Plumbing The Depths

We’re saving lives with fancy medical procedures. Meanwhile, writes Gary Steel, we can’t even get our plumbing right.

Last night on the telly there was an item about some revolutionary new procedure to help people who have suffered strokes. Doctors had probably saved a guy’s life, or at the very least, saved him from an immobile future.

The procedure was too technical for this dummy to adequately convey, but according to the Newshub website, it can dramatically help two out of five people who are caught quickly after ischemic strokes, preventing parts of the brain from dying.

“The endovascular clot retrieval device is fed up through the femoral artery into the brain, where it cleverly restores blood flow and extracts the clot,” writes reporter Lucy Warhurst.

That’s all very exciting. What’s not so exciting is the state of my plumbing. Six months ago I moved into a recently renovated house. It’s fantastic. I love it. But there’s one thing that really sucks: If someone has a shower at the same time that water is being used in another part of the house, the water pressure drops, and the shower goes cold.

The plumbing system might as well have its own case of an ischemic stroke.

Let’s face it, morning showers give us a sense of well-being that gets us on the right track to face a full day of hard yakka. A great shower eases aching joints, and seems to cleanse more than just the skin, but the cobwebs in one’s head as well. A good shower can set a person up to deal with any number of the brutalities that constitute daily life, from the gruelling drive to the office, to bullies at the morning meeting, to someone’s hair in the muffin.

A bad shower, on the other hand, can set in motion a grumpiness and sense of despair and desperation that stays with you all day, and makes every one of life’s banal irritations seem worse than they probably are.

Traditionally, we’re a stalwart people, not given to complaint, making do with the way things are and sometimes coming up with ingenious 2 x 4 plank ways of making things just that much better for ourselves. For years, we built houses with the best windows facing away from the sun, or on the cold side of the building, and we built houses in sub-Antarctic parts of the country with no under-floor heating, and no insulation. We were tough. Our men wore short pants and singlets in winter.

But this is 2017. Shouldn’t we have by now evolved away from our pioneer roots? Or at some point, has this flinty toughness devolved into a “she’ll be right, mate” attitude – hence the horrible legacy of leaky houses?

Tauranga isn’t a preferred destination, but I had to stay there for a few nights last year to organise and participate in a memorial to my late Mum. The motel we stayed at got a fair bit of coin from that, but every morning when we tried to shower, there was the merest cold dribble. When I asked management about this pathetic trickle, they blamed the council. There was no apology, and no suggestion of alternatives. Are we staunch, or just mean-spirited?

My house was renovated by its former owner in 2010, who happens to be a plumber. It’s a monument to tiles. I guess he got a deal on seconds. The bathrooms are beautifully appointed, with lovely vanities and solid porcelain piss pots. When no one else is using water, the open-plan showers work a treat. But when someone is using the washing machine, or washing the dishes, or having a shower in the self-contained unit downstairs, the shower is a twisted nightmare, a bad-day maker from hell.

Like a lot of New Zealanders, I’ve lived in a load of different flats and houses in different parts of the country, and never once have I experienced a shower that wasn’t to some extent ruined by the use of other water sources in the same house. Never once. For all I know, there’s some simple gadget that fixes the water pressure problem, and that it’s only three or four hundred bucks, and that being budget-minded post-pioneers, we just think, “nah, I’m no cissy”.

Now back to this fancy medical procedure. Potentially, it can stop people from being permanently maimed by strokes. But it’s still new, and they’re still refining it, and currently it only works on two out of every five patients. And it’s only available in Auckland and Wellington. And the patient has to get to hospital really, really quickly for the procedure to be effective. Too bad about anyone living in Paihia or Eketahuna or Palmerston North (God forbid anyone would want to do that).

This advancement in medical science could save people’s lives, or at least make the quality of lives so much better, but how many? On the other hand, a simple bit of plumbing ingenuity could improve the lives of around four million New Zealanders quite dramatically by giving them beautiful, life-affirming, day-enhancing showers every single day of the year.

Yes, I’m playing devil’s advocate. Of course we shouldn’t stop the march of medical science in order to fund water pressure improvement in people’s homes. This shouldn’t be an either/or situation. Apparently, New Zealand is prosperous. Our houses – even budget houses – should have robust plumbing systems.

Okay, go pour some cold water on the idea, see if I care. GARY STEEL

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