Eddie Mair: how a brush with death led to my BBC exit

After contracting sepsis, the former Radio 4 presenter re-evaluated his future at the BBC

Eddie Mair (RT byline photo, EH)

Another birthday approaches – lumbering grumpily into view, much as I do with the new day. For everyone except vampires and children, birthdays are a time for reflection. Since I turned 52 last year, a lot has changed. I’ve been mugged for the first time. Had an overnight stay in hospital for the first time. Left the BBC for the first time. Had low calorie ice cream for the first time. At least one of those things left a foul taste in my mouth.

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What has the year taught me?

I have good reason to be lucky to be alive and grateful for it. And I am. My brush with sepsis in summer could have precipitated my own winter. Thanks to smart professionals who possess expertise I could never dream of having myself, I lived to see a female Doctor. I’m here because of them. Whenever someone makes news because they have died of sepsis, I feel it. And the figures suggest it’s killing more and more people.

In August, data collected by Sir Brian Jarman, emeritus professor of primary health care at Imperial College London, revealed there were 15,722 sepsis-related deaths in hospital or within a month of discharge in the year ending April 2017. The number has risen by more than a third in two years.

Why should that be? Sir Brian told Radio 4’s Today that staff shortages and overcrowding on wards meant many cases were not being spotted quickly enough. Babies can die of sepsis almost before their parents know what’s happening. Apparently healthy adults can be struck down in days. The Sepsis Trust estimates there are 44,000 deaths from sepsis in the UK every year and that earlier diagnosis and treatment across the UK could save at least 14,000 of them.

I’ll say it again – I’m lucky to be alive and I’m grateful for it.

When Gillian Reynolds of the Sunday Times came to interview me about my change of job a few months ago, I tried to articulate how recent health events had changed my outlook and been an important “driver of change”, if I can borrow a ridiculous phrase government ministers are prone to babble. It’s hard for me to put into words because these are undercurrents: flowing powerfully, but tricky to explain. But I’ll try.

I doubt I would have left the BBC without some stranger dragging me to the ground in South America and setting off a chain of events that saw me eating hospital food. There’s been no blinding flash of revelation, but a slow, sustained, deep sense that the sort of change that used to frighten me now holds no fear. Life seems different when viewed from the ground where a mugger has pulled you, and then from a hospital bed. At 52, I wondered, should I really carry on in the same job I’d been doing since I was 32? What about feeling a bit more alive, to go with the vivid reality of actually being alive?

My personal definition of success has changed, too. I want to do well at LBC for the people there who’ve put their faith in me. And if it doesn’t go well for them, LBC managing editor James Rea will come and glower at me and I will die on the spot anyway.

But as I head for 53, I’m pretty blissed out by the fact I’m here, being able to change, and still getting to share this stuff with you.

I promise to be back to something more cynical next week, if I survive.

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Eddie Mair’s show is on LBC, weekdays at 4pm