Expiration Date

Expired milk, dated February 5, 13

We all have an expiration date. It’s not public like those on milk, meat or medicine.  We don’t know what that date is, and, despite a few exceptions, there aren’t many clues.

We can look at mortality tables and sort for age, income, race, education, hereditary risk factors, geography, smoking status, BMI, you name it. You can see gross patterns, but that doesn’t give you an idea about an individual.

You know, the obese, diabetic smoker who had two heart attacks and continues to cantor at her church into her late seventies? Or that amazing teen baller with an undiagnosed heart hiccup–undiagnosed until he dies on the court that is.

Even people with what have been considered death diagnoses can beat their odds. See, for example, Stephen Hawking. See also, for the converse, Iron Man Lou Gehrig who played every game for 17 years with the Yankees before succumbing to ALS at 37.

We know of non-smokers dying of lung cancer and heavy smokers living a long life. A brain aneurysm can strike at anytime, and don’t get me started on accidents.

30,000 people will die in a fall. 33,000 in a vehicle. 38,000 will be accidentally poisoned. Some people will get hit by a bus. Some will be caught in the crossfire from a shooting. Some will simply not wake up. Nobody knows why. And nobody knows who. Or when.

Like in finance, past performance does not necessarily predict future results. Bottom line, we’re all going, we just don’t know when.

On the way to going, people get sick. Could be a cold, hypertension, zillions of different infections, heart disease (the #1 cause of death), auto-immune diseases, cancer, muscular degenerative diseases, I dunno, look it up. Lots of ways to get sick.

And when people get sick, they are not necessarily debilitated. People can have cancer and undergo treatment while minding their families and being productive at work. One colleague went through weekly chemo treatments for breast cancer for months and only she and our boss knew. She soldiered on. And anyway, being sick–even a very serious or a chronic condition–doesn’t equate with mental incapacity.

So, I’m wondering, why does anyone need to know intimate details about a President’s health? We do know that the sickly Franklin Roosevelt died in office, during his FOURTH TERM, after leading us through the Great Depression and a pretty big War. And did the maladies of John Kennedy make him a lousy president? Would we have landed on the moon if people had a copy of his physical? I don’t think that the Constitution requires our president to wrestle bears or chop wood or ride horses to be leader of the free world. Really they just need to be 35 and born in the U.S.

Journalists, and others, have been hankering for more information from current presidential candidates about their health. But stepping back, what does that tell us about their policies or decision making? Pretty much nothing. It’s a snapshot in time. It doesn’t stop a heart attack. [Ask former one heartbeat away from the presidency VEEP Dick Cheney.]  It doesn’t stop a bullet. It doesn’t stop the effects of Alzheimer’s before it’s detected. See also President Reagan who was reelected after being shot.

The out of proportion focus on medical records is ultimately an ableist point of view. It doesn’t recognize that people with different abilities, different health profiles and different health risk factors can be effective leaders, too. I think it’s a huge stretch to argue that someone so sick that they wouldn’t be able to perform the duties of the presidency would pursue that responsibility.

But even if they did, we have an entire process to manage it. It’s called the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. It clarifies all sorts of presidential succession issues and even allows that if the VP and the Cabinet believe the president is losing it, the VP can temporarily take over as Acting President. If they have a fight, because the president disagrees, Congress makes the final call.

So we got it covered. It’s all good. Move along. There’s nothing to see here. Just a bunch of much noise about nothing.

P.S. I’m looking at the data from CDC, turns out that 57,000 people in the U.S. will die of the flu and pneumonia each year. Get your flu shot. It just might help.

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