I have been asked by many religious acquaintances, with increasing frequency, how I can keep going without believing in a divine being or being in any way “spiritual” (whatever that means). Not in a suicidal way, but a taking-my-accident-proneness-and-medical-history-into-account-while-considering-life-events-how-have-you-not-reactively-reverted-to-God kind of way.
I’m roughly 3 months shy of my 27th birthday, and so far I have: caused massive dental damage in a playground accident when I was 6, shattered a car window with my head in a bike accident which spawned 15 years of debilitating migraines, been thrown from a moving vehicle, had oral surgery to remove 4 impacted wisdom teeth, had two root canals, had 3 ankle reconstructions (including a tendon repair and a very uncommon osteotomy at Mayo Clinic), partially torn my ACL in a hiking accident, suffered a painful recurring eye infection in college, torn the cartilage in both my hips requiring highly specialized surgeries in St. Louis and Madison, WI, been in two car accidents (one of which included a semi shearing open the passenger side of my car), crashed my bike and fractured my arm in two places–which later required a 3-hour reconstructive operation at Mayo Clinic and the pinning-together and casting of my wrist for 9 weeks, and as recently as a few weeks ago had the first of two sinus surgeries.
In one week alone last April, my grandma had an emergency throat operation (to later find out she had developed a second type of lymphoma), I had wrist surgery, my sister had a baby, my mom had hand surgery, my dad had to get stitches after he cut his hand working on his truck, and my dad’s mom found out she had to have a kidney removed. My brother was the only family member who made it out of April unscathed.
Starting with the wisdom teeth, this has all taken place since I was 17. 10 years. All of that. And for all but the last 3 operations, my narcotic intolerance precluded me from taking any painkillers. I’m so experienced at waking up from general anesthesia that I can actively monitor medications that the nurses give me within minutes of regaining consciousness. I’m also at high risk for complications from anesthesia so I get to have very involved talks with anesthesiologists for 20+ minutes before an IV is placed.
While all this was happening, I moved out of state to go to college, my dad had a triple bypass, my dad’s father died from a horrible and long battle with cancer, both my grandmothers died within 3 and a half months of each other after lengthy illnesses (with a revolving door of specialists and seemingly unending hospital stays and surgeries), I moved home, started grad school full-time and worked two jobs (including the internship from hell). And worst, all the sports I played growing up were taken away from me because of my injuries.
I’ve been in so many specialists’ offices that I can tell you I suffered from chronic subluxating peroneal tendons, or that I tore my acetabular labrum, that I had an intraosseous ganglion cyst in the lunate of my left wrist which was debrided and repaired with a distal radial autograft, or that for almost 9 weeks my wrist was held together with a scaphocapitate and two scapholunate pins while a joint-sparing scapholunate capsulodesis healed.
How could I possibly have not checked into an institution by now? How could I possibly deal with all this without believing a cosmic puppetmaster is behind all of it? How could I still have a sense of humor instead of a constant feeling of impending doom? What are the odds that by the time I turn 27 I will have had 10 mostly-unrelated surgeries without some disease ravaging my body, that I would have required one surgery to repair a stress injury from having so many surgeries, and that I would have experienced enough major accidents to rival Evel Knievel?
That’s just it. What are the odds? My life is a statistical anomaly. I’m an outlier. I find that kind of hilarious. Yeah, I can get sick of people making fun of me all the time as if the only way they can relate to me is through my propensity for injury and illness… but then I stop caring because it’s funny. When I went to the ENT in January to go over my CT scan and he told me I would have to have FESS and septum repair surgeries, I started laughing. It was’t a nervous laugh, it was a ‘you have to be kidding me, but not really because this is absolutely something that would happen to me’ laugh. When I called my mom after my appointment she said “of course.” When I went for my pre-surgery physical, my doctor asked what I’d done to myself this time.
(Not that my outlier status is all that depressing-sounding. On the positive side, my parents had to be very specific about rules starting when I was 2– after I ate tomatoes that were still attached to the vine because my mom told me to stop picking them. I taught myself how to read when I was 4. I taught myself how to ride a bike without training wheels in kindergarten. I was put in advanced math in 2nd grade. I was two years ahead in science in high school. I got a 19 the first time I took the ACT–which is nothing special except for the fact that I was 12.)
Obviously there’s the “how could a benevolent, all-loving, creator god put someone through all of this?” argument. And that was definitely a selling point on my road to atheism after years of believing God made my life hell because He knew I was strong enough to take it. But really it’s the idea that all these things could actually happen to one person, and that “one person” is me. I’m sure there’s at least one other person out there in the world with a life that has been similar to mine, but they’re also an anomaly… and somehow that idea is comforting. It’s also a great conversation starter.