The Art of Darkness

Pulling the Cart or On the Cart?

November 7th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Bring Out Your Dead

Slate Magazine is doing a series of articles on life expectancy in the U.S., and their kickoff piece was an overview of the medical and public health advances that have contributed to the increased longevity of humans in the developed world.

It’s a fun conversation starter: Why are you not dead yet? It turns out almost everybody has a story, but we rarely hear them; life-saving treatments have become routine.

Or, as the article puts it with a riff on The Gashleycrumb Tinies:

M is for Maud who was swept out to sea…then brought back to shore by a lifeguard and resuscitated by emergency medical technicians.

O is for Olive run through with an awl…but saved during a four-hour emergency surgery to repair her collapsed lung.

S is for Susan, who perished of fits…or who would have, anyway, if her epilepsy hadn’t been diagnosed promptly and treated with powerful anticonvulsant drugs.

So I’ll pose the same question to you: Would you have survived the Middle Ages (or, possibly worse from a medical standpoint, the Victorian period)? Myself, I would have likely made it to adulthood (assuming my father hadn’t died of that burst appendix when he was six). I would probably have survived the teratoma* I developed in my late 20s, providing it didn’t strangle anything important. So far my closest brush with death has been childbirth, when my son would likely have died (the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck), and I may or may not have followed. So, provisionally, my status is, “I’m not dead yet.”

How about you? (Bring out your dead!)

*A teratoma is a usually-benign-but-really-freaky tumor which frequently contains tissue that resembles human body parts: Most often teeth and hair, but occasionally even stuff like eyeballs. They can cause problems when they grow big enough to interfere with your innards. (The strangest look I have ever received from anybody came from my surgeon, when she explained the removal procedure and asked me if I had any questions. I said, “If this thing has teeth, can I have them?” Her reaction indicated that she had never been asked that question before, ever. I was serious, though. Wouldn’t that be a great icebreaker at parties? “Hi, nice to meet you. You’ll never believe what these earrings are made from.” But I digress.)

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