Everything eventually expires.
I looked down at the bottle of natural spring water in astonishment. It had an expiration date. Scanning the empty hospital cafeteria on an early Sunday morning, I wondered what on earth about spring water could go bad? It had no living parts, Nothing that serves as nourishment for wayward bacteria or fungus. The container was sealed. Pristine.
I figured it was another fiscal hoax, perpetrated on unsuspecting consumers. You better drink that water fast or you’ll have to throw it away and buy a brand new bottle. I could hear the ka-ching of the cash register as some billionaire somewhere just increased his fortune by a dollar and a quarter.
It was a short two flights of stairs up to the ICU. Enough for me to contemplate how we so readily believe the little date imprinted on so many of our products. We throw away perfectly good food. We dispense of old medications. There are other things that outlive their usefulness: cleaning products, beauty supplies.
We accept that for most possessions there is a natural beginning and end. Sure we may take that old clunker to the mechanic over and over again. But eventually it ends up in the junkyard just like every other automobile. There is only so much that can be fixed.
People, on the other hand, are not allowed such luxury. We replace the worn out parts when we are able. We prop up ill and disfigured joints with canes and walkers. We extirpate nasty cancers and use pills to counter misanthropic metabolisms.
Unlike water, however, we are very alive.
We are faulty.
And no matter how much we refuse to believe, our time on this earth is finite.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion. Watch his talk at dotMED 2013, Caring 2.0: Social Media and the Rise Of The Empathic Physician. He is the author of I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion.