Thursday, 22 December 2016

Let's get talking about PMR

The trouble with my industry, is that those lucky enough to have full time jobs in the subsidised sector can often be part-timers. I sort of mean this in all senses of the word. You know the sort. They "work from home" several days a week, clear off for ludicrously lengthy holidays, and when you try to pin them down for a meeting, their next slot is in three months time. They know what they're entitled to, go sick at the drop of a hat and talk about work-life balance, getting hugely belligerent at the thought of working outside the hours of ten and six. Talk to them about the arts, and they instantly become jaded. They don't just take the Christmas week off. They vanish for at least a month from early December through to mid January. The same happens for the whole of August. It's the reason why so few industry figures come to see NYMT shows and why Brass, though described as the "theatrical highlight of the year" by critics who did see it, will never make it on to one of those "listicles" they publish at this time of year. Nothing can be done about it and I have to keep telling myself that it's just the way that the industry works, but it isn't half frustrating. It is one of the marked contrasts between the mentality of those who create and those who make their money out of those who create.

I once went to a painful forum where a group of industry figures were talking about the problems with musical theatre and the need to innovate the art form. On an on people went about how awful tradition book musicals were, and how we perhaps shouldn't even use the word "musical" because it puts people off. "Why do we need conventional narrative structures?" They all shouted. The biggest problem to me seemed to be that the majority of people in the room had only seen west end shows, and had no idea how much innovation was going on underneath that particular glass ceiling. The room was filled with literary managers, funding specialists, artistic directors and theatre managers, all of whom seemed hell bent on telling the writers and composers in the room what we needed to do to be of more interest to the industry. In summing up, the best advice seemed to be for us to change race if we were white and change gender if we were male. Brilliant! Anyway, it was when one of the writers dared to pipe up that the whole foundations of the forum began to collapse; "I would hazard a guess," she said, "that the only people in this room who can't make a living in the musical theatre industry are the writers." And at that stage, we suddenly realised the sad truth about our chosen profession!

Nathan received a wonderful email this morning from one of the ladies who regularly watches his podcast. Some of you reading this blog may remember that I have been vociferous in attempting to raise awareness of a syndrome called PMR (Polymyalgia Rhuenatica.)

This syndrome is far more common than you might expect, to the extent that both my mother and my mother-in-law have been sufferers. In its basic form, it leads to unbelievable stiffness and the inability to do the simplest things without great pain. Holding ones hands above ones head is often troublesome. The good news is that it's utterly treatable. A dose of steroids will make the sufferer start to feel better almost immediately. The bad news is that, left unchecked, the syndrome can develop into Giant Cell Arteritis, which is a whole heap less fun, and can lead to blindness and ultimately, death. It's still treatable, but steroid courses are longer, and the road to recovery is more twisting. The other bad news is that doctors don't seem to be able to spot the disease. My mother-in-law diagnosed herself. My Mum went to the doctor's over a period of about a year with classic symptoms which went unspotted. She has subsequently encouraged several women in her town with similar symptoms to go to the doctor and ask to be tested for PMR. All of them had the syndrome.

So anyway, Nathan and I are trying to raise awareness as much as we can. PMR tends to occur in post-menopausal women (although men can also get it), so, if you, or if someone you know have/has any of the symptoms listed above, do some research online and get checked out. Talk about PMR as often as you can. If doctors are routinely not diagnosing the syndrome, we have got to get the word out there.

Anyway, the email Nathan received came from one of his followers in Washington State, America. Nathan had done a piece on PMR on his podcast which had struck a chord with her, largely because her friend was suffering from the tell-tale signs and had been routinely sent packing by doctors. Anyway, her friend read up on the symptoms, went to a new doctor, was instantly diagnosed and, in the words of the woman, "given her back her life." In fact, more specifically, she told Nathan that he himself had given the woman her life back. The sign-off finished us both off, "she was thrilled to say she'd chopped the carrots for her favourite soup. Something she hadn't been able to do for years." Heartbreaking.

Let's get talking about PMR!

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