The odds of winning the last mega-millions big lottery that was all over the news were something like 1 in 176 million chances of winning. That’s pretty long odds, right there. Yet, ever hopeful, people buy tickets to the lottery every day. Why? Because human beings seem to like playing the odds. One of the reasons hang-gliding and mountain climbing and even something as simple as roller coasters are so adrenaline pumping and exciting to people is because there is a risk of death (or at least serious injury), however small, that comes with the rush. If there were nothing to fear, there would be nothing exciting about it. You get excited because you faced risk and death, and you win… you survive. You beat the odds while staring them in the face.
We play the odds all the time: every time we get behind the wheel of the car (sober or not, driving or not), we risk death. Every time we take a new medication from a doctor that we’ve never taken before, we risk death. Every time we walk out our door, we risk death, and just staying in and doing nothing risks death in a different way. After all, did you know that more people die from accidents and injuries or illnesses that happened in their home than all other crimes and causes of death combined? Most of us, if we die, are going to start that process in the relative safety of our own homes.
The point is, we are constantly at risk of death, every one of us, and yet somehow we function every day in spite of it. We are gamblers, human beings are… yes, we are. We play the odds. We hope for the best, even though we know the odds are stacked in favor of the house, because we know, deep down, that someone is going to beat the odds. We believe, with prayer and fantasy, that we will be that someone.
And sometimes… we are. Or as my uncle said to my mom once–and you’ve probably very likely said it before yourself: Someone has to win the lottery. Might as well be me.
And yet, in the end, we all die. Every last one of us is going to die. We can’t escape that eventuality. But some of us die sooner than others. There are reasons for that. We don’t all get to live a good, long life and slip into the next plane of existence quietly in our sleep. Blessed are those who do.
BEATING MY OWN ODDS
I’ve been doing a lot of reading since I got my pulmonary function reports. It’s hard to understand them, with all the acronyms that mean nothing to me, and the doctors didn’t have the reports the last time I saw them, so now I’m without the interpretation they would have done. Insurance is screwed up — again — so it might be a while before I can see the docs to see what they think of everything. So I sit and I wait. But I’ve been playing around with a numbers game while waiting.
I have multiple health conditions, several of which are often fatal. With each condition comes a percentage, your likelihood of survival, based on independent studies of groups of people with your same or similar disease or conditions, and how well the ‘average’ person fared with the condition. For example, with one of my conditions, there was a 23% chance of death after the first year of diagnosis, and 56% of the people in the research study were dead within 5 years of diagnosis.
Now, I’m not that good at math, but that means it is much, much, much more likely I will be dead in five years than it is that I will win the lottery. I think I’m going to stop buying tickets. Oh, wait. I never bought tickets to begin with. YOU, even if you bought $2500 worth of lottery tickets, have a better chance of dying by the end of the week than you do of winning more than 100 million in a lottery. Think about that next time you’re buying your one, single $1 ticket.
With another one of my conditions, there’s a 17% one-year mortality rate. That’s the lowest one of all my major conditions, and even THAT is more likely to happen than me winning the lottery.
Of course, I told Ryan the other day that I had a 100% chance of NOT winning the lottery if I never bought a ticket, and he argued that, though slim, there was always a chance a relative could buy a ticket, die before the lottery was announced, and leave the ticket to me in their will, thus resulting in my winning the lottery even without having bought a ticket. Therefore, he concluded, there was not a 100% chance of any such thing as my not winning the lottery. Ever the mathematician. He said, “You’re the writer with the imagination, so I’m sure you can come up with other scenarios.” Then he went on to add, “Nothing is ever a zero sum game, and nothing is ever 100%. Everything is shades of gray…” and then I pictured him breaking into a rendition of Shades of Gray, by the Monkees, and pictured him in Peter’s beanie, and of course, I couldn’t take anything else seriously after that.
CHANGING THE ODDS — Writing books… telling a story…
Did you know that hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone write books every year? One website I read the other day said that there are about 200 million people in the US alone who believe they ‘have a book in them’ somewhere. About 190k are published annually, if I’m reading the stats right–this is by major or mainstream publishers, not including self-publishing, vanity presses, e-publishing (by itself), or super niche books written just for industries or specific markets. The odds of being published by a mainstream publisher are slimmer now than ever before in the publishing industry. And yet, a person who hasn’t even finished writing a book yet has a better chance of being published with a major publisher than you have at winning the lottery, even if you pay $10 bucks worth of tickets.
So if 200 million believe they can write a book, how many actually sit down and do it? For years, when I was younger, I tried. I would start, write a chapter or two, get bored, get busy, life would get in the way, doubt would creep in, or any number of other things. I started writing my first novel at about age fifteen. I seriously made an attempt at a novel at age nineteen. But I didn’t finish my first novel until I was thirty-three years old. It took me a year to write it and two more years to perfect it to the point where I could finally say, “Yes! I’m done!”
I think a huge percentage of that 200 million who believe they can write a book will never actually try to write a book. Then a smaller, but still quite large percentage will likely try to write a book but will never finish it. A smaller percentage will likely write and finish a book but will never do anything with it, either because they never tried to sell it or they couldn’t sell it. Then there’s the smallest percentage of all: Those who write the book and get it published with a major publisher.
And yet, it’s still more likely this will happen to someone than winning the lottery. So how many writers out there have a novel they’ve tried to shop around and have given up on with the mainstream publishers, but who still buy lottery tickets? Humm? Think about which one of those things are more likely to happen, and better yet, which one of them would truly most radically change your life for the better.
I don’t think it would be winning the lottery.
Then again, you aren’t likely to win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket and you’re not likely to get a book contract if you don’t write and try to sell a book.
You CAN do things to improve the odds.
MY ODD ODDS
You see, 15% of ALL SUDDEN DEATHs in the entire world are attributed to pulmonary embolism. Most of those are just normal, ordinary embolism. I had massive multiple bilateral embolism. Sweet. Rare that someone with what I had survives. But I did. I beat the odds and I lived. Twice.
Then there is the pulmonary arterial hypertension. It has, according to one study, a three year survival rate from diagnosis of only 41%. That means that more than half of the people diagnosed with this condition will be dead within three years. That’s not good odds, medically speaking, but hey, it’s great odds for winning the lottery.
What about congestive heart failure, another condition I have… well, it has, according to one website: “Rehospitalization rates during the 6 months following discharge are as much as 50%”... and I was readmitted to the hospital just three months after the first admit, and have probably needed to go two other times but didn’t… because I’m stubborn. So I didn’t beat those odds at all. The mortality rate, at five years from diagnosis, for a person with CHF who has had a readmission to the hospital, is 62.3%. That again means more than half of the people will die within five years.
When you put the two conditions together–and they actually really DO go together–the five year survival rate is less than 38%…
Tell me that doesn’t stop me in my tracks. And that’s WITH treatment. This is quite scary and it’s why I don’t read as much about my condition’s mortality rates as I used to. Why? Because I feel like, since I’ve already beaten the odds, I’m in a different class, don’t you think? I’m not one of these people in the study. I should have died already, a couple of times, and I didn’t — so these numbers, they mean NOTHING to me.
But I think that I might just keep working on my novels and trying to sell them, because, you know, my chances of dying are greater than my chance of being published by a major publisher. And my chance of being published by a major publisher and dying are both greater than ever winning the lottery.
And still… if that jackpot gets up high enough, well, I might just buy a ticket or two. Who knows? I might could win.
After all, someone has to, right?
Love and stuff,
PS: Please see Facebook for more details, but right now, my sister could use your prayers, powerful thoughts, positive energy or whatever you believe in and can muster. She’s got inflammation in an eye bad enough she might lose it – and we want her to keep her eye. She’s in a lot of pain, though, so anything that you can send her for peace and comfort would mean a lot. Thanks!