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Dr Alan, back at it for 2020...

My what a fertile field of rants I have for this month!

Margaret Court being honoured by Tennis Australia, and TA feeling the heat for it. I can see both points of view here. Whilst I demand the right to oppose the views of bigots, I defend an individual’s right to their own point of view; it is an enshrined right in a democratic society. But let’s ensure the voices of the majority are loudly heard, who oppose those who would demonise people who do not make the appropriate propitiations of strict heterosexuality. One has to wonder, given the fervour of Ms. Court’s ranting, whether she may be confronting her own demons regarding gender preference. I care not. These are her own to face, and if this be the case, I hope she is so haunted, such that she knows no peace. How many of the pulpits are filled with those whose use of the church act as a physical denial of their own inner desires. You’ve all read the stories I am sure, and even hiding under a rock could not have saved you from the revelations of the recent Royal Commission. Now many with other than strict heterosexual desires are demanding their place in the religions. I wish them luck. Religion has a poor track record for tolerance, and little evidence has emerged to suggest this is likely to change.

Corona virus! Naming a deadly pathogen after a beer strikes me as a work of pure genius! And the irony is, alcohol is likely to remain the greater killer of members of the human race (see my previous Rant dated 26 May, 2019.). However, there are some scary facts emerging…

This is a virus with impressive transmissibility. Much like influenza, those infected appear to be capable of shedding virus in substantial amounts, via droplet spread, surface contamination (where the viral may lie in wait on contaminated surfaces) and even in stool. We are yet to have any advice regarding other potential virus sources such as sweat, urine, semen, etc.  Early in the course of infectivity it seems there may be minimal signs of illness. This gives the virus a survival advantage in that it can spread to new hosts using the old host as a vehicle, hence increasing its capacity to expand within the population. It also seems to be most lethal for the elderly and infirm, with younger, stronger hosts likely to survive, hence providing mobile hosts to act as “super spreaders”. Whilst the lethality of the virus is yet to be established, most estimates place the mortality rate at about 2,000 per 100,000 cases. When compared with the last published mortality rate for influenza in 2017 of 3.9 deaths per 100,000 cases, one can start to understand why the health authorities have taken such draconian measures to try to contain the virus’ spread. Given the durability of viruses in a population, and the difficulties posed to attain adequate containment, it would seem mass vaccination may offer the only long-term hope of avoiding a serious pandemic, if such a vaccine can be engineered in time. Will the antivaxers rise in indignation at this latest insult to nature? Or will they join me in the queue with shirtsleeve raised, grateful for the science that has already saved countless lives from such scourges as measles, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, etc., and take the shot. Maybe I’ll see Pete Evans in the queue! If that death rate comes anywhere close to reality, we may face the prospect of losing two or more per cent of the Earth’s population…serious numbers people!

On a lighter note, the latest person to tumble from grace with alcohol as a contributing factor…welcome to the stage, Ms. Michelle Bridges. Life as a celebrity must be glaring in the spotlight, with any human failing seized upon by a voracious news media, and beamed to all and sundry by our increasingly efficient social media, to be fed upon by the scandal hungry. I guess when you set the bar high, the fall is always going to be painful. At times when one’s human frailty is painfully exposed, I have learned the hard way that candid admission, and acceptance of responsibility offers the greatest chance of escape with a shred of credibility. Ms. Bridges has chosen the “broken heart” recipe after a long-term relationship breakdown, I gather. Sounds a bit like a Country and Western song recipe to me. I’m afraid seeking solace with booze, with your 5 year-old child in the car, is likely to cut the mustard as much as Jim Bakker claiming possession by the devil when caught with his pantaloons about his ankles and entertaining a partner other than his wife, in the court of public opinion.

Can I sit on high and caste my lightning bolts from Olympus, as if I were Zeus, a gloriously imperfect manmade God? Not on your nelly. I made my peace with alcohol 20 years ago come last November, but only after a very sketchy career with the drug that I am not proud of. This divorce was one of necessity rather than convenience. Does ongoing abstinence give me the right to pass judgement? In fact, that is not my intention, and I make no judgement upon Ms. Bridges’ experience other than that she appears to be a member of the human race, endowed with all the same human frailties as the rest of us. What abstinence has done is allow me the freedom the reflect upon on my own imperfections from the painfully exposed position of sobriety. I commend it to you. I see it as the only way forward for those of us with a problem with this drug, or any other drug, and we are many.

This week I attended the funeral of a long-term client, something that I am experiencing more as I age with my clientele (who will have to attend my own one day, no doubt!). What struck me as remarkable was not only the impressive age this lady achieved (in her 90s), but also the type of life she led. For a woman born in the 1920’s, she refused to be shackled by the bindings of the time so frequently applied to women of that age. She was married several times, and engaged in a wide range of liaisons as her whim took her. She enjoyed a drink and a party more than most. I came to know her as a mature-age lady in her 70s, when she opened my eyes to the fact that sexuality does not necessarily wane with age. A most impressive woman, well ahead of her time, leading the charge for women’s rights, and their right to be libidinous and expressive, unrepressed by any who might claim the right to dictate the behaviour of others. She taught me so much in our professional relationship, and helped me to question and dispel subtle misogynistic leanings that were ground into me as a young man growing up in Melbourne’s west in the 60s and 70s. I’m so happy to have known her, and owe her a great debt. Far from perfect am I, but less imperfect for the experience she gave me. And so, I bid her adieu at our final parting, with a tear. Her legacy, I hope, through those who were fortunate enough to know her, is that more women can lead the free life she led, and more men can be comfortable and confident that this should be so.

Dr Alan Underwood

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