Countless hours have been expended on me this week.
So many resources. Such a vast team of helpers.
How much is one life worth?
What we gladly give for those we love
Bleary-eyed, on an October morning wrapped in chill and darkness, my parents drove me to King’s College hospital. Down Central London’s tree-lined boulevards and along many nondescript suburban back roads.
A packed day of tests and consultations ensued – the integrated effort of dozens of healthcare professionals, all concerted to keep my body beating.
My parents relinquished a precious day of golf to wander aimlessly through the streets of Denmark Hill, while their daughter scuttled along the labyrinthine hospital corridors linking one appointment to another.
Seven hours later, exhausted and irritable, we made the painstaking return journey through a heaving metal jungle of cars and a cloud of rush hour smog.
I’ll go back several more times before the transplant.
Meanwhile, the nurses at the blood unit continue to tend to me bi-weekly.
Food is occasionally dropped on my doorstep by friends, family and benevolent strangers.
The Anthony Nolan Trust periodically cajoles four reluctant donors to give blood samples for verification typing.
Accounts are set up and tax codes are altered, as I slide onto benefits.
A hive of disparate activities, all thrust into momentum, all for me.
What we spend on those we don’t even know
In addition to the personal care and attention, an eye-watering sum is being invested in me by the state.
My stem cell transplant will cost the NHS a cool £50,000 (at the very least).
How many kids in developing countries could be educated for that amount?
How many endangered animal- or plant species could be dragged back from the edge of extinction?
Is the preservation of one middle-aged life worth more than the alternatives?
Think about your best friend, your sibling or your parent and you’d scream “Yes!”.
Still, it’s worth considering how highly we rank the protection of human life.
As long as that life isn’t too expensive…
Western healthcare is a system of finite resources and zero-sum gains, and patients are routinely denied the best available treatment if the economics don’t stack up.
NICE uses a simple mathematical formula – called QALY – to anticipate how many extra years a treatment will gift you and how much it will improve your quality of life.
Come in below the QALY threshold and you get to swallow that life-saving pill. Come in above the cut-off point and, sorry, your life just costs too much.
But where material resources abound, humans are compelled to prolong the lives of those around us.
Even my 99-year-old grandma-in-law, inching decrepitly towards the end of her term, is lovingly fed and watered each day by her offspring.
What drives us to nurture our loved ones so tenderly and protect them so fiercely?
The frailty of an invalid or an oldie resonates so strongly because we all know the same fate will meet us one day.
Yes, we help others to express our love for them. But we also do it because – deep down – we know how connected we all are. In others’ present moments, we see our own potential future.
All the time, effort, resources and love – it’s because I am not just one life.
I am a benefactor to swathes of people I will never meet; and a beneficiary of many more people I will never know.
I am inexorably entwined in the same human patchwork as you are. So, to mindlessly let me sink into oblivion would be to drop a stitch and hope the whole web doesn’t unravel.
What are you worth to the world?
What are others worth to you?
The ones you know and the ones you don’t.
What do you not give today, that you’d like to receive if the need ever arose?
Maybe you add your name to the stem cell register today. Or maybe you help a stranger finish an arduous task. Or write a poem, sketch a drawing, and deliver it to a friend.
Because a simple, real world gesture can spark a meaningful connection.
Because each of these things will link you with something greater than yourself.
Because they’re all free.
Definitely worth the effort.