Once, during my junior year of college, one of my history professors asked our class how many people in our room wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for modern medicine.
About a third of us raised our hands.
Looking back, I think it was a bit startling for everyone to see how many fellow students wouldn’t have been there if our injuries or illnesses had occurred even 100 years earlier.
We in the 21st Century are extremely fortunate to live in an era with modern medical technology. I know I wouldn’t have survived my 2015 brain hemorrhage without it. That experience has given me a newfound appreciation for many things, including modern medical marvels.
I think most people reading this post might be surprised to find out just how many individuals with whom they interact on a daily basis wouldn’t be in their lives at all if not for modern medicine. I could list off numerous acquaintances of mine who fit into this category, and I’m sure there are many more of whom I’m not aware.
While our society is still dealing with the ravages of serious diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, we are at the same time very blessed to live in a world where we can treat so many other formerly fatal illnesses and injuries. As just one example among many, I would point to the bubonic plague, which killed off 1/3 of the entire population of Europe in the 14th Century, but which today can be treated with the use of antibiotics.
All of this seems like small consolation, of course, to those who are today still dying from incurable diseases or traumatic injuries. I think it would be easy for someone in a situation like this to become embittered, wondering why medical science has been able to discover remedies for so many illnesses, but not for their own. I know that if I were in this position, I couldn’t help but wonder how short a time would pass between my death and the discovery of the cure for whatever it was that killed me.
You’re probably wondering right now what point I’m trying to make with all of this. I do have one, I promise. It goes something like this:
We in the 21st Century should be incredibly grateful for the modern technologies that allow us to survive so much of what would have killed our ancestors. At the same time, we shouldn’t expect these innovations to keep us alive forever, because they won’t.
Regardless of how many cures are discovered and how many injures are made treatable, every person upon this earth will have to leave it eventually. We are, as Charles Dickens wrote, fellow travelers to the grave. Dickens didn’t mean for that to be depressing, and neither do I. Rather, it’s meant as a reminder—a reminder that no matter how long we might be able to prolong it, this life has always been a journey, not a final destination.