Sunday, 26 April 2015

Great people depart, ordinary people depart

The sudden departure of professor Władysław Bartoszewski is not just a loss of an outstanding witness of twentieth century’s atrocious history and meritorious advocate of dialogue and forgiveness in international relations. It is, as many claim, another milestone towards the end of a certain era. The last representatives of WW2 survivors generation are slowly passing away, the same will happen soon to the last imprisoned in Stalinist times, in decades veterans of Solidarity will also grow less numerous. This is, inevitably, history in the making.

Media, not only Polish, are full of memoirs and obituaries of Mr Bartoszewski, since the professor was recognised and appreciated well beyond borders of Poland. For me Mr Bartoszewski symbolised the power of individualism and was awe-inspiring example of brilliant intellectual strength despite grand old age. As for the former, Mr Bartoszewski excelled at striking a balance between speaking out what he thought and not hurting anyone. As for the latter, he proved keeping up intellectual activity can help preserve mental fitness of a man in his 60s. Despite being 93, until his last days he was involved in public issues. He made his last appearance mere five days before the decease and was due to make another one tomorrow.

His lifeline, long and broad, was cut unexpectedly. In a TV interview given on his 80th birthday, he confessed he feared a day when he would be still physically alive, yet not understanding what was going on around. As he wished, this day has never come, senility has never taken over him. Maybe thus he met his destination, he lived on the run and passed away on the run, so may we remember him that way.

The departure of aunt Krysia, my maternal’s grandmother’s cousin and my mother’s godmother also struck as a bolt from the blue. Aunt was 85, yet despite that age still mentally and physically fit. I last saw her on 14 March, the day after her name-day and in the eve of my grandma’s death. I thought when my grandma was at her age she was also so full of energy. Even on the day she passed away nothing presage the oncoming tragedy. Just like Mr Bartoszewski a few days later, she fainted in her flat, was taken to a hospital where she died.

Not my immediate relative, yet a loss. Aunt Krysia and her sister Anna Sabina (who died in 2005) gave my maternal grandmother and her sister shelter when they were driven out from Warsaw by Germans after Warsaw Uprising. For my mother aunt was the last person who spent a lot of time with her mother with who she could recollect her mother. As a child, I used to spend around a month each summer in aunt Krysia and her sister’s flat in Piaseczno. They looked after my cousins and me when our mothers had to go to work.

On the professional front, a farewell to a 34-year-old talented manager working for one of the New Factory’s competitors. He died suddenly in a hotel during a business trip to one of Poland’s major cities. He was survived by a partner with who he had two small children. As it turns out, you will not know the date, nor the hour…

Hope we have run out of misery for a while and the blog will not resemble an obituary column at least in the coming months. Next week an overdue note on the imminent presidential election. What the campaign and candidates stand for is a crying shame, yet the issue is too serious to escape my notice.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Bogowie - film review

Customarily, long overdue, yet up for the release. The film biography of professor Zbigniew Religa, outstanding Polish cardiac surgeon, who first carried out a successful heart transplant in Poland, was hailed one of the best Polish films that went to the silver screen in 2014. The film received accolades and awards predominantly for the superiorly played role of the main character, so hats off to Tomasz Kot who did a splendid job of rendering what Mr Religa was like. The film is not just the memoirs of one of the most prominent individuals in the history of Polish medicine, or the homage paid to professor Religa. Its plot is multi-faceted and thread of Mr Religa’s endeavours to perform a successful heart transplant is intertwined with many other themes, likewise imperative to make the film whole.

Bogowie is about attaining the impossible. The plot is set in the 1980s and covers only a few most important years in Mr Religa’s biography; the period when as a surgeon in his mid-40s against all odds he attempts to overcome numerous impediments and perform a surgery that to almost everyone else seems out of reach.

The obstacles Mr Religa faces broadly have two ever-lasting dimensions: the system and the people. Bear in mind the story plays out in Poland in post-martial-law bleak mid-1980s; times of economic misery and social indifference. The slowly crumbling communist system was depicted incisively and with details worth remembering. The film can remind younger audience health care was quite well-developed in countries of the Soviet bloc. In terms of progress in medicine and access to health-care institutions communist countries had probably the littlest distance to catch up with the higher developed West. Talented young doctors, mostly those inconvenient for their superiors, were allowed to take internships in Western clinics and see cutting-edge development in the medicine. Obviously, they had to meet sullen individuals from the communist secret services and sign relevant papers; of course the choice criteria for foreign internships were flawed, yet plenty of young, up-and-coming doctors could bring a breath of fresh air to the Polish backwater. At that time the system, if you did not try to overthrow it, was not your biggest enemy and as it turned out, if you could make some concessions (Mr Religa at first avows he will never join the party and then goes back on his own promise to get a state subsidy), it could play along with you and somehow help you do your bit.

Much more nefarious than the system were the people. Depiction of senior, hard-line doctors, reluctant to move the Polish medicine ahead, discouraging the young generation from striving to attain the impossible, and laughing off their ambitions, is repulsive. In medicine, if the picture in the film is not distorted, the people, not the system, were to blame for backwardness of Poland. The ossified system, founded on the domination of old professors, was a drag on medical progress. In the film you could see something common back in the 1980s, namely the convention of addressing your superior per pan, while your superior would turn to you per ty, lack of symmetry today unthinkable in most places.

The film highlights the dark side of the Polish nature. “A Pole envies a fellow Pole even a calamity”, the sentence of a doctor who first, unsuccessfully, attempted to carry out a heart transplant, is meant to tell you in this cruel world you should not count anyone would support you, if you pull it off, your accomplishment will be detracted from, if you slip up, your failure will bring joy to your foes.

The film is about balancing humility and resilience. Knowing one’s own limitations is essential in doctor’s work and pursuit of one’s ambitions at all costs is absolutely reprehensible. Yet, some sort of obstinacy and determination not to give up is crucial if the path towards success is long, winding and full of obstacles. Stumbling, falling and the rising up must be counted in at the onset of the pursuit.

It is a film about ethics and risk management. The link between the two is elusive, yet worth paying attention to. In theory of economics you distinguish between pure risk and speculative risk. The former is observable when the outcome can be either neutral or negative. A good example is a risk of having a traffic accident – you either do not have an accident and are neither better off, nor worse off, or you have an accident and are worse off. An example of the latter is speculation on financial market – prices can move both favourably and unfavourably for you, you stand a chance of either losing or wining. At first glance, in the case of the heart transplant neither type of risk is exhibited. You face a situation which in theory of economics should never occur. The outcome might be either neutral or positive. A patient can either die soon or their life can be extended. From the ethical point of view, the dilemma is however more complicated, since by attempting to perform a heart transplant you might also accelerate the patient’s decease. The decision what to do rests than with a doctor who has sworn “not to harm”. The definition of harming can be vague as well. For older, backward doctors, putting the life of a patient who was bound to die within a few weeks at peril, fitted the definition of inflicting a harm. For Mr Religa, this was the price to pay for progress allowing to extend by several years lives of thousands of people.

Finally, the film is about striking a balance between career and personal life. Mr Religa in his pursuit of a method of saving lives of millions neglect his family. It not because he loves his job that much, it is because he wants to help people so much. The question which arises naturally then is whether outstanding individuals who want to sacrifice their lives to do something for posterity should raise families? Or maybe their families should be more lenient?

The film contains scenes of surgeries on open heart and it reminded me why I could not be a doctor. At such sights I nearly feel like passing out. Well, if everyone was cut out for every role, economic progress would have been far slower I guess…

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Headway in local infrastructure

1. Park and Ride Metro Stokłosy

When the ground-level, open-air car park for commuters near Metro Stokłosy was closed in October 2013, the revamped parking facility was scheduled to be opened on 15 Janaury 2015. The completion deadline has been met, since by all accounts the car park was finished before the end of 2014, yet it took one quarter more for the general contractor to fix all glitches, put finishing touches and for town hall clerks to issue the occupancy permit for the car park.

At long last, P+R Stokłosy was opened on 1 April 2015. It was supposed to be opened at 4:30 a.m., but when I pulled up there around 7:00 a.m., a chap from technical crew told me the facility was not yet opened. Turned away, I had to drive, for the last time so far, to P+R Ursynów. Quite probably, the car park staff were under-informed, or played an April Fool’s Day’s joke on me. During the press conference staged on the same day by the Public Transport Authority and some officials from the town hall, including deputy mayor, parked cars could be seen in the background.

The car park has the parking charge collection system identical to the one at P+R Ursynów. Once you drive in, you need to collect a parking ticket from the machine. A regular charge for parking is 100 PLN, however it can be cancelled if before leaving the facility a driver authenticates they are in a possession of at least daily public transport ticket. For the time being the system is defunct and gates are opened all the time. Beware though and do not try to use P+R Stokłosy as an overnight garage for you vehicle. On 2 April I witnessed some dim-witted chaps who left their rickety lorry there for the night-time maintenance break and found a billing note beneath wipers. A board with the list of rules and regulations is in front of the entrance, so ignorance of law is not an excuse.

It has been a subject of a heated debate among inhabitants of Ursynów, whether this huge box of painted concrete (the facility will serve also as bus terminus) is a blot on the landscape of Al. KEN, the thoroughfare of Ursynów. Developments on both sides of Al. KEN have been put up in 1990s or later, upon completion of underground line and are quite uniform. P+R Stokłosy’s structure is a misfit. Park and Ride facility at Okęcie tram and bus terminus, of similar architectural style, fits much better the surrounding area.

The car park offers space for almost 400 cars and only 20 bicycles. As for the latter, the number of spots for bike users is horrifically low, while the car parking capacity in the first weeks of usage is utilized in less than 20%, although users of alternative P+Rs have been duly notified P+R Stokłosy had been opened. The new car park has four levels, but from my observations in afternoon (around 5 p.m.) the ground level is not filled up, let alone the empty spaces above it.

Despite some grumbling, I generally appreciate the new car park. It shortens the distance covered by car each day and lengthens the distance covered underground (I sometimes feel like a mole, spending over 20 minutes in the morning and in the afternoon below ground), moreover it helps avoid the most congested in afternoon section of ul. Puławska between ul. Poleczki and ul. Płaskowickiej (hint: ul. Taneczna, Krasnowolska, Poloneza and Ludwinowska come up as excellent detour). All in all, it brings some time and money savings, yet you have to use your brains to work out swinging east to leave a car there is superior to taking a straight-forward route to P+R Wilanowska for instance.

2. Ul. Mleczarska – progress report.

Traditionally, we start from the south, although when yesterday I strolled there to inspect how works moved on, I walked southwards (snaps by Szajsung).

The section from ul. Syrenki almost up to the railway crossing is nearly finished. The pavement on the east side is ready, as the cycling past on western side of the street is. The very road still lacks the top-most abrasive layer of tarmac and most probably it will not be laid until the very last days of construction (heavy vehicles use this road to reach construction site, to the decision to leave this section a little unfinished is reasonable).

I wonder whether all arrangements between the investor and owner (PGNiG Termika) or administrator (DB Rail Schenker) of the rail track running to Siekierki plant have been finalised. Not a single step has been taken to initiate modernisation of the railway crossing, while on both sides of the tracks construction of the road is more or less advanced…

The section between the tracks and ul. Energetyczna has taken shape since the beginning of March. Pavement and cycling path have been marked out. Laid curbs indicate the road will be slightly winding. One can also see an intersection with a road running into plot of former bus and trolleybus depot (torn down a few years ago). Cart well before horse. Modern lamps post have been put up yet the old ones, carrying overhead electricity wires, remain. The development could do with a more comprehensive approach.

Looking at four-lane ul. Energetyczna towards ul. Puławska. One can discern where two roads will run, yet without peeking at plans beforehand, one will not make out where a huge roundabout, replacing traditional intersection of ul. Mleczarska and ul. Energetyczna will be built.

The section between ul. Energetyczna and ul. Mleczarska is least advanced. The new road will be shifted west in relation to its previous trail. The nut tree first from the left will have to chopped down to give way to the cycling path.

And the last photo (finer playing part of an intruder), taken from the corner of ul. Krasickiego in NI and ul. Mleczarska. The fence of the property at the south-west corner of the intersection was pulled down and new, makeshift one, put up. Some pipes have also been laid underground, below the dug up parcel of land parallel to the road. According to my neighbour (allegedly having it on good authority), works will kick off here for good in May and completion deadline of 30 June 2015 is not in question. We shall see :)

Monday, 6 April 2015

"We're here only in passing"

24 July 2010

My paternal grandparents are both 84, they still manage on their own, but one day they’ll surely depart. When? How will I react? Uncertainty crops up once again…

Easter, on the word of Christian beliefs, the celebration of rebirth. Christians trust Jesus died and resurrected and so one day all His followers will. This belief is meant to fill people with hope that life does not cease at the moment of demise. One’s soul just enters a different dimension, a transition to another phase in the pursuit of eternal life.

Rozłąka naszym losem.
Spotkanie naszą nadzieją.

Fate parts us, but we ought to hope one day we will reunite. Faith, whether Christian, or any other, is probably meant to help people cope with bereavement.

Recent departure of my grandma was not my first close encounter to death. Six and a half years ago my maternal grandfather passed away. The two deceases made me ponder upon the nature of death, as a down-to-earth, yet an immensely complicated phenomenon. In medical terms a decease is a moment when functions of a human body come to a halt, heart ceases to beat, brain stops working (to be more precise these processes do not have to terminate at the same moment). In some spiritual context, the body dies down, yet the soul might fly away from the body. In psychological dimension the passage from “alive” to “dead” state means a human being once “is” and then “is not”, something one can find hard to comprehend.

You could argue whether every death brings out comparable feelings of sorrow leaving out extreme examples, such as death of Stalin, which filled millions of people with joy and hope for communist regime thawing out). Perception and coping with death from what I have observed depends on combination of three factors:

1) Whether a person died young, pre-maturely or naturally, out of old age. It seems it easier to come to terms with a decease of a person who passes away having lived until the grand old age, since being born and dying are an indispensable part of each human’s existence and whenever someone’s lifeline ends naturally rather is being cut across.

2) Whether a departure is expected or sudden. A death preceded by long illness helps relatives prepare (if possible at all) to cope with bereavement. A death which strikes out of the blue comes a much bigger shock to family of the deceased.

3) Whether a death is quick or long-lasting. A fast decease, which does not cause a dead person suffer a lot before breathing their last might give some comfort to their relative, while a long-lasting death means usually many people suffer together with the terminally ill.

My recent experience tells me it is somewhat easier to reconcile to loss of grandma if I bear in mind she lived long in good health, I had some time to face up to the thought the decease is inexorable (half a year ago I knew chances she would recover were low, more than two weeks before death it became clear it was just a matter of time). The worst period for me was essentially “the wait”, since without going into details grandma’s farewell with this world lasted exactly two weeks, during which she knew what was going on with her and suffered badly. Doctors in the hospital could at best ease her pain and wait.

The first half of March has brought on thoughts on one of the controversial ethical issues in the public discourse – euthanasia, a dilemma I had had no clear-cut opinion on. Now I am sure I am against it. I have realised departure has to ensue naturally, no matter how long the pre-death agony lasts. I cannot imagine anyone from the family instructing a doctor to put grandma out of misery. Yet I have to confess the phone call from the hospital which woke us up before dawn on 15 March brought a bit of relief that grandma no longer suffered.

Those two weeks also triggered the question about the sense of suffering. I doubt there can be any good answer to it. Suffering is a part of divine plan and we as humans should not interfere.

Grandma was buried in a relatively new part of cemetery in Skolimow. After the funeral I looked around to learn grandma’s grave is surrounded by graves of people who died in their 50s, 60s or early 70s. I found only three graves of people aged above 80 the moment they passed away and only one grave of a 91-year-old woman, older than my grandma. That sample of burial grounds could give lie to a rising life expectancy, yet if our goal is other than calling into question statistics, the conclusion is only one – the surrounding graves symbolise far too many premature deceases…

The day after the funeral I had to take a business trip to a client seated some 50 kilometres from Poznan. Since four persons were travelling and the destination was far away from the nearest train station, it was most convenient and economical to go by a company car. Imagine the distance from Poznan to Warsaw can be covered within less than two and a half hours. Horrifyingly, driving 200 kmph at the motorways is ordinary for most sales representatives and senior managers having company cars at their disposal, who do not have to worry about sky-high petrol consumption but have too little time to waste it on slow driving. Oddly enough most of those people have small children, yet the thought their (and not only their) offspring could become semi-orphans far too early does not put them off lunatic driving. Well, maybe the word “lunatic” is not the most suitable, since the driver was confident and we did not have any situation threatening an accident, yet the very speed of 200 kmph is excessive.

Memento mori… Jesteśmy tu tylkona chwilę