On the unpredictability of life

Last week was surreal for me, and it reminded me of the precarious nature of life.

My wife and I both experienced unexpected medical situations that we could not have planned for and we found ourselves recovering for much of the week. We’re both well on our way to recovery now, but those few days definitely threw me off.

On Friday evening, we were walking to dinner, eager to sit outdoors at a rooftop restaurant and enjoy the weather. But we were abruptly halted in our tracks. At a crosswalk, I pressed the button to activate the warning lights. As expected, the car in the first lane stopped, and we began crossing. As we approached the middle of the crosswalk, unbeknownst to us, another car continued driving towards us in the second lane. What happened next was so quick that I can hardly recall the details, except for the fact that I instinctively leaped forward to evade the oncoming car. I was a few steps ahead of Aleesha, who unfortunately could not avoid the car entirely. The front tire drove over her left foot.

In a matter of seconds, I cycled through a range of emotions: anger, confusion, shock, shame, and eventually relief. What had just happened? Why didn't the driver stop despite the flashing lights? Was Aleesha okay? And why did I initially jump forward instead of looking back to make sure she wasn't in danger?

When I turned around, I found Aleesha in a state of shock on her backside, but thankfully conscious. She had miraculously avoided a worse outcome. As it turned out, the driver who hit her was a physician who had been distracted by a false emergency. She immediately offered to take us to the ER to have Aleesha's foot checked. A couple of hours later, we were informed that she had not suffered any major injuries, but had a minor fracture in her big toe that would heal on its own in a few weeks, later confirmed by a podiatrist. Phew.

The prior evening, I had a root canal treatment planned as a follow-up to my annual dental check-up. The endodontist decided it would be best to do it in two parts, and part one seemed to go well enough. However, on Friday night, I started experiencing pain that seemed unusual for such a procedure. The pain slightly improved on Saturday before worsening that night, to the point where I could barely sleep. On Sunday, I urgently reached out to my dentist, who advised me to start taking antibiotics and stronger painkillers. These seemed to help, at least temporarily.

On Monday morning, I woke up with part of my face swollen, which I later learned was not a good sign. The dentist asked me to come in immediately and attempted to get some of the pus out through an incision in my gums to try and reverse the effects. He explained that in rare cases, patients can have a negative reaction to a root canal treatment, leading to a bacterial infection. In the worst case, this infection can cause Ludwig’s angina, a potentially life-threatening condition that affects the floor of the mouth and the jaw. Fortunately for me, the antibiotics finally took effect overnight, and after going in again the next day for another cleanup, the swelling and pain started to subside. Phew.

If those few moments (in Aleesha's case) or hours (in mine) had turned out differently, the course of our lives could have taken a completely different turn. I'm not trying to be dramatic; I'm simply grateful that we got lucky and that the randomness of life went in our favor in both cases.

I was reminded that even the best-laid plans can change in a matter of seconds, often in ways that you can do nothing about. Since I've been on sabbatical, I've been trying to follow a loose routine to feel productive. I have routines for working out, writing, reading, and a few other habits I'm trying to maintain or build. However, all of these were disrupted last week. At first, I felt guilty for not being able to maintain them for a few days, but then I realized how ridiculous that was. Instead, I chose to exercise self-compassion and recognized that recovery was just as important as maintaining arbitrary routines.

I’ve also been on a journey to better understand myself, my values, and the circumstances in which I feel a sense of meaning. Last week's episodes reminded me that the phenomenon of life is meaningful in and of itself, even though it can appear nebulous at times. I shouldn't need to try too hard to "find" and "cultivate" meaning. It’s right there in front of me. Internalizing this is something I will keep working on.