Last Night's Television - History of Now: the Story of the Noughties, BBC2; Hannah: the Girl Who Said No To A New Heart, BBC1
Just the right treatment
Wednesday 06 January 2010
"I can't believe I'm still going," said Hannah. "I have been close to death a couple of times, but I'm still going so my heart is obviously a lot stronger than some people say it is." "Some people" were Hannah's doctors, all of whom believed that Hannah should dump her existing heart and fit a new one. But after a childhood filled with medical procedures Hannah didn't want any more operations and had turned down the offer of a life-saving transplant, a decision that propelled her into the headlines a few years ago and, ultimately, into Martin Hicks's
Hannah: the Girl Who Said No to a New Heart. What generated all the news coverage was essentially a blasphemy against a modern piety – that life is always better than death. But it also involved a contemporary received opinion – that children aren't fit to make serious decisions about their own lives. Hannah eventually had to persuade a child protection officer that she was competent to decide on her own medical treatment.
I doubt it took very long, because she was impressively articulate about her right to decide what happened to her next. The opening sequence of Hicks's film was essentially a portrait of someone living on death row, but Hannah's normality – and the realistic brevity of her perspective on the future – somehow took the sting out of that fact. "I haven't got any New Year's resolutions," she confessed to a video diary. "I made one last year to stop biting my nails and it didn't work." This year, she added, she was restricting herself to "just stay well and not get worse and that this won't be the last Christmas". On a brief visit to school, she revealed that she wasted none of the little time she had left on homework, a blithe indifference that had aroused the envy of her friends: "They all say, 'Oh you're so lucky'," she explained guilelessly, "and I'm like, 'Yeah, I know'."
It struck you that the problem – as far as social workers were concerned – may have lain less with Hannah's attitude than the unusual reluctance of her parents to let their feelings colour her decision. Her mother, Kirsty, was one of those brisk, bluff Englishwomen who act as if a display of emotion would be letting the side down, and her insistence that Hannah had the last word seemed over-anxious in its refusal to guide or nudge. The awful thought occurred that Hannah might be saying what she thought her parents wanted to hear, while they were so terrified of "influencing" her that they wouldn't allow themselves to coax her past a childhood dread. Fortunately, in the end it was academic – in the light of a new diagnosis Hannah changed her mind and allowed her name to go on to the transplant list. "I was a bit stunned and a little bit tearful," said her mother, recalling this moment, "but I was sitting in the room beside her and Lucy was with us, so you have to pretend that's fine, don't you?" No, Kirsty, at such a moment – when the dread is suddenly lifted – I really don't think you do. But then again perhaps she knew that her stiff upper lip had work yet to do, with Hannah's eventual operation stretching out over 12 agonising days because the donor organ was larger than the surgeons had expected and, like an overpacked suitcase, they couldn't immediately close up her chest. Seemed ironic that, since everything you saw suggested she'd had a very big heart to begin with.
Hannah now stands a good chance of growing up to experience the generational faultline that, according to History of Now: the Story of the Noughties, is one of the defining features of our age. I felt I knew which side of this crevasse I was standing on at the beginning of Sebastian Barfield's look back at the last decade, which opened up like an offshoot edition of Grumpy Old Men, with Andy Marr, Toby Young and Will Self grumbling mildly about the vacuity of the Dome. As specious portmanteau words like "kidulthood" and "grandboomer" and "adultescence" swam across the screen, I found myself thinking of our sadly diminished attention spans and the modern terror of coming across as even the tiniest bit old fashioned. But then cultural dyspepsia began to fade. The graphics were actually rather good – image and content properly married together – and the film itself was after (and successfully hooked) something more substantial than shallow nostalgia. Killer statistic – the calculation, in 2007, that booming property prices had seen the transfer of £1.3 trillion from the young to the old in just 20 years. "It is somewhat surprising I think that young people are not angrier than they are about this," said one commentator. Then again, the young have got youth, which even £1.3 trillion can't buy back.
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