Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I just read this poignant account from Anna Racoon of her cancer treatment at a French hospital.

I found the last part of her story the most reassuring and well deserved considering what she'd been through. Anna said :

On arriving at Bordeaux, I met the ‘Oncologist’ – she spoke a little English she said. That turned out to amount to:

‘I have a lot of questions to ask you.’

‘Hmmn, OK.’

‘Do you smoke?’

‘Oui’ … (here we go!)

‘Ow many chaque jour‘ … (are we coming to the end of the English? Maybe the lecture in French is not so bad!)

‘Hmmmn, 20 or so’ … (takes deep breath and braces self)

‘Would you rather sit in zee petit jardin so you can haff a zigarette while I demand the questions…?’

-and with that she poured out two coffees and carried them to a seat in the garden and smiled benevolently as I lit up!

Wowee! These people are human!

Other reports from France show that smokers are treated equally humanely, with dignity, and not derided for "making themselves ill" as in the UK.

The message below was sent to me recently of a similar experience in France :

I was amazed when offered the opportunity to smoke in the hospital garden over a cup of coffee when filling in a questionnaire.

I was stunned to discover that even when hooked up to an intravenous drip, I was free to do so at any hour of the night or day in order to join the other walking wounded snatching a quick fag outside the door.

I was completely gobsmacked when two nurses appeared outside one evening pushing an entire bed containing an obviously very sick lady outside the door - followed by her partner carrying a bottle of champagne – and waited patiently for some half an hour whilst he had a couple of cigarettes (she was attached to an oxygen machine…ergo, they had come from the third floor, the lung department,) and shared the champagne whilst watching the sun set ...

One of the better sightings was a lady with only one leg on crutches, accompanied by a nurse who patiently alternated between holding her cup of coffee so she could smoke, and holding the cigarette so she could sip the coffee!

I have talked to one of the nurses about it, and their view is that – we already have cancer, so why worry about getting it somewhere else/ it is more important that we are stress free to survive the debilitating chemotherapy / the law only says no smoking inside the premises / most of them smoke as well...

None of the British nonsense of no smoking within the grounds of an NHS trust, not a single anti smoking poster in the entire place, just one statutory notice affixed to the main door.

Ashtrays provided in the small garden, and an elderly man who goes round with a broom sweeping up all the cigarette ends left by the walking wounded who can’t manage to get as far as the garden ...

Why is British law so hysterical – this place is a centre of excellence for cancer care in France, and if they are not hysterically anti-smoking, why are the British?

The email reminded me of two very different examples of NHS care that I'd recently heard about here - one by a close friend whose relative died in 2006 and the other a young mum I met on the street last July and chatted to over a smoke.

In the first case, the old woman in her late 70s was dying. Her last wish was to have a cigarette. To my friend's amazement, the hospital staff pulled a curtain around her, brought her an ashtray, and allowed her to smoke in her hospital bed between puffs of oxygen. That's how I'd like my end to be if I am not at home when my times comes.

I think that for some people smoking is a culture. One of the floral tributes at this woman's funeral was in the shape of a giant cigarette. I stifled a giggle when my friend told me because it seemed a bit bizarre but the point was that her relatives knew she'd want that final fag for her journey. Smoking had been a central point of her life since childhood. I'm sure her view would have been like Mark Twain's : "If I can't smoke in heaven I shall not go."

The other, recent, case was a young mum's grandma who needed a hip op but she was told she would have to pay for it herself because she was a smoker. Apparently on the grounds that the outcome after an operation is not good for smokers and they did not want to risk her life - but she could if she paid for it and she did. That was 2011.

All of the above are anecdotal examples of how NHS compassion appears to have been lost in such a very short time. It has been forced out of the service by a new regime and the politicisation of the NHS through our lifestyle factors. Everything about the sudden change in the way smokers are treated began with the smoking ban and health act of 2006.

The current Govt is adding to the woe in the misleading guise of "public health" which punishes people for wrong life choices. Soon there will be no NHS worth having if politics doesn't butt out.

If this new "progressive" form of NHS must lead to change, I would much rather see it go the French way than the American. In the US they don't just discriminate against smoker patients as our NHS does, they also discriminate against smoker staff on grounds of hate. There is not one single proven piece of evidence to suggest that the smell of smokers harm others.

If these so-called Progressives think that enforced social change can be achieved by denying people with "bad" lifestyles access to communities, housing, jobs and services, that their exclusion from the NHS is justified and a good and positive move forward, then they are showing themselves up for what they truly are - bigoted Regressives who are intent on taking us socially backwards because it fits their own ideological view of the perfect world.

And some of them are downright dangerous to society in pushing this enforced change.

Just about every single day since July 2007 it has been demonstrated time and again that this is really not about health.