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The Terror of Numbers – How An Insignificant Figure Haunted a Parent.

Posted 12 February, 2017 by Surely
in Opinion

Since young, I have always been a scientific person.
Excelling in Science and Mathematics in school instilled an unwavering belief in logic.
Numbers are practically my religion.

As a staunch believer in digits, I rejected any religion that my parents tried to impose upon me.
Emotions are considered a weaknesses which obstructs progress and achievement.
Everything must be viewed through statistically coloured lens.

Law of large numbers?
It is my personal legislation.

 

The statistical Nazi at work

 

To illustrate the extremities that I go to, I would refuse to use any parking coupon.
Not when I was parked for the whole day.
Not even if my friends had explicitly informed me that the “Fatimahs” and “Feng Fei Feis” frequented their car parks.

Instead, I kept a record of how many “free” hours were accumulated whenever I wasn’t saman’ed.
When I was caught for not tearing any coupon, I would retrieve my notebook for free parking hours.
Then I would congratulate myself for beating the system.

To capture how perverse the situation is, let’s back up and see how others react to a “saman”.
Normal people will rant about their bad luck whenever they see a piece of paper on their windscreen.

The abnormal me felt alright whenever I received a parking fine.
Slightly elated at beating the odds.
Again.

 

You may win this battle but I am winning this war!

You may win this battle but I am winning this war!

 

Of course, the government has since utilised technology to defeat coupon cheats like me.
Nevertheless, I have always been proud of my logical mind.
Not because I have saved a lot of dollars but due to the fact that it is satisfying to outwit the “bright” scholarly brains of the public sector.

 

The Insurance Conundrum

 

Insurance does not make any statistical sense when one is still young.
In Singapore, your chances of dying before the age of 40 are slim.
Less than 1% in fact.

 

When you are young and lucky, nothing can hit you.

When you are young and lucky, nothing can hit you.

 

That is why my first insurance was bought only after joining the industry.
A hardcore probability fan cannot fathom taking such a deal.

Upon joining the insurance industry, I realised that I was operating under a serious misconception.
The insurance actuaries are quite brilliant when it comes to numbers and figures.
They have concluded that people like me are going to take advantage and impose certain underwriting conditions for insurance policies.

Upon realisation of the rules of the game, I had no choice but to get insurance early.
There was no way that I could guarantee my ability to be insured.
And no amount of number-crunching can reliably tell me if I am going to be sick or not.

 

The 1-in-238 chance.

 

Everything changed after our gynaecologist gave us the shocking news after our 2nd-trimester scan.
Our fetus had a 1-in-238 chance of having Down Syndrome and deformities.
Immediately, I worked out the odds.

0.42%

To a probability devotee, it was less than the chance of getting a parking fine.
It should not matter since I had taken on worse risks before.
However, a look on my wife’s face confirmed our mutual feeling.

It was too much to risk.
Not with my baby.
Not when it will affect all of our lives including his.

The only acceptable figure seemed to be zero.
“How may we confirm it?” I asked the doctor.
She offered us two options.

1) Amniocentesis = an invasive test whereby fluids are drawn from the baby’s amniotic sac. It is a definitive examination where the answer is either yes or no.
However, it carries a 1-in-300 chance of miscarriage.

2) NIPT – a non-invasive test that screens the fetal DNA from the mother’s blood.  The result is a percentage figure but it is at least risk-free.

We were stumped.
And running short of time.
The decision had to be made within a couple of days as the legal period for pregnancy termination stood at 24 weeks.
If we had chosen NIPT and the results were delayed, we might not have time for amniocentesis.

 

When all choices may turn out bad.

When all choices may turn out bad.

 

For a short moment, I tried to seek solace in figures.
1-in-236 chance is worse than 1-in-300 probability of miscarriage.
We should take amniocentesis immediately and relieve all our worrying.

However, our minds kept returning to this particularly haunting situation.
What if the amniocentesis result turned up negative for Down Syndrome but we had lost the fetus due to the procedure?
There was no way we would be able to forgive ourselves as the parents.

Every time I engaged my brain to think logically, every single cell in my body revolted and brought me back to the worst possible scenario.
And the other option (NIPT) seemed unsatisfactory – there was no certainty.

I kept circling back to the starting point.
Paralysed by the fear of making a wrong decision, I became trapped in an endless loop of worrying.

 

Emotions win.

 

Two days passed by quickly.
And slowly at the same time.

It wasn’t enough to Google and conduct a proper research on the topic.
Yet due to the incessant worrying, every second felt like a torture.
The burden of making the correct decision weighed heavily on our shoulders.

Are we making a right decision to risk amniocentesis?
NIPT was looking increasingly attractive but did we waste two days to procrastinate?
Should we be even getting a 2nd opinion?

We simply could not commit to any choices.
It was life-altering for our baby.
And yet we felt helpless as every selection carries its own set of risks.

In the very end, we gave in to our fears.
The risk of miscarriage was too daunting despite its low risk.
We opted for NIPT and left it to chance.

 

That is what it felt like then.

That is what it felt like then.

 

Emotion won.
And it continued to torture us for the next few days.

 

A glorious victory for Emotions

 

I tried to distract myself by working.
It was impossible.
Staring at my handphone and making sure that it was charged were all I did at work during those few days.

Sleeping was hard.
I imagined every possible scenario and re-lived each of them at night

Too sick to go to work, I stayed home on the fifth day after the samples were sent to the labs for NIPT.
My phone rang and the numbers were from the hospital.
A cold shiver ran up my spine as I was about to pick it up.

The doctor verified my wife’s details and gave me an update.
The result was positive.

 

Trisomy 21 is also known as Down Syndrome.

Trisomy 21 is also known as Down Syndrome.

 

A good 0.01%.
It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough for us.

I thanked the caller and immediately shared the good news with my wife.
We held each other and cried.
It had been a harrowing experience that fortunately turned out to be positive.

(Writer’s note: If you are experiencing the similar situation and will like to find out more, please leave me a comment and I will share my experience in deeper details privately)

 

Life is more than numbers.

 

I should have known it when I first bought my insurance policy.
The heart is more important than the brain at times.   
But I shrugged it off and attributed it to superior number-crunching by the insurance actuaries.

From this experience, I learn that digits cannot be the only consideration for decision-making.
There were other intangible elements that statistic cannot place a number on.
For example, the emotional trauma and the life-altering impact are not taken into account when we try to distill the risk factor into a singular digit.

 

How can anyone use numbers to describe emotions?

How can anyone use numbers to describe emotions?

 

A parking fine cost only $30.
A wrong decision could have cost a life in my situation.
Yet there is no severity factored into this statistic.

 

Conclusion

 

It leads us back to the whole purpose of this blog.
My aspiration for this site is to level the knowledge asymmetry in the insurance industry.
I want people on the street to make a logical decision when it comes to insurance.

It turned out that I was wrong –  we could not measure insurance with just numbers.
No numbers can accurately measure the severe financial impact on your loved ones if mishaps were to befall upon you.
Or the increased recovery chances because of your access to better healthcare solutions – all made possible by your critical illness insurance.

If one day the statisticians can place a value on all these, we may be in a better position to dissect insurance by numbers.
Until then, we have to rely on our emotions to tell us to do what is correct.
And most of the time, you know your gut feeling is probably right.

www.ClearlySurely.com aims to eradicate the knowledge gap between consumers and Life Insurance. Our Vision is that one day, every Man, Woman, and Child will be properly insured.

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