Inside Track LinDA MALLOn
What Are the Odds?
THiS pAST SuMMER, My HuSBAnD AnD i WALkED 140 MiLES across the north of England.
up hill, down dale, and out onto the moors, we logged between nine and 16 miles every day for the
better part of two weeks.
About three weeks after we returned to Washington
(exhilarated, exhausted, and lighter by several minor toenails),
my husband spiked a fever. Thinking he was coming down with
the flu, he took to bed. The next morning, although the fever had
abated, he began to feel pain in his right abdomen. A trip to the
emergency room confirmed appendicitis, a diagnosis that later
was revised to include peritonitis when the surgeon got in and
found that the appendix had perforated in two places.
He’s fine now. Five days in the hospital, a cornucopia of antibiotics, and excellent medical care all did the trick. But the
experience left both of us pondering the timing of his illness.
If he had gotten sick three weeks earlier while we were out on
the barren North Yorkshire moors or scrambling up fells in the
Lake District, it’s likely that only a helicopter could have gotten
him quickly to the medical care he needed.
All of us have experienced situations in which chance, timing, and circumstance (and maybe something more) played roles
in the eventual outcome. Even actuaries who routinely deploy
their mathematical gifts in the management of risk can tell stories about a near miss, a lucky break, or the time when the ball
simply took a bad bounce.
In his End Paper column on Page 60, Bob Rietz recounts a
series of events that seemed unpropitious at the time but that
resulted in giving him the opportunity to meet his childhood
hero, the former Chicago Cub Ernie Banks. Rietz writes that
the circumstances surrounding his encounter with Banks (un-
expected delays, random recommendations, exquisite timing),
coupled with Mr. Cub’s insistent probing of how Rietz was
spending his time in retirement, have made it hard for him to
chalk the experience up to pure chance.