Headache and heartache

I had trouble sleeping tonight because after returning to work yesterday, I lasted just two hours in the office before being overcome by the illness that has subdued me for a week now. Once I arrived home yesterday, I passed out for nearly three hours and spent the rest of the day trying to stop shaking. As is my wont, I’d pushed myself too hard to get back to work. Serious influenza – which, unfortunately, I admit I have actually contracted – isn’t just an upper respiratory tract infection. And it takes time and patience to get over, neither of which I was prepared to permit it. My body got the better of me though, summarily removing me from the driver’s seat and forcing me to take things a bit more slowly. I’m going to work from home today, in the hope that “light duties” (ie: sitting in my office at home and working from there) will be less inclined to rob me of my dignity and composure.

However, my own troubles seem so incredibly miniscule besides those of the miners in Beaconsfield, Tasmania, or little Sophie Delezio.

At 12:30am this morning, it was reported that the miners had at long last seen the probe which began the final stage of drilling to rescue these two men, trapped for 14 days almost a kilometre underground in a tiny metal cage. There’s still 30cm of hard rock and another 60cm of rubble to get through before the men can be freed, but the end appears at last in sight. It’s now more than a week since then men were found using thermal imaging equipment and sheer luck after an earthquake caused a rockfall in the Tasmanian gold mine, and the men have been forced to work for their own release, grouting around their cavern to help prevent further cave-ins as the rescue team have tried and tried to reach those trapped. When you think about the hot, cramped and unsanitary conditions these men have endured for a fortnight – 6 days of which were spent in total darkness and without food or water – you can only begin to imagine the kind of trauma that will stay with Brant Webb and Todd Russell for the rest of their days.

Similarly, if Sophie Delezio survives this last accident I wonder what it will do to her sense of mortality in the longer term. After being hit by a car as she was crossing the road in front of her school last Friday, 5 year old Sophie remains in a medically induced coma as doctors attempt to determine whether she has suffered brain damage among her injuries. Sophie, who suffered burns to 80% of her body, lost both feet, most of one hand and an ear when a car ploughed in to her child care centre 3 years ago, was being pushed in her pram across a school crossing when an 80 year old driver allegedly failed to stop at the crossing, collecting Sophie and only narrowly missing her carer. The driver of this last incident has been charged with dangerous driving and there are calls for elderly drivers to be more regularly tested, but it’s Sophie who is again struggling for her life, as her already limited existence has been curtailed again by human error in the driver’s seat.

Someone close to me has just commented on both these incidents with the following wise words:

“The pain of others, the rule of com-passion, is easily available through media these days – but even though we have systemic understanding of it, our systemic response to reform and change is sorely lacking. I’m enough of a futurist to want to run an ‘automation index’ over (every dangerous task, driving included)…No quanta of consciousness is worth losing to a badly-arranged, under-innovated system.”

I couldn’t agree more. We are often concerned about loss of jobs and personal autonomy with technology-oriented solutions to various tasks, but we’re all increasingly aware of invasions of civil liberties occurring in the name of national security, when such technologies could be so much better used to save lives. As a society we need to find better ways of employing community members than locking them in cages 100 metres below ground. And we need to be less politically correct about identifying loss in driver skill among elderly or even over-stressed and weary drivers. It’s time we started considering ways in which the technologies of today can be put to better use.

If a robotic device to cut into rockface and determine the best approach to gather mineral resources could have saved the heartache and expense of the miners’ rescue, and a proximity alarm and engine shut down system could have saved Sophie, it’d be worth it.

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