The value of life and death

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Recently I have experienced the twin poles of life a little more than I’d have liked. These are: the value of having a great life and the value of having a great death.

Case in point: Being at the hospital every day, I manage to look professional, though I look a little `rough around the edges’, even if I do say so myself. My clothes are appropriate but perhaps don’t fit too great or aren’t very good quality. That’s especially obvious when one compares themselves to the doctors, who are often very well dressed. Interestingly, it’s the male doctors who tend to wear flashier clothes. I guess that’s because they can look dressed up in an expensive suit, while the girls tend to have to wear flat shoes (nothing kills your feet on a long ward round than heels – plus when you have short legs like me, you’ll have no chance of keeping up!).

Anyway, sometimes it makes me think. I can look at this guy (or girl) and she looks smart and professional. It almost osmotically transfers into my mind that because they are well groomed (read: well dressed) they must also pay a lot of attention to their job. In practice, it’s rarely true. Most of the doctors I encounter are good at their jobs, yet they can be quite variable in the way they dress (NB: We don’t wear white coats in our hospitals so there’s no hiding out under a coat).

Basically, when I look at the well dressed ones I don’ t think, `gee, he’s probably got a lot of debt’. You’re going to say, `that’s because he’s a doctor and gets payed squillions’. But in reality I’m talking about the junior doctors, who often earn around the same as the average government employee. Even though they are probably high in debt, nobody else knows. So is that a good or a bad thing? Nobody’s going to know. Even if I die, my family wouldn’t spread it around: `Oh my god she owed three Gs on her credit card!’. So the only argument is that it matters to me, that reducing debt is about my financial freedom and the way I feel about me.

I talk to some of my fellow students who tell me how they plan to get a loan for their first Audi in their first year out of uni. While they will still be young and single, I can see bad financial habits that will develop from the start. Remember, these students are 6 years late in entering the workforce compared to the friends they went to school with, and owe a mountain of student debt to the government. It’s just interesting to see people `living the high life’, even before they really have it. And its interesting to me to admit that my own attitudes to money may affect how I see another person. It’s not right but it’s true.

By comparison, I have also met a lot of patients who have, unfortunately, passed away recently. This can be traumatic or a blessing for the patient, family and staff. However, what interests me about this is that (in general) when you are lying there in that hospital bed, in your last days, nobody around you is focused on how much money you have. Nobody sees that as the most important thing about you. All of that is really beside the point, and it’s the people who care about you that matter. Yes, you may have been a great dresser, but now it’s your family who come to see you and their decision about whether whether you look `good or not’ is based on the colour in your face and your smile, not your clothes. I’m not trying to be soppy, just trying to share my current perspective.

Reduce debt and build wealth for your own peace of mind and to provide for your family, but don’t let money own you, whether because you need it or because you’re never able to decide you’ve got enough. In your final hours, I doubt it will be the first thing you or your loved ones think about.

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