the yellow card of life…and how many years have I got left in me?


This week I consider the reality that I could have only two years left to live.

Do not panic (I haven’t yet); the statistics actually say, according to the World Health Organisation Life Expectancy figures, that Ugandan men are generally expected to live to about 49 (50 for women, which isn’t the issue today). Even better, indexmundi.com has us living up to 54 years – and they are even quoted by the CIA World Factbook! 

But the science around it is so complicated that even after two hours on these websites all I have is the assurance that I have about nine to fifteen years to go instead of the two (2) some chap had confidently declared to be the official figure (on a Saturday night and I couldn’t account for what he had been drinking earlier in the day).

The point is, I stopped a little bit to think about what exactly I would do if I had only a guaranteed two years left to live. Or nine. Or fifteen.

Reading about life expectancy was the equivalent of a life referee holding up a big, bright yellow card, blowing the whistle and announcing: “Two/Nine/Fifteen years like this and you’re out!”

Either way, first I’d prop two massive thumbs up for my parents, because my longevity is really their achievement, in spite of all the neglect I have shown for my own well being; indeed, recently my old man adopted the practice of sending congratulatory birthday wishes to the parents of the birthday boy or girl rather than to the subjects themselves. 

So this week I start taking an ongoing opportunity to thank these two old but youthful people for their hard work over the years, and hoping that their sacrifice and dedication and efforts continue well into the future beyond the calculations of the life expectancy scientists. But I will give them some help along the way.

I would expect that the life expectancy scientists actually factor in stuff like your parenting, giving lower chances of survival to children whose parents are ill-educated, or challenged in other ways.

Speaking of children, I wouldn’t, regardless of what’s left on my life-meter, sit my children down to tell them to use the years left with me to their best advantage – that creates too much anxiety for all involved.

Rather, I’d just take action so that by the time I succumb to statistics, I leave them with as few ‘what-if’s’ as possible. Homework together, impromptu walks, chats and school drop-ins, solutions to all sorts of problems big and small, life lessons at every turn and corner, non-stop invasion of their privacy…the list is long and I am on it. 

But even as I was writing this list I realised that fifteen years is still quite a short time – and I went back to the reliable internet where I found a life expectancy calculator!

Within minutes, I had taken the quiz, clicked a button and apparently I’ll live to…94 years! Image

Immediately, I replaced the WHO and CIA with this website, and began adjusting my list for the next 54 years. Two hours later I gave up: their idea of stress, for instance, does not take into account the harsh irrationality of a certain breed of workers, or Kampala taxi drivers and definitely NOT boda-bodas.

In general, whereas the scenario is easier to contemplate with the highest figures possible, I realised I’m better off trying to tip the odds in my favour.

I presume those statistics take into account the way we live life in Uganda, including stuff like drinking more alcohol than necessary (besides holy communion – in church, that is, administered by an ordained member of the clergy); eating whimsically rather than wisely (my favourite waiters and waitresses, reading this, will now understand why I am ‘lost’); and physical exercise or the lack of it.

So there are life-extending action points there.

In addition, there are tactics such as climbing onto fewer boda bodas, or investing in a solid helmet if I must do so; using seat belts everywhere (sometimes the office chair could do with one); shaking fewer hands of people whose office messengers are likely mates with garbage collectors…that’s another long list. Even otherwise ordinary pursuits such as upcountry travel are now going to be undertaken with the objective in mind to extend my life expectancy just a little bit more. 

And most of all: handling stress! Stress is defined in different ways (my favourite: “pressure you can’t withstand”) and comes from many different corners, so I’m not taking any more. If you’re irrational and stupid with me, I’ll be smiling and moving past you and the two-year or nine-year mark. Or I’ll try to.

Meanwhile, someone needs to create a tool for a Ugandan like me or Lozio Cheptai in Kaberamaido to calculate our life expectancy using real-life indexes that pertain to us, so I’m now seeking health professionals to team up with ICT professionals for this.

We might even win an award – and that uplift to self-esteem might extend our life expectancy figures further!

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