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Hostages to Fortune

Spoiler alert, and what I’m going to spoil is your mood. But it won’t last. Our moods come and go. Like everything. We come and go. Everything we love comes and goes.

The Greeks and the Romans knew well that the goddess Fortuna will eventually take back everything she gives. Every. Single. Thing. They concluded from this that fortune is a bitch.

“He who has wife and child has given hostages to fortune,” Francis Bacon tells us. Bacon was not a nice man: his objection to giving the hostages was that they might interfere with the giver’s chance at achieving great deeds. People who quote him, though, are almost always thinking about death.

One of my best friends died yesterday. You might say he had been Fortuna’s plaything for years.

The new millennium brought him a raging case of lymphoma. It responded to no treatment. The game was over. Then the cancer, all on its own, converted itself into what they call an ‘indolent’ cancer. No one knew why it converted. It progressed, but slowly, and when it caused trouble, chemo and radiation could whack it back into invisibility.

He suffered from the treatments. His family and friends grieved for his distress. I never heard him talk about it, except technically. (He was a doctor himself.) From my point of view, the result of his disease was a vast expansion of his already great appreciation of his life. It wasn’t just gratitude. He seemed to be in a constant state of amazement at how wonderful other people were. Not just their kindnesses to him, which were many, because he was a nice man. He was dazzled by their achievements, their brilliance, their wit, their own prospects for greatness. He wanted to tell you all about these wonderful people.

He went on this way for a decade and half. Then the cancer stopped responding to treatment. He qualified for a promising clinical trial. Administrative and bureaucratic snafus delayed the trial. It still hasn’t started.

He kept on with his own work. He taught medical students about the human heart, the red one in our chests and the other one. He had grave doubts about the course of modern medicine, ‘evidence-based’ medicine, because the kind of evidence perceived by the heart could not be entered into the computer. In the fullness of time, these students will stand as a bulwark between their patients and the dullards who want to treat statistics rather than people.

And now, he is beyond our reach. The words ‘never again’ echo in our minds. I feel my words are becoming romantic, or maybe I mean romanticized. The fact is, I want to throw up.

Whether I throw up or not, the seconds tick by. I am here; Arnie is not. Every memory of him, every impact he had on the world is here; Arnie is not. The me whom Arnie taught, amused and blessed is here; Arnie is not.

You tell me: is Fortune a bitch?

R. I. P.

Arnold M. Katz, M.D.

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