Skip to main content
  • Randomness

    Jeffrey G. Chipman, MD, FACS


    In days gone by, the randomness of disease resulting in death was an assumed part of life.  For most, diseases like appendicitis, which occurs in just under 10% of the population, was a random death sentence. My great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Green, died in his 40s from the complications of appendicitis. The death certificate suggests he suffered for about 3 weeks before dying. There was no choice but to accept that a bunch of healthy people were just not going to make it and that death and suffering could happen at any moment. To an extent, modern science and medicine have disabled the random death generator as well as helped limit the suffering when it is inevitable.
    I was reflecting that COVID restarted that antique random death generator and put it back into modern life.  Who would get infected? And how?  Many patients don’t even know how they got it.  Others were diligent about protecting themselves only to be infected by some random, uncontrollable situation. And still, others didn’t care, choosing to accept the risk in order to see family and enjoy life.  One widow said she preferred to see her grandchildren and family than to be sure in her safety. Her faith helped her feel that if she died, she would rejoin her husband, whom she misses dearly. Isolation was the larger loss to her.  Both alternatives to being alone were wins in her mind.

    Seemingly random diseases like trauma and cancer still occur but certainly are not as prevalent in life; until COVID-19, that is.  With trauma and cancer, we try to minimize the randomness by pointing out that the driver of the crashed car was intoxicated or that the lung cancer patient had a 30-pack-year smoking history.  Randomness makes us uncomfortable. As vaccinations are readily available, how awful would it be to catch COVID now?  Moreover, how much more random would it seem?  Please get vaccinated if you haven’t. Don’t be the last soldier killed in the war.

    Jeffrey G. Chipman, MD, FACS
    Frank B. Cerra Professor of Critical Care Surgery
    Division Head, Critical Care, and Acute Care Surgery, 
    University of Minnesota
    Executive Medical Director, Critical Care Domain, M Health Fairview