The Healing Power of Statistics

A week ago, my father underwent a risky surgery. The doctors weren’t sure if they should do it, given his old age, but we all agreed that letting the disease take its course was not an option.

After a week, he seems to be recovering well. He was in the ICU for three days, but that seems to be a normal procedure in these cases. He may be home early next week. The doctors are impressed.

He was healthy his entire life (this was his first serious surgery). Genetics play a major role here for sure, but there is something else: he likes to walk.

He walked his entire life, never bought a car, never took a bus to/from work. It’s easy to estimate how much he walked over a 27-year period, when we were living in the same house and he was working in the same factory: around 52,000 kilometers (32,000 miles)! That’s more than five round trips from New York to San Francisco. Walking. And he kept walking after retiring.

In an era of instant gratification and no-time-to-exercise, my father is reaping the rewards of a lifestyle he chose many, many years ago.

Funny thing: he was unaware of this, and neither did I. I was just trying to cheer him up before surgery and came up with this estimate. Now we are playing with the data, converting 52,000 km to a more manageable unit (130 round trips to his home town), finding his longest walk… This is something that he’s proud of and likes to talk about.

And you know what? I didn’t have to make a chart, I didn’t have to add junk, I didn’t have to sell my findings. Just a perfect match between data and audience. I will never have that smile from my audience again.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to follow my father’s steps (literally). I’m already 49,000 kilometers behind him.

7 thoughts on “The Healing Power of Statistics”

  1. Jorge,

    best wishes for your father’s speedy recovery.

    Sometimes, the best presentations are those that don’t involve Powerpoint (or similar), and sometimes we don’t need charts to illustrate our findings. In this day and age, we often tend to use the computer like a hammer. Everything looks like a nail.

    It’s good to find a few moments to revert to good old verbal communication, and, if pictorials are required, use a piece of paper and a pencil.

    Good on you, and thanks for keeping your blog up. I know it’s hard work.


    cheers, teylyn

  2. From someone who researches walking deficits and rehabilitation, this is a beautiful story ( as well as the statistics! ). May there be many happy strides for both you and your father in the years to come.

  3. This article just shows again that simplicity cannot be underestimated.

    Thanks for sharing.

    It reminds me of a story from Donald Wheeler. On page 134 of “Making Sense of Data” from Donald Wheeler he relates a story headed: A Clinical Report: Peter’s Story. In it he shows how using a simple chart (can be done with pen and paper) helped Peter, a 25 year old with autistic disorders. Peter’s parents wrote: “The statistical process measuring our son’s behavior has enabled those who have interpreted the graphs to have a clearer picture of hwat underlying factors influence the exhibited behaviors.”

    I also like the following qoute:
    “The quiet statisticians have changed our world; not by discovering new facts or technical developments, but by changing the ways that we reason, experiment and form our opinions.” – Ian Hacking

    Kind Regards

  4. Reminds me of the story where the older man reminds his children how “hard” things were in the old days: walking to school – uphill… both ways!
    Noting that hills were probably involved in his walk to and from work, one might estimate the total ‘climb’ as well.
    Best wishes.

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