Our daughter, bless her cotton socks, recently got her Leaving Certificate results. She was delighted with them, and so were we. For myself, her success is just another step nearer to the day that she will be able to keep us in the manner to which we would like to become accustomed. My sole reason for having her in the first place was so that I can retire early and sponge off her, and so far the plan is coming together nicely.
However, this grand scheme was in danger of going badly off the rails last year, when we were obliged to take drastic action to ensure she got the exam results she needed. One Saturday morning, we had to sedate her heavily and carry her down to the James Connolly Memorial Hospital to have her mobile phone surgically removed from her hand.
Not only is JCMH the country’s leading hospital for treating gunshot wounds – as reported in last month’s Community Voice – but it is also the country’s premier centre for mobile phone removals.
“We currently treat around fifty young people a week,” said Dr. Nokia O’Nokia, the leading consultant at JMCH. “and the numbers are rising constantly. Many of them are in a bad way when they come in. Because of the trauma involved, we insist on a full anaesthetic. The surgery itself is relatively straightforward, but the worry and sense of loss for the patient, means they often become aggressive during the operation, so it’s best to knock them out completely.”
The condition – known as dexterus immobilitis among the medical fraternity or Mobile Hand Syndrome – was first diagnosed in California in the mid nineties. Because the mobile phone never left the young person’s hand for weeks and months, sometimes years, it was discovered that it gradually became grafted to the palm of the patient, until it was an actual physical appendage to the body.
Though widely reported in “Time” magazine at the time, this was largely dismissed as being a localised freak of nature. However, as Dr. Manic Texter of the University of Columbia explains, the condition has reached epidemic proportions.
“We have a database of reported cases from every country in the world, “ he says. “Except Nepal. And the Vatican. And Greenland, too, though many people still argue that it is an autonomous dependency of Denmark, rather than a bona fide country.”
The symptoms of Mobile Hand Syndrome are very easy to spot, and parents should keep a close eye on their offspring to detect it at an early stage. Going to sleep with their hand plugged into the battery charger is normally a dead giveaway, as is enquiring about the cost of keyhole surgery whenever a SIM card needs changing.
Although JCMH operates a walk-in, walk-out system of performing the necessary surgery, they strongly advise that both the young person and their parent receive counselling both before and after treatment.
“It is best if the young person is persuaded that the operation is in their best interests,” says Dr. Wotsme Pincode, eminent child psychologist and author of the seminal work, “Bloody kids! Who’d have ‘em?” “Here at JMCH, we try to stress all the negative aspects of having a mobile phone physically attached to one’s hand – the inability to do homework, and to do washing-up or indeed any housework at all, the impossibility of holding normal conversations with their parents, the awkwardness of picking one’s nose etc etc. If we can get them in the right frame of mind, if we can convince them that the operation will greatly improve their quality of life, then so much the better. If not, we just knock them out and go ahead anyway.”
Post-operative counselling is also vital to integrating the victim back into society. In the early years, patients were thrown back onto the streets within hours of the operation and left to cope alone. They were often seen wandering around Roselawn, tapping the palm of their hand with their forefinger, whilst wearing a dazed expression. Some would hold their hands up to their faces and shout “Hello?Hello? You’re breaking up!” much to the discomfort of passers-by.
Nowadays, it is accepted that the removal of a mobile phone is akin to having a limb amputated. Patients must be allowed time to grieve and mourn their loss. Mobile phone substitutes such as stress balls, alarm clocks and bananas are often prescribed by doctors to wean victims slowly off the horrors of the addiction.
Naturally it is difficult when society today is ridden with mobile phones. The pressure on young people is enormous when they look around and see their friends excitedly chattering away. Frequently, even with thorough and structured counselling, many patients suffer a relapse, and go out looking to score a Siemens or an Eriksson. They maintain it gives them a buzz, normally followed by a ringtone. One serial texter in Mulhuddart has had seven phones removed by surgery in the past year alone. “I can’t help it,” he says. “I just love playing Snake. The doctors say they’re going to chop my hands off the next time I’m in. That should do the trick right enough.”
Dr. Nokia O’Nokia stresses though that such drastic action is reserved for the most extreme cases only. “Normally we find people can lead normal lives again after the operation. They integrate back into society and can soon walk along the street without the need to hold one hand up to their ear.”
Though there have been many calls for the Government to ban the use of mobile phones except under medically controlled conditions, in general the politicians have been slow to act. They have been accused of profiting from the mobile phone industry, and some economists have gone so far as to suggest that without the blood money from the phone industry, the Celtic Tiger would be the Celtic Caterpillar, and Ireland would have trouble holding its own in the third world.
When I put this point to the Minister for Communications as he emerged from Tesco’s recently, he said, “Can’t talk now. I’ll send you a text later.”
There is a theory that Mobile Hand Syndrome may be the thin end of the wedge, a chilling warning of the future of mankind. Some anthropologists claim that we are mutating into technological entities, and it is only a matter of time before the silicon chip replaces the human brain. Though considering some of the referees we get at Tolka Park, this may not actually be such a bad thing.