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"The unexamined life is not worth living"

I'm not entirely sure this is what Socrates meant by 'examined' when he went on trial and spoke his truth. I don't think they had cone-beam computed tomography scanners in Ancient Greece, two thousand, four hundred years ago. They relied on philosophy.

Truth be told ... I didn't know we had such a thing as CBCT scanning in the 21st Century either. So there we have it. I'm more informed than I was a few weeks ago.


I gather there will be more 'examining'. And then there'll be some 'doing'.


We'll see where all that leads us. It will almost certainly be somewhere I do not want to go. But I can't help thinking -- "suck it up, Douglas. Worse things happen at sea".


As they say.


By the way, who are "they"? Although, to be honest, I don't really care. We chart our own course through life. Whatever platitudinous nonsense 'they' spout.


Here, nevertheless, is another of Dougie's somewhat weird diversions.


I saw the photo Spike took of me at the scanner place then thought, "who is that bloke?" I asked the question in this sense.


The photograph is mildly destabilising (in a way). I've been in a wheelchair for almost forty years. Air travel aside, almost the only occasions in which I'm not sitting in my wheelchair are when I'm asleep in bed or driving my car. Neither situation offers much in the way of photographic excitement or innovation.


Scottish guy sleeping. Scottish guy driving. Even Henri Catrier-Bresson might have struggled.


This is what strikes me as 'odd'. I'm doing some so-called ordinary thing -- seat sitting -- in a so-called normal way. I cannot remember the last time I did such a thing. Although, I will concede, this aint exactly a normal sit down experience.


But. No wheelchair in sight. Odd.


As a not-quite-normal life moment -- an essential, non-discretionary health services intervention -- it could, of course, have been more inclusive. All it would have required was a little thought about the process by the folk who design scanners.


It took three people to get me safely on to that height adjustable 'secretary's chair'. Me, Spike and the genuinely nice, truly helpful radiologist (who came in to assist us on his day off work). Lift the Scottish guy from his wheelchair to the plastic covered seat. Don't drop him. Don't trip over the machine's 'legs'. Don't hurt yourself lifting the overweight man.


Across the world there are millions and millions of people with disability who use wheelchairs. There are many more with other mobility impairments. Some of us need head scans from time to time.


I'm guessing there is a comparatively small number of companies that design and make cone-beam computed tomography scanners ... CT, MRI or PET scanners also. Take your pick of medical imaging machines. Or don't pick. Just do what you're told by whichever medical practitioner tells you to go somewhere to get your bits ... x, y, or z ... scanned.


For some of us, though, the design flaws of essential medical technology make already challenging experiences unnecessarily difficult. From straightforward, old-technology like examination beds that are not height adjustable or a perfectly ordinary CBCT scanner like 'mine' to a $2 Million (USA) 256-slice state-of-the-art CT Scanner from Toshiba, Seimens or Phillips it's clear - like Animal Farm - some scanned animals are more equal than others.


Am I being more than usually difficult?


I don't think so. But don't trust me. Let's ask Article 25 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

States Parties recognize that persons with disabilities have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability.

Universal design, guys. It's A Thing. It helps everyone, everywhere, always.


But there is a second, more idiosyncratic conundrum about this photo. More personal.


It concerns the photo's power (over me) to disrupt my own sense of self. And (as we all know) I have a very strong -- some would say "over-developed" -- sense of self.


I am a pain in the ass, activist disabled person. And for the purposes of historical accuracy I should make it crystal clear I was both a pain in the ass and an activist many years before acquiring my disability.


Speaking personally ... I blame the parents.


But even I cannot eradicate entirely 100,000 years of unspoken, unarticulated, implicit prejudice and bias in favour of an idealised form of the perfect human. We are 'meant' to be 'flawless'; bodies and minds. We're disappointed if / when we turn out less than perfect.


It's an idea planted subliminally in every fibre of our beings from the moment we are born. Maybe earlier.


Except -- thanks to this 'abnormal' photograph -- I come at the question from the opposite direction. Some people name my point of otherness as "lived experience" (imprecisely and incorrectly in my seldom humble opinion).


So, again, I ask myself (and you). Who is that man?


He looks vaguely familiar but it cannot be me. There is no wheelchair and we all know Dougie and his chairs have been welded together at his arse for four decades.


So -- maybe like some character from Phillip Pullman's 'Dark Materials' trilogy -- this is some other Dougie from a parallel universe. He never went to the beach that day. Or maybe he paid attention to the depth of the water. He went home that night (not hospital) after enjoying lamb rogan josh and chicken vindaloo at Kushi's Indian restaurant with his friends.


Life carried on as expected. Nothing bad or shitty ever happened to him in all the years that followed. Nothing. In fact, the exact opposite happened. He won an Oscar, the Booker Prize and set up a universe-changing Internet search engine called Doogle in his spare time.


Lucky bastard.


The odd thing is this.


Despite all his success, overachievement & wealth, that other Dougie still ended up with his head held tightly by two velcro straps, his chin fixed firmly in a vice-like thingo, his scrawny arse perched on a cheap seat while wearing a lead-lined bib to protect his thyroid gland.


I have no idea what that tells me. Except that we live in the real world. Not in a fairy tale.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Perspective matters.


As I write this, my friend and former colleague John Moxon is fighting for his life in the intensive care unit of a Sydney hospital. John is a leader and elder of the Australian disability rights movement.


He is one of the three people who interviewed me in 1999 for the role of Executive Officer of the Physical Disability Council of NSW. I was sitting in my home office in a tiny village about 20 miles east of Edinburgh. John -- President of PDCN at the time -- was chairing the interview panel in Sydney. I'm here, in part, because they were persuaded by what I said.


To John, his wife Margaret and John's family I send love and good wishes. Many, many of us are with you in spirit.

Me, Margaret and John in Parliament. Celebrating his leadership and lifelong commitment to progress and disabled people's rights.


We have work still to do John. Get well soon.


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