Late last month I announced that I would be taking a break from the blog and part of the reason was due to the fact that I have been experiencing a distressing loss of energy.
I thought that the symptoms were being caused by stress with graduate school, but I discovered this weekend that the causes were actually much worse. I initially did not visit a doctor about the symptoms, but fortuitously I did have a standard blood test last week for some prescription medication. The doctors were alarmed to discover that the hemoglobin level in my red blood cells was half of what it should have been, and I was suffering from severe anemia. For an ordinary adult male of my age, the average hemoglobin level is around 14-17 gm/dL, but my hemoglobin was around 6-7 gm/dL. I was literally running on only half of my normal blood count!
The doctors were surprised that I could still walk around without fainting and I was checked into a hospital for blood transfusions. During the visit, the cause of the blood loss was discovered to be from a very bad ulcer in my esophagus that was causing internal bleeding. The doctors hypothesized that I must have been experiencing the blood loss for a couple of months now, since otherwise there was no explanation for how my body could still be functioning at only half my normal blood count, except through gradual acclimation.
I was hospitalized overnight, given blood transfusions, and have started treatment for the ulcer. The good news is that once the ulcer heals and my hemoglobin returns to normal levels, I should be perfectly fine and healthy with no long-term damage. I’m starting to feel more energy already, so maybe I can return now to blogging here more regularly again, provided that my energy level continues to return and I have the time to do so.
I will say that I owe none of recovery to the supernatural. To my knowledge, nobody prayed for my recovery. My problem was not diagnosed through revelation, but through physical medical instruments. My return to health has been brought forth by doctors trained in physical medical procedures, not by any miraculous faith healing of the sort a rumormonger like Craig Keener is fond of. Indeed, the only “miracle” that has been at work is the miracle of modern medicine.
Nevertheless, if I were bent on seeing a miracle in this weekend’s events, it would not be difficult. I often meet believers who claim to have witnessed miracles, but their stories always break down when the details are examined. “It was extremely unlikely that my loved one would have survived!” “What were the odds that we would have caught the illness when we did?” “The doctors still cannot figure out what caused the healing!” Of course, I always first tell these people that I am very glad that they or their loved ones are doing better. But then I point out that these are only figurative, not literal miracles that do not escape the realm of natural explanations.
If I wanted to, I could identify a number of “miracles” in my weekend hospital visit: I wasn’t even looking to identify any illness, so what would the odds be that I would just happen to have a standard blood test, in which the doctor (who was actually testing for other conditions) would just happen to notice that my hemoglobin was low? The doctors were amazed that I was still able to stand and function relatively normally, when I was suffering from extreme anemia at only half of my needed blood count. In fact, I had even (very dangerously) worked out at the gym a couple days before without fainting. Am I a miraculous man who can function with only half of his blood? Or is the long-term bleeding and gradual acclimation theory proposed by the doctors a more likely natural explanation?
The point being is that people who are looking for miracles will find them anywhere. Superstition in the mind is drawn towards the more incredible and profound explanation, searching for some sort of plan, intervention, or conspiracy that makes an event symbolic or scandalous. But the mundane reality is that less incredible and more ordinary explanations are, not surprisingly, more probable.
The unfortunate truth is that, although I had a good deal of fortune this weekend in catching the problem before there was any major damage, many people are not so lucky. In fact, one doctor informed me that another man of my age in the hospital had just recently had the same problem, but not caught it before his esophagus ruptured. That does not even speak for the billions who live in the third world, for whom my illness, treated here in only a couple days, could easily have been a death sentence. Out of millions of prayers that go unanswered, people looking for miracles only count the positive results.
Regardless, I do have a real miracle to be grateful for and that is the miracle provided by my fellow humans whose research, innovation, and labor made my recovery possible. I owe a million debts to the men and women – both ancient and modern, anonymous and famous – who have advanced technology and made the modern age possible. Just think of how many of us would not be alive today without vaccines, emergency room childbirth, or industrial farming (just to name a few man-made “miracles”). And yet I do not owe a single debt that I can observe thus far to any invisible angel, demon, or deity. Part of the reason I am a secular humanist is to give credit where it is due.