Friday, 9 September 2016

Peter Kehler Died Last Night, But Not From ALS

My brother-in-law died last night, or rather, I should say my ex-brother-in-law. The funny things is that you can divorce your wife after 30 odd years of marriage, but no never completely leave behind the family, her family. While I was not interacting with them, I am compelled to remember that this man, Peter Kehler, was Uncle Peter to my children. His children are cousins to my children. And today my ex-wife is grieving, along with the rest of her family, for the loss of someone so close, someone they loved, someone who was a part of my life for many years too.

Peter died from a stroke. Well, actually he died from a variety of causes related to the aftereffects of a stroke. He had the stroke on Saturday, seemed to recover a bit on Sunday and Monday, and then, on Tuesday, he took a turn for the worse, his internal organs slowly shutting down on Wednesday and Thursday, things finally coming to an end that evening. This is often how it goes with a stroke. I am so sad to see this happen to his family, to my family.

Peter was a mischievous sort of fellow, the kind who could get away with almost anything thanks to his ready grin and the twinkle in his eye. He was a tease, to his wife and almost everyone else around him. He was always ready for the next silly thing to do, like driving his truck over the thin ice of a frozen lake to see if the ice would hold, or pounding through the bush in chase of a deer or moose while reminding me that there were grizzlies listening to us just to see how I would react. He was an avid hunter, fisher, camper, and even more avid father, husband and grandfather.

His death reminds me of something my friend Chris Gordon said to me some time ago. I was talking about how ALS would kill me, what would likely happen. Chris looked at me and said "You have no idea how you are going to die. My money's on a heart attack, but it could be a car accident or any number of things." He is right, of course.

Statistically, the top five killers in Canada for men in my age group are cancer at 30%, heart attack at 20%, stroke at 5%, chronic respiratory disease at 4.5%, and accidental injury also at 4.5%. I already have heart problems, or more correctly, athersclerosis. I am taking all the right medications, those same medications also helping in preventing or lessening the damage from a stroke. Still, cancer is way up there, and I am not immune. Or, as I often say, I could get hit by a bus.

All of these other things vastly outpace ALS, which sits at somewhere around .003% of Canadian deaths. In fact I've already had one minor heart attack during the time I've had ALS, a heart attack brought on by plaque blocking an artery, plaque which could just as easily formed a clot and moved into my brain to cause a stroke.

We do not know the means and timing of our demise. No matter what I say, not matter what my prognosis, no matter what I plan for, I simply don't know when or how I am going to die. Absent all other factors, cancer seems most likely, or another heart attack. Still, somehow I think dying from ALS related causes is the most likely. But when? I've already beaten the median. That happened last November. The bell curve breaks into a long tail at 5 years post diagnosis, by which time 80% of ALS patients will have died. I suppose that's my next marker, in about 16 months. We'll see.

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