram said, and so I did; and the cardiologist said I should prepare for surgery. He seemed puzzled that I didn’t seem to have any symptoms of heart trouble. Did I not have pains in my chest? Did I not get giddy or faint? But it’s amazing how quickly you acquire such symptoms when they are suggested to you. I began to feel giddy immediately.

Now, I know that heart surgery is so safe these days that even heart transplants are usually survivable; and that giving me a pig’s valve or whatever is hardly more dangerous than falling off a log. Nevertheless, if you aren’t used to having operations, they offer an unappealing prospect; and I strongly advise against looking at pictures of heart surgery on the internet. The cardiologist, on the other hand, was very cheerful. ‘I’m glad you’re so young,’ he said. ‘Young?’ I replied. ‘Is 76 young?’ ‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘We do this operation on people of 90.’