20 June 2011

Drinkin' and Dreamin'

There are two people who have caught my attention today.  The first is Ryan Dunn, star of Jackass.  The second is Beth Dobson, who has Crohn's disease.  [Law & Order voice] "These are their stories."

Ryan Dunn had a good ol' time at a Philadelphia bar last night, reportedly having "at least three beers and three shots" in about four hours.  Reports vary; one witness claims they were Miller Lites and "girly" shots; another declared Dunn was "wasted" when he left.  How much he consumed and the extent to which it affected him is currently unclear, but it's hard to give the benefit of the doubt to an individual who has literally built a career out of defying consequences.  Regardless, Dunn crashed his Porsche 911, killing himself and a passenger.

Reaction has fallen into two camps.  One dismisses this as little more than an inevitability for someone with Dunn's reckless proclivities; the other has tried to elevate him to daredevil martyrdom.  I reject both reactions.  This was not a reality TV stunt gone wrong.  There was nothing for Dunn to prove by getting behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol, this was not part of his job.  This was tempting fate, certainly, but this was a far cry from when Roy was mauled by that tiger.
Daredevil martyr?  Hardly.
More significantly, there is nothing heroic or inspiring about Dunn or anyone else driving drunk.  I was nine years old when the worst drunk driving collision in the country occurred about 20 minutes from where I live.  Larry Mahoney was drunk on the night of 14 May 1988 when he drove in the wrong direction on I-71 in Carrollton, Kentucky and crashed into a bus full of 66 passengers--mostly youth--embarking on a visit to Kings Island amusement park in Cincinnati.

It wasn't the crash itself that claimed the lives of 27 people.  Dragging metal on the highway generated sparks that ignited the punctured gas tank.  The seat covers quickly caught fire.  It's estimated that the heat inside the bus at one point was as high as 2000 degrees.  The front of the bus was not accessible, forcing everyone to rush for the rear exit.  Before emergency responders were even on the scene, the fire became an eruption that prevented anyone from getting to the remaining 27 people on board.  Of the survivors, ten were physically disfigured from burns.  One lost a leg to amputation.  The emotional scar of our entire region remains and I dare not speculate how those present have coped with the event after all these years.  Trauma and survivor guilt are said to be rampant with those who made it out of the bus.

Ryan Dunn did not hit a bus full of youths.  But he easily might have, and we are remiss to praise him for "only" killing himself and a passenger who was willing to get into the car with him and let him drive.  Dunn had the choice to drink--a choice for which I am not vilifying him--and drive.  Fans may see this as part of the devil-may-care attitude that endeared him to them, but I wonder if once upon a time Larry Mahoney wasn't the life of the party, doing stupid things to entertain others.  Dunn's loved ones have my condolences, but for his fans to declare his death a "tragedy" speaks volumes to me about how poorly they understand the word.

Beth Dobson and fiance Ian Townsend
Which brings me to Beth Dobson.

Dobson, like yours truly, has Crohn's disease.  Unlike me, hers has become so aggressive that her mouth is said to be the only part of her digestive tract not affected at present.  It will kill her, unless a life-threatening course of treatment succeeds.  She is scheduled to have a heart line surgically implanted and then undergo 11 days of chemotherapy.  Then, Dobson will be treated in one of two stem cell transplant trials with no guarantee of success.  Theoretically, once the chemo wipes out her immune system, her body will be more accepting of new digestive cells grown from her own which will essentially "overwrite" her existing cells.  It's still a very new form of treatment not tested on many patients.  That's all challenging enough, but what if I told you that Dobson is a mere 20 years of age and that the initial surgery is scheduled for two days after her wedding?
I don’t see myself as brave because it’s just my life and people go through a lot worse. You just have to get on with it. I have been ill all my life.
It’s getting boring – and annoying. This is my last roll of the dice.
I try to be mindful of Dobson's philosophy.  I know there are plenty of Crohnies out there who have had worse experiences than me by far, and that's not even accounting for all the things in life that are worse than Crohn's.  My heart broke when I read her story.  It always seems worse when these things happen to someone young.  She's 20.  She couldn't have even been in that bar with Ryan Dunn last night, and here she is facing a literal life-and-death situation knowing the odds are against her and that even success will be painful and uncertain.

Want to talk about real courage and real tragedy?  It's not Dunn.  It's Dobson.