Monday, January 26, 2015

Millions and billions and me

So there I was, sitting in the dentist's chair wishing I were somewhere else. I decided to focus on my breath, an exercise some say brings tranquility. And, being an incurable geek, I started to wonder how many breaths I have left between now and the last one.

I mean, for each of us, there is a first breath, stereotypically held upside down by the obstetrician and whapped on the behind to inspire that first inhalation. And for each of us there will be a last breath, probably not quite so easily characterized.

And,being a geek, I wondered how many come between. So I started with a song from the Broadway musical "Rent", which asserts that there are 525,600 minutes in a year and goes on to wonder how many cups of coffee that comprises. OK, say 500,000 minutes in a year (can't very well break out the calculator on my phone as the doctor pokes and prods at where my broken tooth will soon have a new crown). To make life simple, let's say a breath takes six seconds -- 10 to the minute. Good grief, every year I breathe 5 million times.

And I'm 71, say 70 to make the multiplication easier. That means I have breathed a minimum of 350 million times. That's the kind of number I can more easily associate with government defense allocations than with me.

And heartbeats. What about heartbeats? At a minimum, my heart beats 6 times for every one of those six-second breaths.  Six times 350,000,000 gets us into billions! Already, my heart has gone thwup-whump over two billion times. And I've got an arhythmia that sometimes has my heart beating three times a second, so two billion is a conservative estimate.

Two thoughts. First, I am finding it impossible to associate the number 2,000,000,000 with anything having to do with me.. I am just not a billion-type person in any dimension I can come up with after several minutes of trying.  And second, most of us have an amazing engine behind our ribs -- imagine someone handing in specs for an mission-critical part that has to work actively without maintenance for 60 years.

And at that point, the dentist levered the chair back to sitting position and turned to her calendar to schedule when I could come back and get my permanent crown. She had done a good, almost painless job, and even the temporary fits so well I'm hardly conscious of it.

If you see an error in my calculations, please let me know. That billion is freaking me out a little.

1 comment:

  1. I think you're to be commended for being able to do calculations while undergoing dental work! I put myself mentally in some very different place during dental work but it tends to be a pleasant river scene, with trees lining the banks and a quiet sandy beach.

    I hope the crown will serve you well. I'm delighted with the one I just got. This particular tooth has only been half-there for years, and now it's back in business as a real working tooth. Dentists are worth their fees sometimes.