By Kevin Carr, MD of the Platteville Clinic at Southwest Health and the Cuba City Clinic at Epione Pavilion
If you had 24 hours to live, what is something you would regret never having done? What’s one thing on your bucket list that you always wanted to do but couldn’t find the time?
- Spend time with your grandkids?
- Go to your favorite fishing hole you haven’t fished in 10 years?
- Take a vacation you’ve saved pennies for but haven’t had the time to book?
- Ride a bike, row a boat, jump out an airplane?
- Tell your best friend, your parents, your spouse, or your kids that you love them?
As a physician, I am around LIFE and DEATH on a daily basis. Two recent events have opened my eyes to looking at life from a whole new perspective.
First, I have had 5 friends die very quickly, suddenly, and unexpectedly in the last year. Surely, all of them must have had plans that went unfulfilled. Despite each being amazing people, maybe one would regret spending that extra hour in the office finishing that last thing that needed to be done instead of going to the ballgame or just staring at the sunset with a cold drink.
The second of those events was a true sequence of tragic events I heard recently. I was at a Wisconsin Hospital Association meeting (typical meeting with some good speakers who offered a handful of “pearls” to bring home to improve what we do at Southwest Health), and the last speaker of the day was a physician who delivered a message I will never forget. Here is his story:
He was taking a long flight from Lincoln, Nebraska to New York City for a business meeting. Despite delays, cancellations, reroutes to Omaha, Denver, and a flight to Newark, New Jersey (instead of New York), he made it. Sitting next to him was a pilot who traded flights with a friend, so he could take his wife to London the next week for their anniversary. The pilot would be flying the 8 am flight from Newark to San Francisco the next day.
After a conversation, the pilot mentioned he had felt sorry for his 15 year old son when he told him he wouldn’t see him for two weeks, so he asked his son to think of one thing he would want to do together if he would never get another chance. The pilot and the physician easily made the leap from strangers to friends in that four hour flight.
The next morning as the physician’s conference was just beginning in New York, the first speaker was interrupted with an important announcement. There had been an accident 20 blocks away. An explosion had just rocked the World Trade Center. Of course, no one knew yet what was happening. The date was September 11, 2001.
We all now know that tragedy visited our country. Personal news was to come later that day for the physician. While he watched news reports of a plane traveling from Newark to San Francisco that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, he learned his new friend was, in fact, Jason Dahl, the pilot of United Flight 93.
So let me ask the same question that pilot asked his son. What one thing would you do if you knew you would never get another chance to do it? What one thing would you regret not doing or not saying?
My advice: make a plan, and do that one thing. Say what you need to say. Take good care of yourself, so you can have more tomorrows. Get off the couch and start a plan to walk regularly. Start a plan to eat healthier. That nagging ache in your stomach that you think isn’t anything? Well, have it checked out anyway. And see your doctor regularly.
Most of us live as though there is an endless string of tomorrows. The reality is, life is to be lived today. Now is the time.