Almost every day, you hear about an accident victim being airlifted to a medical center which, many times, is able to save the person's life thanks to the speedy transport. When you hear that our life expectancy is going up, advances like that are a big reason why.
A hundred years ago, I would have been dead at 22 with a burst appendix. Instead, I had a routine surgery, recovered quickly and went on barely giving it a thought. My life expectancy increased dramatically after surgery, but it had no effect on yours. But it did have an effect on the "average": My survival boosted everyone's life expectancy a tiny fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent. Multiply that by all the medical advances over the years that have driven up our life expectancy -- transplants, bypass surgeries, defibrillators, antibiotics, pre- and post-natal care and even things like the Heimlich maneuver -- and you really see the numbers jump.
But here's the really strange thing about life expectancy -- the older you get, the longer you will live. It sounds crazy until you realize that when you hear the average life expectancy for men is 75.5 years, they're not talking about you. They're talking about a baby born today. A man who is 75.5 today will, on average, live almost another 11 years. Why? Because he's survived childbirth, a plethora of deadly childhood diseases and allergies, and the draft. He's also probably pretty tough, because he hasn't been carried off by a host of other things that would have killed frailer people.
But we may have reached our peak. A news story this week announced that many of the helicopters used to airlift patients to hospitals were not big enough to carry patients that weigh over 350 pounds, which is becoming a more and more common dilemma. No doubt, someone is now legislating for bigger and more powerful emergency airlift helicopters to handle the load, but in a few years they'll say that 400-pound patients can't be transported. The year after that ... well, there is no upper end in sight.
And the thing is, can you really call being 350 pounds an accident? It's like getting "accidentally" run over by a glacier that moves 2 inches a year. Didn't you hear all the people yelling "Walk for your life"? Weighing 350 pounds and wondering why you're getting sick is like buying a house next to the airport and wondering why it's so noisy.
EMTs are saying they need bigger ambulances for the bigger patients; hospitals say they need bigger beds and bigger wheelchairs; funeral parlors are ordering bigger and bigger (and more and more expensive) caskets. Where will it end?
Every now and then, you'll see a story about a person so large they have to break out a window and use a forklift to get him or her out of the house. My friend Dr. Sam says he has a money-making solution to the problem. Not the helicopter part of the problem, but the coffin part. He dreams of starting a business called "Dr. Sam's Postmortem Liposuction." It works like this: When a super-sized person dies, instead of going through the expense of ripping out a wall, hiring a special hearse and spending thousands extra on a giant coffin, you simply call Dr. Sam. For half the price of all that, he shows up with a few 5-gallon buckets and starts liposuctioning the body until it's small enough to use all the normal modes of transportation.
It may sound silly now, but I can easily see this service being advertised in an infomercial on late-night television, with Dr. Sam saying things like, "Call in the next 10 minutes and get an extra 5-gallon bucket for free."
I should mention here that I just play golf with Dr. Sam; I'm not even sure he's a medical doctor. It sounds like something only a Ph.D. would think up.
Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.