Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Both Sides

It has  been joked for years that I make decisions by committee. While that’s not accurate, it is true that when weighing big decisions I often get a lot of input, believing there’s merit in the wisdom of my friends. One of the blessings/curses of being me is that I can often see both sides of an issue clearly and see them both as legitimate. I fully embrace the old adage that if you don’t understand the opposing argument, you don’t understand your own.

There was a clear argument to be made for both sides. Take surgery now and likely increase survival time but risk immediate and severe complications. Even if the surgery went perfectly, it’s not like I’d come out the same. Take surgery later and have the complications be gradual and perhaps do surgery if and when it grew. However, MRI’s couldn’t measure all the ways that it grows and it could be growing “invisibly” and by the time you noticed something, it may be too late. No matter which path you took, there was no way to know if you’d ever made the right decision…so basically like marriage, career choices or pretty much all of life’s significant decisions, no way to know. Now with those type of decisions, people in general end up talking themselves into believing they made the right decision but reality is that we just don’t know. We make a decision and go with it and tell this tale of the ‘right choice’ for self comfort.

Which one to go with and how to go about it? I created a poker game which I labeled the “All In Poker Night” with a graphic of Homer Simpson’s Brain on a poker chip. I invited about 100 people to ‘come”. Some of these people were in places where they could obviously not make it within a few days time but I stated to please call me or talk to me to weigh in. The night of the poker game, 25 people showed up plus a few of their kids. About that many would call me between the time I announced it and the actual poker game. My wife had decided she would also listen to all of this and weigh in last (though she admitted that her initial inclination was to monitor it and wait) I took the opposite position of wherever the person I was talking to; I was rather amused that 4 different people (2 on each side) pointed out that it was clear that I had already made up my mind about the opposing decision. This either showed my great debate skills or my ambiguity.

I held this poker game for two reasons: 1) to see if real people came in more cleanly on one side of the equation than doctors had and 2) if they came up with angles I hadn’t thought of. As I listened to each person’s opinion, I weighed their motive. Some were clearly basing their stance on fear; fear of death, fear of disability, fear of being ostracized. Obviously there was no “not being scared” but I had decided early on that I would base this on hope, hope to try to keep my life intact as long as possible, but which one gave me a better chance of that was still not clear. I always judged their lifestyle; I was proud to have a range of friends, atheists, devout people, republicans, liberals. That kind of stuff didn’t weigh in very much but the stuff I weighed was where these people who were active or was the highlight of their weekend football and movies. Were they people who were putting off their dreams until x happened or were they ones who attacked their dreams now? How did they handle finances, family, fun? I think however people want to get through their lives is up to them and there are many valid ways to do that but it would be less than honest to say that people whose lives rhymed with mine held more weight.

Real people didn’t come in much differently than doctors; a few didn’t weigh in but the ones who did came down with 9 in favor of surgery, 8 in favor of monitoring it and surgery when there was noticeable growth/more symptoms, and 2 in favor of doing nothing and it killed me when it killed me. The angles/interesting point that I hadn’t thought of that were come up with that night were: 1) “Are you ready to make the decision if you become disabled that you actively did this to your family?” 2) “If it was me, I would do the surgery but you’re so dynamic you should monitor it.” 3) “If it was me, I would do the surgery but have a hitman in place in case something went wrong.”

The joke that was made all evening was that whoever won the poker game got to make the decision. In the end the final two had a similar pile and decided to split the pot…and of course by coincidence/destiny, one said they would do surgery and one said they would monitor it. Split pot, split decision, splitting headache.

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