BMJ Published 25 March 2009 Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1215
In Ireland we have an ancient law that the more obnoxious a relative, the more likely they are to gravitate towards your hearth. My many siblings were initially quite willing to shoulder their fair share of the burden, but they mysteriously and collectively developed a serious and disfiguring infectious disease just as Auntie Josie’s massive orbit was about to degrade into devastating planetfall.
Auntie Josie’s disposition was not kindly. Her religious begrudgery, in that great tradition stretching from Torquemada to the Taliban to the DUP, decreed that not only was the glass half empty, some other greedy bastard had already drunk the best of it. Wherever two or three were gathered together in My Name, and Auntie Josie was one of them, some poor bugger would soon be getting the shite kicked out of him. When my little Gracie was born, and I presented her to Auntie Josie, I expected at least a few bills and coos. “Little girls were born to suffer,” she said.
And at Christmas she would observe, “Christmas is a sad time, very sad.” Take all the fun in the world and get rid of it, that’s how much fun she was.
But something wonderful happened last Christmas Eve, on that most magical night of the year. I woke in the early hours, the stars bright, the little fire-folk sitting in the sky, disturbed by an unfamiliar sound. It sounded like . . . chuckling, which slowly increased in volume and pitch until peals of girlish laughter were ringing in the air like silver bells. I slipped on the pyjamas Santa inexplicably brings me every year, crept downstairs, and peeped into the living room, where I beheld a remarkable sight.
Auntie Josie was hippety hopping up and down on the Wii, Santa’s present for Gracie. Encouraged by the onscreen homunculus, she spun and pirouetted like a gazelle; for a woman whose only usual activity had been to squat toad-like in front of the fire and cultivate her admittedly magnificent erythema ab igne, this was an unprecedented demonstration of gymnastic dexterity. And the true miracle of Christmas: she looked happy. Like the Ranks of Tuscany “I could scarce forbear to cheer,” especially with the prospect of an entertaining flatline ((this was definitely a case of Do Not Resuscitate ). What better way to go, I mused, than among family who love you, or can barely tolerate you.
Since then not only have her balance, posture, and mobility improved, but her demeanour has also moderated, she hasn’t tried to stab me for a few weeks, what we in the Farrell family call a result.
This Damascene epiphany is anecdotal evidence only, but imagine a Wii for every nursing home, every house with a granny, and every couch potato and the incalculable possibilities in rehabilitation and restoring mobility and general jollification. Of course, once the Wii is medicalised we’ll need health and safety assessments, training courses, tutors, diplomas, degrees, professors, academic processions, the whole gestalt, but it will be worth the pain.
If the Wii can render my Auntie Josie slightly less homicidal, it can do anything.