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What Are the Odds?

Posted Jun 22 2012 1:06am
English: Four coloured 6 sided dice arranged i...
Okay, I'll admit it. Despite my best attempts to stay in the moment, live my life mindfully, and not get overwhelmed with regrets about the past or worries about the future, every now and then the shock of my having a progressively disabling disease hits me square on the kisser. As I become more disabled and doing everyday things becomes increasingly difficult, those smacks to the kisser get harder to dodge . Sometimes, when looking at the multitudes walking effortlessly down the streets of the city, or watching a sporting event and seeing tens of thousands of people in the stands eating hot dogs and drinking beer, clapping and shouting and jumping up and down in excitement, I can't help but shake my head and wonder how in the hell I wound up being cursed with this freaking disease? I mean, what are the odds?

Well, during one such moment, I decided to do some quick calculations and figure out what the odds of my getting MS actually were. This is assuming, of course, that I do have MS, which isn't certain since my diagnosis is still a matter of some disagreement, but just for giggles and shits let's just say that my creeping paralysis is MS. That controversy settled, figuring the odds of my getting MS involved a relatively simple series of calculations. Since I'm an American, I based my calculations on the statistics relevant to the USA. The precise numbers vary from country to country, since Canadians and folks in Northern Europe have a higher risk of getting MS, and people living closer to the equator or in Asia have a lower chance of contracting the disease. In fact, people living in the northern United States have a higher chance of getting MS than those living down south (I think this might have something to do with grits), but math was never my favorite subject so I decided not to overstress my feeble noggin and just use the numbers for the USA as a whole.

So, given that the population of the United States is somewhere around 300 million, and there are an estimated 400,000 MS patients in the USA, the chance of any one American getting MS is 1 in 750. However, women get MS in greater numbers than men; the most commonly used figures indicating that the ratio of MS stricken women to men is 3 to 1, although in recent years this number has been widening, and women have been getting MS in even greater numbers than men (I'm pretty sure this has nothing to do with grits). For my purposes, though, given the feeble noggin thing, I went with 3 to 1. Therefore, using the aforementioned figures, the odds of any one female in the USA getting MS are 1000 to 1, and the odds of an American male getting the disease are 3000 to 1.


In other words, if, when healthy, I were sitting in an auditorium with 3000 other healthy men, chances are that one of us would get MS, meaning that any individual in that auditorium would have a 3/10 of 1% chance of getting the disease. And the winner is… me. And any other guy reading this who has MS. As the theme song for the old TV show Candid Camera used to say, "when it's least expected/you're elected/it's your lucky day/smile, you've got creeping paralysis". Okay, so that's not exactly how the song went, but I'm using some artistic license here, like I'm Picasso or Keats, and this is art. As if.

Going through all of the above calculations got me thinking about some of the other longshots that I've experienced in my life. In 1994, I hit Florida's "Fantasy Five" lottery, matching all five numbers on my ticket with the winning numbers, netting a nifty little prize of about $14,000. I did a little digging on the Internet, and found out that my odds of  holding that winning ticket 18 years ago was 1 in 65,780, so I was much more likely to get MS than win the lottery. Having done both, I can say one thing with absolute certainty. Winning the lottery is a lot more fun (and lucrative).

Way back in 1987, while playing golf for maybe the seventh or eighth time in my life, I hit a hole-in-one. Now, the course I was playing on wasn't a regulation size golf course, but what they call an "executive course", in which the holes are shorter than on the bigger links. Still, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and I hit a tiny little ball about 180 yards into a tiny little hole. According to the Internet, my odds of doing this were 5000 to 1, although I have to say that, given my inexperience and general ineptitude with a golf club, I'm pretty sure that there's no way in hell I could have duplicated that feat in 5000 tries. Or even 50,000 tries. Regardless, the chances of my getting MS turn out to be much higher than my hitting that hole-in-one. Again, having done both, getting the hole-in-one was a lot more fun. Seeing the looks on the faces of the people I was playing with was absolutely priceless.

All of the above numbers started my mind whirring, or at least wobbling, and doing a little more searching, I came across a whole bunch of other statistics with which to compare my chances of getting MS. The numbers regarding cancer were downright startling ( click here ). The risk of an American male developing cancer is 1 in 2, for an American female it's 1 in 3. Holy crap! So much for that vaunted War on Cancer we keep hearing so much about. If you’re a guy, the form of cancer most likely to send you off to meet your maker is lung cancer (1 in 15), followed closely by prostate cancer (1 in 36). For you gals, lung cancer will do away with 1 out of 20 of you, and breast cancer will claim 1 in 36 members of the fairer sex. Honestly, I had no idea the numbers for cancer were this high. Of some measure of solace is a new study that indicates that people with MS have an overall lower risk of cancer ( click here ), although it seems to be lower for some cancers and higher for others.

Here are some other grim statistics. Chances of dying from: heart disease-1 in 3, a car accident-1 in 18,585, any kind of injury-1 in 1,820, food poisoning-1 in 3,000,000, shark attack-1 in 300,000,000. Guess I don't have to worry too much about shark attacks, a fear which preoccupied me when I was a kid. Especially since I'm now partially paralyzed, and the odds of me actually going in the ocean are about 1 in 100 gazillion, give or take a few gazillion. Unless a Great White shows up in my apartment, I'm probably safe.

According to the Internet, my odds of winning an Olympic medal are 662,000 to 1, although much like the shark thing, in my current condition the odds of my winning Olympic pay dirt are about the same as those of monkeys flying out of my backside. Unless, of course, they add "hitting pedestrians with a power wheelchair" to the list of events, in which case I believe I'd be the favorite, especially given the increasing wonkiness in my "wheelchair joystick controlling" hand. The Internet also says my odds of getting canonized are 20,000,000 to 1, but I think that number may be a little off for me, what with my being Jewish and all. Not that I wouldn't like to be canonized, but rules are rules. Still, Saint Marc, patron saint of writing drivel on the Internet, it has a nice ring to it. On the other end of the spectrum, the odds of someone being considered possessed by Satan are 7000 to 1. Not sure of the accuracy of that number, though, as church documents confirm that at least 50% of my ex girlfriends were possessed by Satan. Luckily, I married an angel.

So, in the grand scheme of things, the odds of my getting MS (3000 to 1) were shorter than my getting a hole-in-one (5000 to 1) or winning the lottery (65,750 to 1), all of which I accomplished, but longer than the chances of my getting away with murder (2 to 1), developing hemorrhoids (25 to 1), or being on a plane with a drunken pilot (117 to 1), none of which I've yet to experience. I'm not quite sure exactly what wisdom there is to be gleaned from this jumble of numbers, but I do know this: the odds that MS sucks great big fat hairy monkey balls are a dead solid 100%.

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