While doctors are duty-bound to give of their best to nurture, enhance and protect human life within the scope of existing medical knowledge, in keeping with the Hippocratic Oath, there are times when they are basically powerless because of the very thin line that exists between life and death.
This saying, that underscores the inherent frailty of human life, is emphasized at every funeral conducted according to Christian rites. One of the opening sentences, heard at the start of each service, provides a powerful reminder to those in attendance that always “in the midst of life we are in death”.
Death, when viewed from this perspective, can be considered, in essence, as an integral part of human life. In fact, it has been referred to by the late psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a famous researcher on the subject, as reaching the highest level of earthly existence. Yet, whenever death strikes, especially suddenly in tragic circumstances, it takes us by surprise and leaves us in shock because we are never really prepared for this eventuality of earthly existence.
Following an unusual spate of sudden deaths numbering over a dozen in the last month or so, including seven this past week, many Barbadians are naturally introspective in a deep search for answers. From the accounts of shocked relatives and acquaintances, all of the deceased appeared to be in generally good health.
What is hardly surprising is the deceased were mostly men. Two women also died. The foremost question being debated is: why does it seem Barbadians are suddenly dropping dead like flies, to use a familiar old saying? There are, of course, various inferences which can be drawn, and higher levels of stress top the list.
There is no disputing that Barbadians are generally experiencing increased difficulty coping with the pressures of everyday living, with many finding themselves struggling to make ends meet either because of unemployment or reduced personal and household incomes. A major factor has been the impact of a protracted economic crisis over the last seven years, which is only now showing signs of abating.
The crisis not only resulted in significant job losses, particularly through public sector downsizing, but also contributed to a reduction in the traditional social safety net provided by Government to support vulnerable groups during hard times. Deficit-reduction measures meant not even certain critical areas could escape public expenditure cuts.
Suddenly out of work and without a steady income, or still working and being asked to do more, having to stretch incomes further than before, has meant a rearranging of spending priorities for many Barbadians. A casualty in some cases has been paid-for routine medical check-ups at the family doctor’s. It is true public health care is available but, with increased demand, it is debatable whether the same detailed attention provided by a private doctor would be available.
It is not surprising that most of the recent sudden deaths involved men. Even in good economic times, men generally are known not to pay scant attention to their health. Besides, they tend to indulge in certain destructive behaviours, such as copious rum drinking, which are harmful to their health and well-being. However, they merrily go about their business, as if they do not have a care in the world, until symptoms of serious illness strike.
Even in such cases, there are some men who delay seeking medical attention. A person’s health is a person’s wealth and it is the responsibility of everyone to take care of their health or suffer the consequences. Sudden death always happens because of some underlying reason. Given the epidemic of hypertension, diabetes and other chronic non-communicable illnesses, there are many Barbadians who appear to be in perfectly good health but are really walking time bombs. Eventually, their negligence exacts a heavy and sometimes deadly price.
There is an old saying that out of every bad comes some good. If there is a positive lesson from the recent spate of sudden deaths, it is that Barbadians who have been negligent need to start paying serious attention to their health. They should aim to see a doctor at least once a year for a thorough medical check-up to be aware of their health status and allow for timely intervention if any issues are discovered.
This way, many lives can be saved and relatives and friends spared of the agony which comes from the sudden loss of a loved one who was seriously ill but was considered by everyone to be in perfect health, based on appearance which can be misleading sometimes. Going forward, can we at least agree to make and keep