"To be happy in this world you have to ignore some things." -- Alan Drew, "Shadow Man"

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What's the Risk?

     I will admit that I don't like to fly. I don't like the airport experience. I don't like being cooped up in that narrow, cylindrical aluminum tube. I don't like being 30,000 feet up in the sky with only a cushion of air holding me up. And I sure don't like sitting in the middle seat.

     The analytical, left side of my brain knows that flying in an airplane is safe. But the more impressionable right side of my brain imagines how sometimes, very quickly, things can go wrong.

     Things can go wrong in a car. But I can get out and walk. Things can go wrong in a boat, but I can swim. But in an airplane . . .

     So now people are saying they are reluctant to board an airplane because of Ebola. You never know if one of the passengers has been to West Africa or is a health worker who has treated someone with the disease. They may not show any symptoms, but they could still be carrying the virus.

     But what are the chances of getting Ebola? About the same, I read recently, as getting hit by lighting while picking up your multimillion-dollar winnings from the lottery.

     Exactly one person has died of Ebola so far in this country. But every year over 50,000 people die of flu and pneumonia. And of course, like most things, these diseases hit older people a lot harder than they hit young people, proving infinitely more deadly. (So get your flu shot!)

     Recently, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published its latest list of most common ways to die in this country. The list doesn't change much from year to year, or even decade to decade. Heart disease is still No. 1. Cancer is No. 2.

     We have made some progress on cancer -- as much because people have given up smoking as because of medical advances. But medical treatment has definitely improved the survival rate for breast cancer, colon cancer, and skin cancer -- especially if they're caught early. (So get your breast exam, your colonoscopy and your skin screening!)

     But we know the risks that are familiar never seem as threatening or scary as those that are new or unusual or dramatic. I'm scared of stepping onto an airplane, which if you average it out kills about 140 Americans a year. But I'm not afraid to get in the car and drive to the grocery store, when over 30,000 Americans are killed on the road every year.

     Although I have to amend the statement. Sometimes I have a crisis of confidence when I'm out on the highway, and all around me people are speeding, tailgating, changing lanes without signaling, etc., etc. etc. Sometimes I'm amazed that the death rate on the roads isn't higher than it already is!

     In fact, while overall, accidents are the fifth leading cause of death in America, killing over 120,000 people a year, auto accidents do not kill as many people as accidental poisonings. The top three in 2011, according to the CDC:

                Accidental falls:  27,483
                Auto accidents:  33,783
                Accidental poisonings:  36,280

     But the poisoning figures are so high because they include drug overdoses -- and according to the CDC those numbers have gone up in recent years largely due to prescription pain medications. Heroin overdoses mainly affect younger people. But older people are definitely at risk when it comes to pain medications. (So dispose of those old prescriptions in a proper manner!)

     I don't know. After reviewing all these figures, now I'm scared to get out of my chair. What's the death rate for people sitting in front of their computer?



DJan said...

Oh, Tom, you made me laugh. Where oh where to hide to avoid certain death? Well, I guess it's not being born in the first place. I share a lot of fears with you but I sure don't worry about catching ebola... yet. :-)

Anonymous said...

89,000 people, worldwide, die in their sleep each and every day.


Have a good nite!

Or, better yet, forget the statistics and just enjoy your life. Period.

Janis said...

It is interesting how we worry so much about things we cannot control. Those we can (like what we eat and drink, and how much we exercise)... not so much. I'll be getting on one of those silver cylinders next week. I hope my mind will be on my upcoming vacation, not on the health of my fellow passengers.

Anonymous said...

Too funny. Hope I don't wake up dead tomorrow.

Unknown said...

We're afraid of the unknown, simple as that. Flu season comes along and we sit in the doctor's office with people hacking and sneezing all around us. It's just the flu. If one person in that office so much as whispers Ebola, there would be chaos. Human nature I suppose.

Tabor said...

People sitting in front of their computer...heart attack goes up substantially...stand in front of your PC. ;-)

Rosaria Williams said...

Good one! Something will kill you, and if you read statistics alone, anyone of those top killers resides just around the corner. Frankly, I've become more concerned about little things, twisting my ankle , for instance, when I least anticipate it, than those things I pay attention to.

Mona McGinnis said...

This Ebola business reminds me of people's reactions to HIV back when. In all the media hoopla about Ebola, I've yet to hear about the modes of transmission. From what I read, it's not unlike HIV - direct contact with bodily fluids of a contagious person. Why isn't there more media information about modes of transmission and prevention? It's always helpful to put this into perspective. There are so many more risky events in our lives. We humans aren't above the risks of infectious disease, no matter how almighty we think we are.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, not you too. The problem as I see it is no one knows what the outcome of this most recent scare will be. As a demographer who studied morbidity and mortality in biostatistics and epidemiology classes, and who continues to read medical literature, I know that diseases can get away from us. Read Atul Gwande's book 'Better' which won many awards in 2007, and let me know how much confidence you have in our medical system afterward.

The biggest problem is hand washing, even among medical personnel. We have nothing to fear but other human beings screwing up.

Nevertheless, I am flying next week, and going through O'Hare, not Dallas. Made these arrangements six months ago.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! Thanks for pointing out how silly it is to worry about things like Ebola when it's mainly things we CAN do and control that will kill us far earlier. Things like what we eat (and drink), how we drive, whether or not we exercise or even if we go in for regular checkups. Yet the DRAMA unleashed by the media is so much more attractive than the hard and real work of getting off our butts and exercising!

I'm sure your flight next week will be smooth and easy...just watch what you eat at the airport! ~Kathy

Tom said...

Well, Kathy, I think you've said it better than I did, more succinctly too ... altho' I'll second Dianne's recommendation to wash our hands. I used to believe in the Vitamin C theory of preventing the flu or common cold; but now I follow the wash-your-hands principle. Probably works for a lot of other stuff too.

Now I gotta go. I'm taking Tabor's advice and heading out for a walk!

Jennifer Steck said...

Tom- I just returned from a trip to South Africa and Namibia. Some of my friends thought I should cancel the trip because of the ebola outbreak. I did my homework and was confident that I was not at risk. Now I'm just waiting for the sale prices so I can go again when people cancel their trips. I loved your post. Bravo!

stephen Hayes said...

I blame the media for this Ebola terror. So far only one American as dies while last year over four thousand Americans died from the flu. We need to be vigilant, but keep this in perspective.

Anonymous said...

Had no idea that accidental poisonings has the highest mortality rate. My take on ebola is that they area making too big of a deal about it, and now they're even making it a political thing (sigh) - to send soldiers to Africa for that is a little over the edge me thinks.

Olga said...

We become inured to the ongoing stuff and freak out at the potential of something new. The fact that Ebola virus is now a divisive political issue is a sickness in itself.

Rita said...

I read your statistics on accidental deaths.

I wonder where in the statistics they put deaths from prescription drugs that aren't drug overdoses. More than 100,000 people die each year from the side effects of prescription drugs. It could be even more.


Dick Klade said...

I'm surprised people are blaming the media for Ebola hysteria. Surely it is Obama's fault.

Anonymous said...

The Ebola scare has reminded me to update our 72 hour kit. Our kit is for tornado season!
I will be giving a kit to each of our kids this Christmas. Our son's family will be in earthquake country next year (California) and our daughter lives in a hurricane/tornado area (Maryland).
BTW- we do not fly from Dec until March because of the flu. Since my husband caught MERSA in the hospital after an operation, the flu really beats the stuffings out of him. Who needs Ebola? There are plenty of other things to worry about ;) - Janette

Retired Syd said...

You read my mind. I've been watching all the hysteria in amazement. Even some of my otherwise sane friends are worried! I'm not sure they realize you can't catch Ebola from watching reports of it on television.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Are you kidding me! Easy. I was born a white male in the United States of America! Not in Russia or France or South America. If I can't turn the above amazing benefit into something positive in life and career I deserve to be trampled into the gutter. What a blessing I was God given