Jack Tame: Can Obama-care counter the air conditioner threat

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It was a day of four seasons. Hot, damp and broody; a barometer would lose its load. It was a city of sweaty foreheads, of blooming mould and clinging shirts. And in an otherwise unremarkable moment I paused to ponder how I had got here.

I wasn't staring down the barrel of a gun, nor sitting anxiously in a doctor's office. I wasn't lost on a journey of spiritual discovery, nor drifting through remotest India in a haze of tie-dye, incense and billowing silk pants.

As it happened I was fighting an air conditioner - a brute of an air conditioner at that. Cubic and clumsy, it had the unbalanced weight of a washing machine and felt about as safe to dangle from a second storey window as an unsecured fridge.

In a sweaty, frustrated mess, I sat on my apartment floor and stared at its plastic shell. It wasn't the question of how to install it, but how to install it safely that had me beat. The building's design and complete lack of exterior bracing meant the only thing stopping 30kg of cooler from crashing to the street below was a rather flimsy, unreliable window resting meekly on top of it.

"I know it defies physics, but it hasn't fallen before," said a friend who used to rent the room.

"How reassuring," I replied. "What could possibly go wrong?"

So, as I considered the merits of risking the general public's safety, I took a jog to clear my mind. Just minutes from home, with a clinging shirt and sweaty brow, the sky finally lost its temper in a tantrum of churning black. The rain was copious, the lightning violent and thunder echoed through my chest. Central Park was empty, flooding, and I delighted in the freedom of running wild.

On reflection, though, it was rather stupid. I'd always thought the chances of being struck by lightning were slim - one in a billion, say. Wrong. On reaching home and towelling off, I had a terrific fright as an incredible force blasted the street outside. I saw no bolt as such, just a massive wall of light. The thunder crunched my apartment and the internet and phone lines immediately dropped out. It was humbling.

On average, it turns out, more than 50 people in the US die every year from lightning strikes. This year, lightning may kill more people in the US than tornadoes. No wonder Central Park was empty.

And hypochondriacs beware; even if you only venture outside in glorious sunshine, you could still be risking your life. Air conditioners also have a tendency to strike down the unsuspecting from above. Though they're less common than lightning strikes, there are several reports of pedestrians being cleaned out by AC units tumbling from multi-storey apartment blocks.

So I built a brace using a few bits of timber and a crusty old paperback wedged between the gap. It was embarrassingly haphazard, but a brace nonetheless. In a final Kiwi touch, I used a bike lock to chain it to a steel boiler nearby. Is the public any safer? Probably not.

But sometime in the coming days, when President Barack Obama's healthcare reform is either legally approved or legally abolished, the Supreme Court judges who've considered it may wish first to take a simple stroll on a day of four seasons.

Health insurance for all? That was my thought, as the air-con rumbled into life. Probably not such a bad idea.

- Herald on Sunday

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