Yeah I know, for most people that conclusion about themselves is pretty much a no-brainer. Of course, I was always aware that I was indeed going to pass on to the great beyond eventually. I took an assumption that the passing would not happen until well past my retirement. I have taken my health for granted through heavy smoking, poor diet and sending a little too much single-malt towards my liver since my adulthood. To be fair to myself (though it does not justify my poor living), I have been in excellent physical condition due to genetic luck and regular exercise. I had not seen a doctor in well over a decade as I had not had a single symptom of anything that demanded that I do so.
Well in the last few weeks I have seen more clinics and doctors than I had seen in my entire life. I will back up a bit and explain here.
A couple months ago I headed to Southern New York to work on an exploration program (Stelmach has assured that there are few to none in Alberta). Within a few days of my arrival, I noticed for the first time a small, hard lump under my jaw. I saw little of concern at the time but did decide to keep an eye on it. The lump continued to grow over the next few weeks and I did begin to become concerned. As I was indeed still considered immortal on my leaving Canada, I had never even considered purchasing any extended health coverage for being out of country. I had reached a point of concern where I was resigned to see a doctor but was willing to wait a couple weeks until I returned to Canada and coverage. Needless to say that last couple weeks in New York was rather stressful and I wisely compounded the stress by researching the many many things that such a lump could be. The internet can indeed be a cruel tool for a new and budding hypochondriac. I had convinced myself of the possibility that I had dozens of potentially fatal conditions by the time I boarded the plane home.
OK, so I finally got my butt to a doctor and had this thing looked at. I still tried to convince myself that I was simply being paranoid and so indeed did my doctor until he examined the lump. On the bright side, my web based research led to an accurate self-diagnosis. With a hard and attached mass growing in that location it was looking pretty likely that I had a submandibular tumor. I was promptly set up for some blood work and an ultrasound of the area. The ultrasound confirmed a tumor due to the density and location. Now we needed to seek the cause and nature of this thing. The term that the radiologist used for my next step was “expedited biopsy”. Did I mention that I rarely even get colds?
OK, moving on a few more days I am nervously in the treatment room of a specialist who is doing my biopsy. The good doctor did a thorough head and neck examination before beginning. In doing so, he determined that my thyroid is enlarged and suggested that I get blood work and an ultrasound to find out the cause of that. The biopsy was performed and I was sent on my less than merry way to await the results.
I went in a couple months from a carefree guy with no health issues to a person who couldn’t seem to visit a doctor without them finding something else wrong with me. I was rather dejected and went to bed that evening fully expecting that I would awaken to find that my testicles had simply fallen off during the night. I had enjoyed figurative emasculation in my last marriage, I figured that the literal one was well on it’s way.
My knackers did indeed remain with me I am happy to report. I did have to sleep a few more times before finding out the results of my biopsy however. If a person ever wants to truly slow time for themselves, I must say that nothing has made a clock move more slowly for me than to await the results of my biopsy. My high school French teacher could not even rival such time-slowing abilities.
Now for some good news. The biopsy determined no cancerous cells in my tumour. Since then, the blood work has found that there appears to be nothing wrong with my thyroid though the ultrasound did find slight enlargement. For the time being, we are leaving things alone and seeing how they progress. While it is likely that I will still have to go in and have this thing removed from my jaw, it is not immediately critical. As we are going to be together for some time, I have decided to name my tumour Ed. The name reflects a problem that needs to be rectified but that I am forced to live with until the opportunity for removal presents itself.
Now, that long and babbling story behind me I may as well get back to the subject at the title of this rant; my discovery of personal mortality. The long and sleepless period I enjoyed while waiting for test results certainly put thoughts and plans into my mind that I never really dwelled upon. Some was simple self-evaluation and wondering if I have even come close to accomplishing what I wanted to in this lifetime and others drifted into spirituality (I still remain an agnostic). I did vow to myself that I would no longer take my health for granted as I had. So far, I have not had a cigarette in nearly a month. The diet and scotch thing will be easier to tackle after the holidays but it is my intent to improve in those areas as well.
I don’t plan to turn into a health nut who eschews all that is enjoyable in life nor will I live in fear that death is always lurking around the corner waiting for me. I will stop assuming that I am fated for a long life however and certainly will not do any of the obvious things that can lead to a premature demise (such as smoking). I am happy with how I have come out of this. I think this wakeup call has given me an improved outlook on things. I still have a pile to learn about myself what to do with myself within this life but I do think I have learned at least one big lesson.
A perception of mortality and a realization that one could drop-dead at any given moment does not mean that I need to live in fear or assume that I will not live until a ripe old age. Were I prone to live in fear however, our society sure is eager to feed me with things to be fearful of. There are clowns calling for the end of the world surfacing daily and a sensationalist media that is more than eager to give these people ink. Hysteria built upon nothing is the order of the day and I see no end to it soon.
Every year it appears that some form of flu or infection makes the headlines and we get to hear about how it is a disaster ad nauseum despite the actual fatality numbers giving any credibility to this fear mongering.
How about the dreaded West Nile virus. This one did wonders for insect repellent sales and caused fearful parents to douse their children in DEET if indeed they dared venture outside at all. How many people has this insidious and headline making virus killed in Canada anyway? To have kept us in fear for nearly a decade the deaths must indeed be in the tens of thousands. West Nile Virus has killed 42 people in Canada in the last 6 years. WOW. If that death rate doubles, it may get near the number of people killed by lightning.
How about SARS. You know the one. That virus of Asian origin that assaulted the center of Canada’s universe and called for mass Toronto subsidies due to tourist losses. Well this one is tougher to find global numbers on but one estimate is that almost 800 people died worldwide in 2002!!! The world population is around 7 billion and I will let you do the math on the odds of dying of SARS. In Canada overall we had 39 deaths by the way. That puts things in the one in a million range locally. Yes, we saw an entire year of breathless hysterical coverage of a diseases that has killed one in a million people.
The disease flavor for this year is H1N1 of course. Solid numbers are difficult to find but one thing that we can conclusively determine is that we have gotten much better at making much ado about nothing. You see, the flu kills thousands of people every year in Canada as do other respiratory illnesses. This year we have simply given a name to one of the more particularly nasty strains going about. The deaths have not even come close to warranting the spending, the media or the general fear caused by this. That has not stopped this story from leading the headlines and creating countless new cases of agoraphobia.
Here is a beauty that nobody likes to touch. When I graduated high school in 1988, we were all told that we would all know at least one person who will die of AIDS within a decade. We were assured that the disease was rampantly leaving the high risk groups where it dwelled at the time and would be sweeping the heterosexual, non-IV-drug using community. Massive public campaigns were launched. Research funding for AIDS surpassed (and still does) the funding for killers such as heart disease and cancer. Well folks, AIDS is still incurable and it has been over 20 years, how rampant has the spread been? AIDS does not even come close to killing 1000 people per year in Canada. The vast majority of HIV infections are still gay males and IV drug users by the way. I am not saying we should care less because of the effected groups, I am simply pointing out that we have indeed been fed bullshit in the demographics in a (successful) effort to spread a general fear of a disease that most of us have little reason to fear.
The death count from global cooling as forecasted by environmentalists in the 70s or from the contemporary hysteria of global warming remains at a grand total of 0 so far by the way.
Lead toys, hairspray, water bottles, trans-fats, saturated fats, good sugars, bad sugars, saccharine, good cholesterol, bad cholesterol………. damn, what won’t kill us anyway?
Why do we see such exaggeration of deathly threats anyway? Well one part of it simply goes back to the old “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra of the media. Will people stay tuned if a flu is reported to kill one in 10 million people? People will pay attention if the true number is left out and it is implied that this new flu is spreading like wildfire and may kill us all. This is not some nefarious conspiracy on the part of the media; this is simple economics. Ratings drive advertising rates leading to profits thus reporting is geared towards increasing ratings. Sadly, viewers respond and keep viewing when they fear for their (or their children’s) lives.
The global warming hysteria comes down to money as well though on a couple fronts. Greenpeace is multinational corporation burning through hundreds of millions of dollars. They need to keep the revenue coming in if they expect to pay their thousands of staffers. Now what gets more income for Greenpeace; a flyer going out saying “there is a theory that man may cause global temperatures to rise .5% in the next 100 years” or a flyer saying “man is causing cute fuzzy polar bears to die, the oceans will drown all coastal cities due to rising and your children will fry like bacon”?
Copenhagen showed how socialist groups have found a new way to try and tear down democratic and developed nations too. Using fear to hide facts, people are being convinced that by impoverishing ourselves and giving our funds to third-world dictators so that they may further slaughter their own people we may somehow keep global warming from happening. Socialism has never needed to be based in fact and their latest efforts demonstrate that.
Fear is a powerful tool that is commonly used to move large volumes of people whether through media, government or special interest groups.
Now to finish off what is a looong and digressing ramble. I have learned new levels in fear for my own life. I have learned that my life will indeed end at some point and I should make reasonable efforts to defer that as long as possible. I will not let myself be led into a pointless fear of everything as so many have been.
I have learned that life is a finite thing and it should not be taken for granted.
Eschewing countless pleasures due to baseless fears is wasteful and is a form of taking life for granted.
I will not live in fear or guilt no matter what the hysterical eco/health groups tell me through the all too eager media.