We bet this is when you're going to die - (12/28/2021)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacy technician was taking information from a new patient to plug into the store's computer. "And your date of birth?" she asked. The new patient supplied his birthdate to the tech. Then he said, "I hope I can remember my date of death as well as the day I was born." While the tech looked back at the patient with puzzlement, the pharmacist chuckled to himself. I guess we really do not know our date of death, he thought. Even if your doctor says, "You have 6 months to live," is that a statement of fact or a "guesstimate"? Say someone (not your wife) pushed you off the Empire State Building. On your way down, the thought might flash through your mind, "This'll be the day that I die." But it's not as if you could tell anybody because you will be sidewalk slush. 

We know the odds of us dying are 1 out of 1. To compare, the odds of being hit by a meteor are 1 out of 1.6 million. The odds of winning PowerBall are 1 in 200 million. You will neither win the lottery nor get clunked in the head by an errant space rock. But you will die. Besides your loved ones and those who hope to be named in your will, who will care? Life insurance companies do. They want you to drop your policy before you die because the premiums are jacked up greatly as you age. Then, they never have to pay out a dime. The winners are those who keep their policies until they die – their beneficiaries reap the full payout – tax-free. 

Ah, but the name of the game is really life expectancy. And life expectancy keeps changing. Over the last century, improved healthcare and nutrition, immunizations, clean water, waste removal, and better motor vehicle safety have kept us chugging along. But beware! Factors that flummox life expectancy include increased violence, lack of gun regulation, the emergence of new diseases, climate change, and drug and alcohol abuse. Example: In 2020, COVID-19 became the third cause of death in the US, following heart disease and cancer, kicking two years off the average life expectancy for Americans. (Doesn't matter if you are a Democrat who knows the virus exists or a Republican who claims the virus doesn't exist but gets a vaccination in a dark alley anyway). 

Truth is: We never really know the day we die until we die. Sure, we can be confined to a bed with a terminal disease and wonder if this is "the day." And we all know someone who has died by accident. There's a jogger who was hit by a bus leaving the health food store with his satchel of vitamins. Or the exotic dancer who suffocated inside an airtight stag party birthday cake after the inebriated attendees forgot about her. Surprise! And who can forget WJM's Chuckles the Clown, grand marshal at a circus parade? Dressed as his character Peter Peanut, he was “shelled” by a rogue elephant in front of hundreds of traumatized children. His funeral made us laugh and cry. "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants."

The pharmacist thought, “Is it better that we do not know the day of our death? Isn't it more productive to live each day as if it was our last day? To love and be loved? To appreciate God's gifts and accept all the different ways DNA made us?” Regrettably, so few of us actually do that. 

As for our national treasure, the iconic Betty White who died December 31, her chances of dying before her 100th birthday on January 17 were 1 in 16. Pretty good odds if you were a Vegas gambler. We bet she will keep us laughing out loud forever. And we also bet that she kept her life insurance policy going – because she would have left the kibble for all the animals for which she advocated. Hers was a life richly lived. Whenever we die and until we die, let’s be more like Betty.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.


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