Never doing anything by halves and much to the relief of friends, family, and this editor, Russ Swan walks out of hospital, lands on Mars and celebrates ingenuity, the NHS, and his 100th column…
Let’s not sell off the most successful thing the UK has ever done. Save the NHS
Break out the balloons, cake and fizzy drinks, for there is much to celebrate. After a year or more of widespread misery, spring is delivering some of its traditional gifts of new hope and rejuvenation.
Far far away, an autonomous rotorcraft is traversing the thin atmosphere of Mars. I'm still puzzled about why NASA insists on calling this thing a helicopter, when it is clearly a drone, but the schoolboy nerd in me is disproportionately excited by the ingenuity displayed by a machine... that is itself called Ingenuity.
Meanwhile the rover Perseverance has split Martian atmospheric CO2 into carbon and oxygen, which might prove a useful trick one day. It is also the first craft to take me to another planet. My name, along with a few million others, is engraved at microscopic scale onto a tiny wafer mounted on the vehicle. Did I mention nerd already?
Here in the UK, the great plague is finally being brought under control. The success of the vaccine roll-out is truly remarkable, tempered only by the enormous tragedies still unfolding in other less privileged parts of the world. But we can still be happy about our local triumph.
Speaking of privilege, I must acknowledge my extreme good fortune in being the beneficiary of the finest and most advanced medical expertise available. Readers may recall that my last column was written from an intensive care bed, while I awaited some non-trivial surgery...
...and you will have guessed by now that this was successful, and I'm happy to report that it enabled me to fulfill my one resolution for 2021: to walk out of hospital on my own two feet. That this should have occurred during the annual feast of St Chocolate, a time associated with rebirth and rejuvenation (because eggs!), made the whole thing rather poetic.
I used to be a cyborg; now I'm just a bitsa. The implanted technology I have carried in me for a couple of decades, and which took over vital functions at critical times, is no more. I'll be able to go through airport check-ins again, as soon as airport check-ins are once again a thing.
What’s a bitsa? In ye olden days, many of my fellow motorcyclists would build or modify their machines with parts from other bikes and a variety of non-standard components. The resulting creation was made of bits of this and bits of that. I guess the term applies just as well to the medical world, where spare part surgery is now a well-developed art. It may never be routine, but it is slightly miraculous that it can be done at all. It seems just as amazing that this high-cost procedure should be freely available to those like me who need it, courtesy of the NHS.
Let’s not sell off the most successful thing the UK has ever done. Save the NHS.
I'm pretty sure that, had I been a self-employed writer living in the USA instead of the UK, I would by now be either bankrupt or dead. Quite possibly both.
Possibly connected to my own good fortune, it seems that this year's spring blossom is more vivid than ever. Also, the birdsong is sweeter and more melodious, and wine tastes better than I can remember. Truly, this is a time to make merry.
Finally, I'm celebrating this, the 100th Lab Babble column. My thanks to you all for your indulgence over the last decade or so. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.