When bad things happen to good people!

…for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45

by Dr. John Beasley, M.D.
Aviation Medical Examiner
Professor Emeritus and Clinical Professor
Department of Family Medicine
University of Wisconsin – Madison

I’m a pretty secular person, but that seems to sum things up pretty well.

(L/R) Dr. John Beasley with Phil Winiger.

Today I received the news of the early death of my friend Phil Winiger, flight school manager with Wisconsin Aviation, Madison, Wisconsin, from cancer diagnosed only 8 weeks ago. He was really a very healthy and low-risk person.

I was his airman medical examiner, and always looked forward to certifying him as one of my “no problems” applicants. And, in turn, I went to him for some of my instrument proficiency checks (IPC) and biennial flight reviews (BFR). Not because we “traded” favors, but because I knew he would give me a good workout; always kind and considerate and with plenty of good humor. At the same time Phil would give me the expert instruction needed to help me be a better pilot. And we had fun. On my last IPC with Phil, the dialogue went something like this:

“Uh….   John, this would be a more comfortable ride if you would keep the blue half up and the brown half down!”

“Half of WHAT, Phil?”

“That large round thing that’s in front of you.”

“Oh, THAT thing?”

“Now you’re getting it.”

Phil is gone now, but I’ll sure try to remember to try to keep the blue up and the brown down. I’ll remember Phil every time I look at that thing in front of me. Attitude.

And bad things do happen to good people. Often we are helpless to prevent this. One of my friends who heard of Phil’s illness emailed me and asked if he should be screened for early disease. My response was simply “no.” There are risks in all of life and random screening probably wouldn’t have helped. “Low risk” is not “no risk.”

As an example, a low-risk 50-year-old woman colleague of mine had a cardiac arrest while examining a 90-year-old patient in her clinic. The 90-year-old toddled out of the room and said, “Dr. M. doesn’t seem to be feeling good.” Fortunately, my friend had immediate resuscitation and an excellent (read 100%) result. So sometimes we get lucky; sometimes we don’t.

As a “doc,” all I can do is change the probabilities. Perhaps not even by that much and to my grief, not even for my friends. I cannot control the future. In medicine we offer no guarantees, only our best estimates of what will be useful to you and what will not.

After that, carpe diem, and live so that at the end you can say that you have contributed your best.

Live well, be reasonable, and enjoy the day. Live so that those you leave behind will be grateful for the time you were there. Phil did.

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