Friday, May 9, 2014

By the Numbers

OK, let’s start with a somewhat embarrassing admission. Sometimes, I like to park myself on the couch, eat Oreos, and watch Hoarders. It makes me feel better. Don’t judge me.

While I will not confirm nor deny that I was doing that last night (Note to self: add Oreos to shopping list. You are out.), I learned an interesting fact. There are 3 million hoarders living in the United States. That is an awfully lot of 1993 Time magazines and dead cats.
The show did get me thinking about the numbers in my own life. I found that to be an interesting exercise, if slightly depressing.

I am one of 2.3 million people in the world that have been diagnosed with MS. In the US, I am in the somewhat-exclusive MS club comprised of 400,000 members with stripped-out myelin. I think we need to get jackets. Or at least bowling shirts. Who’s with me?

Honestly, when I looked up these numbers, I was kind of expecting them to be higher. Can there really be seven times more hoarders than MS patients? Ever since my own diagnosis last year I have learned of one other person in my inner circle and at least four in my periphery that have MS. It made me think that there was an army of us, but we aren’t quite as ubiquitous as discarded pennies. It's just a really small world where someone like me can actually be 3 degrees from Kevin Bacon. (Long story for another day.) Whether we are aware of it or not, we all know at least one person that has MS.
Numbers don’t lie. This is what makes numbers infinitely better than human beings.

Sometimes, I wish the numbers did lie. But knowing is always better than not knowing. Always. I know I have touched on the financial impact of MS in previous posts. But, I think those numbers are worth revisiting.  Experts now estimate the cost of MS over a patient’s lifetime to be between $2.0 and $2.5 million dollars.

Let’s all pause for a moment and let that number sink in. That's an awful lot of zeros.

LaTroy Hawkins, this season’s go-to relief pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He is a 41-year-old baseball player. I am a 41-year-old technical writer. It will take him one baseball season (where—let’s be honest here—he will only be throwing a couple pitches each game) to make what it will take me approximately 33 years to make.

$2,200,000 is the amount of money the NBA fined Donald Sterling. Chump change to him. A lifetime of Avonex for me.

Do you know what you can buy with $2.2 million dollars? 
  • The Victoria’s Secret fantasy bra (Aren’t they all fantasy bras really? Who wears that VS shit to the grocery store? Pinchy!)
  • Kim Kardashian’s engagement ring (It’s a known fact: the bigger the ring, the shorter the marriage. What is the over/under on this one?)
  • 2013 Bugatti Veyron (And here is the big secret on this one: it’s just an overpriced Volkswagen.)
  • A rare Chinese bowl bought for $3 from a yard sale (Did anyone see my little porcelain cereal bowl? I thought I left it over there next to the Special K box.)

To be fair, $2.2 million is only 1/900th of the amount of money spent yearly in this country on male hair restoration. So, it really isn’t much compared to some real problems. Like being bald.

As long as we are putting things into perspective, I wanted to leave you with a few other numbers:
  • 5.2 million people are currently suffering from Alzheimer's. My grandmother died from Alzheimer's. What an ugly, ugly disease. I think I prefer MS. I may end up in a wheelchair, but at least I will remember Kidlet’s name. 
  •  4.5 million Americans walk around on new joints thanks to knee replacement surgery, including my own father. Last year he could barely walk. He is off bowling in Reno this weekend.
  • 1 in 8 women (12%) have once had or are currently battling invasive breast cancer. I fortunately do not have breast cancer. I do, however, have breasts. Therefore, this number is meaningful to me. I also know several amazing women that have battled breast cancer with the courage of an Amazon. Not all of them triumphed. But each of them taught me how to fight.
  •  10-15% of newborns spend their first days in the NICU. Those are the real tough cookies. I’m lucky to know one. There is something about a tiny newborn, hooked to tubes and monitors, being placed in your arms that is so humbling. And when that little baby smiles at you, in that moment, all is well.
  • 1 in 10 children have been sexually abused. Take a moment to count how many children you know. Then do that math.

I guess my point is this: there is no one living in this world that remains immune to the health trials of life. That is both a little scary and a bit reassuring. If a major health issue doesn't find you, it will most certainly find someone you love. So, maybe, we should all try to treat one another with respect and allow someone the dignity that most of us deserve. You never know what a person is dealing with behind her game face. And the odds are that you will be dealing with something yourself someday. We should make sure that a single health issue cannot catastrophically strip a person of their savings, their support, or their choices.

You know someone that is sick. It’s just math. Plain and simple.


  1. If you want really scary numbers, one hundred percent of us will die. Many of us will die after spending a lot of money during the last six months of our lives. We don't like to think about this, but roughly a quarter of all medicare spending is for patients who will not live another 6 months.

    On the happier side, all three of my kids have spent time in either the PICU or NICU. So, we represent the 10-15 percent well.

  2. As I always expect from you, great point and something I never really thought about. We are all so afraid of death that we will go to great lengths and debt to prolong the inevitable. Wouldn't this be a great world if we all just decided that our time and money was better spent creating memories with the people who love us? Maybe Medicare should pay for one bucket-list trip for every senior, then make us comfortable while nature takes its course. That's what I would want for both me and my family.

  3. Sometimes, I wish the numbers did lie. But knowing is always better than not knowing. Always. I know I have touched on the financial impact of MS in previous posts. But, I think those numbers are worth revisiting.Thanks for sharing the useful information.