I know a man whose doctor once told him he had five to twenty years to live.
That’s quite a range, isn’t it? That doctor wasn’t taking any chances. More importantly, however, what was the man supposed to do with that information?
How exactly do you move forward? I mean, this was a young man who told me this, so at its most optimistic, this was no, “Let’s have a party, we’ll all dance the hora!”
I mean, there was a ray of sunshine. Twenty years is definitely better than five. Four times better. If a doctor told me I had five to twenty years to live, I’d say, “I’ll take ‘twenty.’” Under the mistaken understanding that he was giving me a choice.
On the other hand, the wide range would lead me to wonder if that doctor had any idea what they talking about. I don’t know, do doctors undergo special training for this in medical school? Is there a course called, “Accurately Determining How Long A Person Is Going To Live?”
How would a class like that work? How would they decide on what grade to give you? I know there’s some statistical analysis involved, but I imagine, like anything else, that some people a greater aptitude for this than others.
“I gave them a year, and 'Bingo!' – right on the money." A+
Other students, I imagine, would struggle. On both sides of “Bingo!” There’d be the “Overs”:
“I gave them two years, and they went in a week. I had to take the class again in the summer.”
And the “Unders:”
“I told them ‘a month’, and three years later, they’re still here. What a mess! I threw away their X-rays.”
And what about the “five to twenty” guy?
“I refuse to be wrong again. I am spreading a really wide net.”
I’d give that guy a “C.”
Okay, that’s all stupid. But no less stupid, or at least not a lot less stupid, than the “predicting” business itself. It doesn’t seem that helpful.
And it’s not limited to predicting dying. There are a lot of terrible diseases that they can’t cure, but medical science had advanced to the point where they can tell you with an increasing level of certainty that you’re going to contract them.
For example, I read an article recently that they’ve developed this test that can determine that you’re going to get Alzheimer’s Disease five years sooner than they were about to do it before. Maybe it’s just me, but is that really good news?
“Hey! I can find out five years earlier that I’m going to be a drooling idiot! Give that doctor the Nobel Prize!”
The article trumpeted this breakthrough, announcing a previously unavailable advantage:
“People want to know whether they should take that world cruise they’ve been planning all their lives right now or wait five years.”
Great! Now you can make definite plans.
“Because of that test, I’ll be taking taking that world cruise right now. Though, of course, in five years, I’m not going to remember I went.”
That’s worth it, isn’t it?
Some people can’t afford to take a world cruise. But that’s actually a plus. They’ll have no recall of trips that were considerably less expensive.
There is always this… “conventional wisdom” surrounding knowing for certain when you’re going to die:
“You can get your affairs in order.”
What exactly does that mean? You can take back your library books? You’ve got a very short time to live. Is that what you really want to do with it?
“I’m going to balance my checkbook.”
If I knew my time was short, I imagine I would go a little crazy, a condition, which, knowing me, is very unlikely to involve putting things in order.
“You know, for years I said I was going to clean up my sock drawer. And, by Gum, I am going to do it! Yessir! I am devoting some of the precious time I have left on this earth to finally throwing out those socks that I never, ever wear.”
No, thanks. The sock drawer stays exactly the way it is. After the funeral, people are disposing of my clothing,
“Boy, he sure had a lot of extra socks.”
“I don’t care! I’m dead! So I didn’t ‘get my affairs in order.’ What are you going to do with me?”
“But, Earl, what about telling the people you’ve never told how you feel about them? That’s an important part of the ‘getting our affairs in order’ process, isn’t it? The touching part?”
I don’t know. It sounds good. But it could be risky.
“I love you.”
“And you waited till now to tell me? What the hell’s the matter with you?”
“This may be my last chance to tell you. I love you.”
“Well, since it’s the time to be totally honest, I have to say, I’ve never really cared for you.”
“I know you haven't heard from me in years, but my time’s kind of running short, and I just wanted to tell you that I love you, and I always have.”
“Who is this?”
“Help! ‘Getting my affairs in order’ is not working out!”
That’s why I say,
“Doctors! Please! Listen to me! Until you can totally cure me, go back to your laboratories, and leave me