Thursday, February 11, 2010

That other topic - death

Senator Murtha died recently from complications from gall bladder surgery - this apparently was a rare complication, less than 1 in 1,000 die as a result of gall bladder surgery. Its a relatively safe surgery. Wait, 1 in 1,000 - I don't think I like those odds when it comes to a medical procedure on my body. I will say I had this done in September 2008 and I'm still here. But still. I like to think surgery is safe and its meant to make you better and will keep you from dying. That's the whole point.

So I decided to do a little research. I found one source from 2002 which puts the lifetime odds of dying from medical or surgical care as one in 1,260. I did a little more research - hmmm I'm not sure I like this - the life time odds of dying of cancer are 1 in 7... I don't want to think about that one. But I think I prefer the odds of dying from asteroid impact as they are either 1 in 200,000 or 1 in 500,000 (apparently they aren't sure).

Finally I see some numbers that I like by looking at the Death Risk Calculator from Carnegie Mellon. It clearly delineates that I am not likely to drop dead anytime soon. I think the key word there is 'likely'. I don't know if there is a calculator out there that lets you put in your medical history and then find out your odds of dying. That's because nobody knows.

At one point I worked for a man who was a bit of a cynic (my personal opinion - but a very nice guy) who insisted on all employees being cross trained because of the 'hit by a bus syndrome'. If there is only one person who knows how to do something and they get hit by a bus one night, then what do you do? At first, I thought this was a bit pessimistic but if you think about it, no one knows when they will die. We all hope for a long and happy life full of good health, adventures, fun, friends and more. But we are hoping. We don't know. If you look at life expectancy numbers - that's only a guess. That's sort of an estimate - think of it as the same as the guy at the carnival who will guess your weight - just an arbitrary number.

So we are all going to die some day. But sometimes its these little medical bloopers (like cancer) that make us stare it in the face a bit more closely than we were previously. Part of getting on with our lives is learning to deal with that concept.


Ellen said...

Like this post. Before recently being dx with breast cancer I was really worried about developing Alzheimer's disease. My Mom currently is dying from this and it is not a nice way to go. Never thought I would get breast cancer because it doesn't run in my family. So my point is I try not to worry about how I will die because I can't see the future. I could get hit by a bus today and all my worrying about cancer and Alzheimer's would have been a waste of time.

linda said...

Hi Caroline,
I just found your blog and like the way you describe your experiences. I was diagnosed with breast cancer last September..I tell my story on

I send you my best and sincere wishes for improved health. Although I couldn't possibly understand your and Walt's situation, I have experiencedsome of the same AHA moments.

With lovingkindness,
linda england

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