Tuesday, May 24, 2005

If I Tell You Now I Feel Your Pain, Will You Forbear Telling Me About It?

I don't think I'm particularly hardhearted. On the contrary, really, I'd venture I'm a bit of a softie, always good for a cryable-on shoulder and so forth. And after all, I'm studying to be a doctor; surely that has to confer some measure of bona fides as regards my compassion and regard for the suffering of my fellow person.

But I just cannot be doing with the constant onslaught of 'news' stories about random people's personal medical tragedies. No newspaper's puff section or weekly magazine is complete without at least one iteration of 'How I Beat Testicular Cancer', 'The Husband and Daughter I Lost to Leukemia', plus of course the rigidly obligatory Brave Woman Bravely Braving Breast Cancer. Now, I don't mean to suggest for a minute that these people haven't suffered terrible pain and don't deserve sympathy. They have, they do, and indeed they have my sympathy in amply flowing volume. What they don't have is my interest.

These tales, invariably replete with drooly details of treatment porn and gnashings of teeth over medical bureaucracy/incompetence/callousness, are pretty much without exception dull, sentimental, moany, pseudo-courageous whinges whose purpose I genuinely can't fathom beyond therapeutic catharsis for the writer. For my money, and believe me, I of all people am all about the med-porn, they are boring as ass. Why should I find a random stranger's health tribulations compelling when I can barely keep awake thinking about my own, or those of my loved ones? Stories of health problems are inherently tedious and solipsistic; this is why it's primarily old people who buttonhole you with them in real life. They feel, not without some justification, that they've survived long enough to win entitlement to bore the bejesus out of their younger, less decrepit interlocutors.

Today's G2 features not one but two of these maunderings. The first concerns a couple who were 'devastated' to find he was infertile, and then, well, they found a sperm donor and had a baby and now they have a baby and they're all really happy, um, the end. As dramatic arcs go, not exactly steeply sloping. The second, admittedly much more generously larded with narrative tension, tells of a little boy who fell and badly injured his head, had lots of complications and some tangles with the NHS and BUPA, got the necessary operation after all, and ended up profoundly deaf, unhappy and with behavior problems.

Terribly sad for all concerned? Unquestionably. (Except perhaps the father, who sounds appalling: 'I always thought that to have an imperfect child would be really horrid. Now I'm really tolerant of it.' What a mensch.) But interesting? Honestly, not so much. Unless it's in some creepy semi-schadenfreudian way that I disapprove of.

So I was all excited today to see the op-ed headline 'Not another cancer story'. Aha, I thought, at last! A fellow skeptic in the unlikely person of Zoe Williams, using her bully pulpit wisely for once to call for a moratorium on soporific sagas of heroic struggles with hair loss and familial devastation.

Alas, I was hasty. Turns out Zoe's only het up about the excessive coverage of breast cancer, which she deems misogynist (which may very well be true, though in the scheme of misogynist things that demand immediate redress I kinda think it's fairly far down). She's using her bully pulpit, all right, and she's using it to 'suggest some kind of balance in the media'. Which is to say, less coverage of breast cancer and more coverage of, yes, other kinds of cancer. Sigh.

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com