02 January 2013

Occupations and their hazards

Chess players die of heart-attacks. Not all of them, of course. Still, heart attack is often mentioned as the occupational disease of chess players, or ‘wood pushers’ as my mother used to call us (my brother, father and myself), given her preference to outdoor sports and those that required much more limb-movement that the delicate two-fingered dis/misplacements over 64 squares over five hours.

I know that cricketers and others who engage in ‘field’ sports have been struck by lightning but that’s still a rarity. I know one or two have died on account of being struck by a ball in the wrong place at the wrong angle at the wrong pace and remember reading about a cricketer being killed by a wayward javelin. I don’t know however if there’s a ‘cricketer’s disease’.
People die all the time and there are no laws (of state or science) to designate appropriate death-place, but some occupations increase the chances of certain kinds of deaths over others. Soldiers die in battlefield and of gunshot injuries, to state an obvious example. In the year 1986 I attended a funeral in Dodangaslanda, that of the father of a batchmate, Jayalath, now an archaeologist. I don’t know what the disease was called. Neither did he, nor anyone else in that hamlet.

They knew the disease though. They knew the symptoms and the landmarks of affliction as the afflicted moved from healthy to sick to dying to dead. It was the occupational disease of those who worked in the plumbago mines of Dodangaslanda.
Death is not a sunny topic. These days there aren’t many sunny mornings, but that doesn’t mean that I must necessarily focus on the morbid in my morning musings, not even if I had to bury a little puppy before sitting down to type out this copy. It’s just that I’ve been thinking of occupational diseases (and not all of them are fatal of course). Factory workers, for example, agitate for insurance again and/or compensation for workplace accidents that result in injury. What of politicians, I wondered. What is their ‘occupational affliction’?

Since they occupy high seats, I thought ‘vertigo’. For some reason I had thought vertigo had something to do with heights and fear of the same. I did some research and found that ‘vertigo’ is not ‘fear of heights’. That would be ‘acrophobia’ and this can trigger vertigo, according to the relevant science. Vertigo refers to a condition of turning, feeling that things are turning about you or that you are turning around, dizzily. It is usually sourced to a problem of the inner ear.
I think it is the ‘turning around’ part of the definition that made me think this would be a condition that politicians fall victim too often. They may fall from heights but few if any are ever scared of those lofty heights they occupy or wish to occupy one day. Acrophobia is therefore not a politician’s disease. It is perhaps a condition that befalls those who are not suited to be politicians but who for one reason or another end up dabbling in the affairs of the State.

We know, for example, that there are many who really don’t know how to handle power. Something happens to them the closer to the top they get politically. They just lose it. They lose it so bad that believing their own lies and acquiring a false sense of self-importance they think they are supermen/women. The higher they go, the longer they have to fall and the bigger the bum-bruise.
I was thinking of claustrophobia too. Now I do know that politicians are public figures and are ‘people-people’, that they have to attend rallies, speak at functions, canvass support etc. These are all open-space events. Still, having been a silent and helpless victim (like almost all my fellow citizens) of ‘movements’, the whizzing by of a motorcade replete squad cars, motorcycles, jeeps, men in uniform and armed, decoy cars, tinted glasses and whatnot, I have wondered how ‘public’ these politicians are able to or allowed to be.

I’ve seen traffic make way for ambulances. I’ve seen traffic making way for ‘movements’. I’ve wondered about the people inside ambulances; the patient, his/her condition, chances of survival, whether he/she is conscious or not, what kind of thoughts and pains run through mind and body. I can’t help thinking that the VIP in a motorcade is not very different to such a patient.
I’ve wondered if the security-concerned politician suffers from claustrophobia, an abnormal fear of being in narrow or enclosed spaces. I figure that a claustrophobic cannot be a politician for too long since the security requirements would necessitate a kind of imprisonment that would be insufferable and even fatal.

They are hemmed in, whether they like it or not. Today we live in a terrorist-free Sri Lanka, but for decades politicians just couldn’t be ‘public’.
They had every reason to fear open spaces and especially public spaces. A crowded city intersection, for example, could trigger both anxiety in someone who is averse to feeling hemmed in (claustrophobia) and someone who is wondering if some sniper is training a gun on the center of his forehead (agoraphobia).

I am not saying that politicians are unhappy or that they are sick. I mean, we all operate within spaces that are ‘okayed’ by some law or institutional or moral ‘requirement’. Some of us are happy to inhabit these limited spaces. Indeed some might be overwhelmed out of their minds if there were no lines, no rules of engagement and the field of being was unrestricted and stretched to innumerable infinities. At the same time, there would be those who feel hemmed in by lined drawn by others like themselves, for reasons best known to line-drawers.
Such conditions are not easily treated, especially if the parameters are of a strictly material kind. There will always be reason to speak from behind a bullet-proof screen, reason to travel in bullet-proof car and in a motorcade. Some of it is self-inflicted.

Politicians die of heart-attacks. They are not often struck down by lightning. There have been politicians who have been assassinated.
There are non-politicians who suffer from agoraphobia, claustrophobia and acrophobia.

And some, regardless of occupation, suffer heartbreak. Is it an occupational hazard? In a way, yes, for there are those who don’t do anything else than love, don’t know anything else but to love and therefore must necessarily suffer knife after knife after knife and the tragedy of not dying. I don’t think a medical term has been coined for this condition. There are things that Wikipedia just can’t pin down and this is such a relief.

[P.S.  This was written in May 2010.  Motorcade-Mania has subsided somewhat but we still hear of pedestrians being knocked down.]


Ramzeen said...

Politicians what with all that power, should die of sudden power failure. Unfortunately this doesn't happen. They live to a doddering old age and still occupy the seat of power. This seat, again unfortunately isn't connected to a high voltage switch.what we have is a motley crew of slime-balls that are totally non-representative of the people.