Is life or death random?

It seems a long time since I last posted here, the reason for that being two-fold. Firstly I’ve been pretty knackered from the last chemo treatment. The fatigue lasted well into the second week accompanied by heavy indigestion which seemed to hit particularly hard every time I tried to lie down, and was then followed by, well, let’s not get too graphic here, let’s just say “several trips to the toilet without much notice” ;o). The second is having something to blog about. I don’t want my blog to become just a list of all the days when I feel really shitty. We all know there are days like that. We all know that with chemo there are more days like that than you really want to experience and that you don’t get many days in between in which to recharge your batteries, and then, yesterday, I was watching a football match (for my US readers, that’s a soccer match) between “my top flight team” Spurs who were at home playing in the FA Cup against Bolton Wanderers. The score was 1-1 and the match seemed as though it could go either way when Fabrice Muamba, one of the Bolton players, suddenly just fell over. There’s more detail about it here. In essence this fit, healthy athlete seems to have suffered a heart attack. Fortunately he did so in a sporting arena where there were paramedics and doctors immediately available to give significantly more than just first aid, rather than miles from anywhere in the middle of the countryside.

Several things came home to me watching this drama unfold on t.v. First was the behaviour of the crowd. Football crowds aren’t noted for their good behaviour but here both home and away supporters were moved by some common humanity to try to reach out to a man who was, quite literally dying before their eyes, and the only way they could do so was to retain either a respectful silence or to chant Muamba’s name – they did both. When the match was abandoned the supporters didn’t riot because their expensive day out had been ruined, they just left. Second was the faces of individuals in the crowd. Instead of picking up the bare-chested “warriors” in the stands as they had been doing during play, t.v. camera’s instead picked up on faces showing genuine grief and concern and not only amongst the Bolton fans, there were men in Tottenham’s colours who were clearly emotionally rocked and there were women, too, in those colours who weren’t ashamed to cry for a man they didn’t know. The third thing was the randomness of death. My dad survived the second world war, but many of his comrades didn’t, and,  I suspect, there are two ways of dealing with the fact that the men standing to your right and left get killed but you don’t, either you accept that you are special in some way and that Life has some purpose for continuing your existence at the expense of your friends, or you just accept that Life is a lottery and when your number’s up then it’s up. Dad took the latter view and I pretty much took after him. Anyway, back to Muamba. Here was a young man, only 23 years of age, whose family had moved to England seeking political asylum when he was just a child. A young man of exceptional ability on a football field but who is, from what can be determined over the internet, also a good man  in general, a young man who seems to have done well at school as judged by his GCSE and A-level results, a young man with his feet on the ground as it were. As a professional footballer Muamba will have had not only immediate access to excellent medical treatment but that treatment will have been proactive with Bolton’s medical team doubtless taking a battery of measurements of his health in order to build a comprehensive picture, so, you’d have thought, it would be unlikely that such a man would suddenly collapse with a heart attack. I mean this wasn’t some middle-aged guy who took up jogging to keep fit, he isn’t someone who develops his own training regime to such a point that it becomes self-injurious, at the moment before his heart attack he was, and I realise I am repeating this, a fit and seemingly very healthy individual with every reason to believe he will have a long, healthy and successful life, and yet, there he was, having a heart attack on the grass in front of around 36,000 people in the stadium, with another half million or so watching on t.v. in America, and I don’t know how many more worldwide. Not a good place to die, but, hopefully, Muamba will survive and go on to enjoy a long and happy life. If, however, he’d had that heart attack whilst, say, rambling in the Pennines then the chances, surely, are that he would have died before medical personnel capable of applying electricity to restart his heart could have arrived. This sort of randomness is there at all levels, and at all times though perhaps we don’t always notice it. A friend of mine had a heart attack on a school field trip. Luckily it was to a center of population but it could just as easily have been to some out-of-the-way place as it was a geography field trip. Had it been to an out-of-the-way place then my friend would probably have died.

In the same way my own fate, at least in terms of surviving this cancer, may be more or less random. I hadn’t noticed the lymphoma until it was discovered on a routine visit to the Primary Care Physician which I attended only under pressure from my wife. It hadn’t been spotted by the doctor who carried out my physical for my application for US residency a few weeks prior to that check-up, so presumably it was growing fairly quickly and, had I given into my wife’s requests for my check-up at an even earlier point then, presumably, the lymphoma would not have been spotted until some time after it actually was. Presumably the speed of growth would have eventually brought it to my attention but, unlike another friend of mine who discovered his lymphoma whilst shaving, mine wasn’t like an egg on the side of my neck. Anyway, back to the point, the timing of the discovery of the lymphoma back in mid-December was fortuitously random, had it not been discovered when it was then it is entirely possible that, rather than dealing with a stage 2B cancer it would have had the opportunity to spread throughout my body and I could have been looking at a different prognosis.

Hopefully Fabrice Muamba, myself and countless millions of others will go on to beat our own particular disease and go on to live long and happy lives.

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