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.