Life and death are a sort of lottery
RTE's Sunday Game presenter Michael Lyster has been in the news of late.
He had a close shave with death. He had been playing golf on the day with journalist Vincent Hogan. On returning home his heart stopped beating and but for his wife applying cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) he was gone.
He wrote about his experience: 'When something like this happens you are left with no doubt in your mind but that there is a thin line between dying and surviving. If it wasn't for a set of circumstances I would not be here today.'
And if one is not 'here' then one is dead. It's as stark as that. It's the only thing we can ever predict about anyone - they will die. We all do.
I set aside Monday afternoon to visit people I know who are in hospital. It meant first going to Dublin's Mater Hospital and then out to Tallaght Hospital.
The man I visited in the Mater was a year behind me in school. He has had his larynx removed and is in recovery mode at present. I was in a tiny way able to empathise or sort of understand his situation as my own mother also had a laryngectomy. I have been greatly impressed with his positive attitude towards his illness.
Travelling from the Mater to Tallaght by bus I kept thinking of that thin line between health and illness. When we are healthy and well we can easily think we are indestructible and yet anything can happen any day and at any age.
In Tallaght Hospital I called to a 96-year-old man whom I know for a long time. He is frail and weak. Over the years we have had great chats and I know he likes me. I even managed to get a smile out of him when I called. He has lived a healthy life but at 96 it is unlikely that he is going to bounce back to good health.
And then I called to another man. Yes, on this day it was all men I visited. That's just a coincidence. This man is in his late 70s. He was in terrible pain. It seems he had broken his hip. I stayed less than a minute with him. He was in no mood for visitors. There was terrible pain etched on his face. But this man, a highly intelligent person, has been plagued with mental illness all his life. I know him over 40 years and in that time he has been a regular visitor to hospitals.
What at all must his pain be like? Impossible for me to imagine.
In the past people would often refer to this life of ours as 'a valley of tears'. It's not something one hears too often these days. But whether or not we hear it, when we see first-hand the suffering that people experience we have no alternative but to stop and wonder. Why do some people suffer so much?
I know an elderly man who had a serious stroke over a year ago. He has a reputation for being sharp with his tongue. Indeed, on many occasions I have been at the end of his tough words. As a result of the stroke he is now greatly incapacitated and can do little or nothing for himself. Yet, I have never once heard him complain or get annoyed or angry with his situation. It's truly inspirational.
Maybe I'm getting a hint of what Shakespeare meant when he said 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...'
What sort of lottery is it at all?