Thursday, September 7, 2006
We’ll mourn his passing, not the manner of it
Anthrax - the very name strikes terror into people’s hearts. America has its own recent experiences with the disease following its use by terrorists shortly after 9/11.
Up until two weeks ago, my own personal experience with anthrax was fortunately limited to news reports of such horrors and a story I worked on 15 years ago when a housing development had to be halted while soil samples were tested after it was confirmed that years previously a cow with anthrax had been burned and buried on the site.
But that was it - until the phone call shortly before lunchtime on Wednesday, August 16. It was from the local health authorities. They were informing me that a friend of mine who had died suddenly after a very short illness was now believed to have died from anthrax.
His name was Pascal Norris and he has now achieved nationwide fame as the first person in the UK to die from anthrax in 30 years.
It had already been a shock coming to terms with Pascal’s death and we had all initially been told it was due to meningitis.
Three weeks after his death, myself and a few friends travelled to Pascal’s home in the countryside near the town of Hawick for a wake and ceremonial scattering of his ashes in his beloved organic garden.
About 50 people in all attended. To be honest, I only knew a handful of folk there. I had first met Pascal 10 years before when he came along to our local Wing Chun Kung Fu class in the town of Melrose.
Pascal, a committed Buddhist, had already been studying Tai Chi for over 20 years by that point.
Unfortunately, he had to stop training about 18 months ago. He had received treatment for leukemia some four years ago and his energy levels had never fully recovered to what they were prior to that illness.
Coupled with other, by now, more important interests, Pascal stopped coming to the twice-weekly classes in kung fu that he had attended, summer and winter, in all weathers, making a round trip of nearly 50 miles each time.
Tragically he only received the all-clear from the leukemia from his doctors just two weeks before he died.
But he and I kept in regular contact - often he would phone to say he was going to be in our neck of the woods and he’d drop by for a cup of jasmine tea and a chat about anything from kung fu to wood carving.
That was mainly how he made his living - as a self-employed wood carver turning out beautiful hand-made bowls and musical instruments, just like his father before him.
But now it seems those exotic interests may have cost him his life. Health experts and police have boarded up and sealed off his home and workshops as they hunt for the source of the Anthrax.
No one has come up with a definitive answer yet, but either the skins of dead badgers that he found by the side of the road and then took home to use to make traditional West African-style drums or possibly even such drums imported from Africa, are believed to be possibilities.
Although I had not seen Pascal for a few months, myself and everyone else who attended the wake is now on massive doses of antibiotics for two months as a result.
Although I have been told the risk is virtually zero, doctors say it is better to be safe rather than sorry. And I definitely agree with them.
It is a tragic irony that a man so in tune with the natural world - who could sit in his garden and watch as small wild birds came to his hand to feed - may have died as a result of too close a contact with that natural world.
The challenge for me and my friends now is to ensure we remember Pascal for the unique human being he was and to mourn his passing - not the manner of it.
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