There are individuals in this world whose success is predetermined. Hailing from wealthy families and spawned of experienced and wise parents, their paths in life and the trappings of their existence are paved in gold. Their only requirement to achieve success is simply to show up.
Then, there is another type of individual. This is the self-made variety, those who had to work and strive for every advantage, to scrape bottom and endure hardship, power through life’s difficulties, and reach the pinnacle of success on their own.
Charles Cameron was of the latter variety. A descendent of lower-middle-class immigrant parents who struggled to learn English and put food on the table, Charles understood his circumstances quite well, even as a young boy. And he was determined to achieve success, regardless of his modest foundation.
Charles was an avid reader, and loved studying the biographies of some of history’s greatest men and women. He read the life stories of Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jonas Salk, Winston Churchill, Helen Keller, Benjamin Franklin and others, and gleaned pearls of wisdom from each.
The one common element that coursed through all these lives was the ethic of hard, disciplined work. And that is something for which Charles had a particular talent. From his teen years on, Charles put his entire effort into every endeavor. And it would not be long before financial and business success found him.
Living in Arizona, Charles loved visiting the Grand Canyon. He found the vastness of its yawning caverns and richness of its Earthen hues deeply inspiring and emotionally validating. There was nothing he enjoyed more than hiking its winding trails and absorbing the stillness and solitude of its environs. After many visits there, Charles came to know the Grand Canyon from every angle.
At the tender age of 25, Charles laid the cornerstone of his first venture, C.R. Cameron Investments, and within five years, the company had over a billion dollars under management and was set to go public on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
As a 30th birthday present to himself, his next corporation opened its doors. Cameron Industries Inc., a firm involved in the management and import of rare-Earth metals, began operating, and within five years the company had cornered the market on lanthanum, cerium and holmium. As certain growing technologies desperately needed these three metals, Cameron Industries struck gold, so to speak.
As you might have surmised, Charles became exceedingly wealthy. And as is fairly ubiquitous among highly successful, very wealthy men, feelings of invulnerability and grandiosity began to pervade his personality. It was not unusual for Charles to reject out of hand the advice or counsel of his peers and confidants. There was only one person in the world from whom Charles would take advice: Charles Cameron.
It was therefore extremely distressing to Charles when he began to experience mild difficulty in cognition. He discussed his fears with his wife.
“Honey, I’ve been noticing a problem with my thinking. I am afraid I’m developing dementia. For the past few weeks, I just can’t seem to finish a thought or think a complicated issue through.”
His wife, Rose, always highly empathetic, lent her support.
“Charles, I have noticed that you seem to take more time than usual in answering. I assumed you were just under a lot of pressure at work and preoccupied.”
Charles was despondent. “There is more. I have also been feeling increasingly unsteady on my feet. It seems like my gait is off. I feel like I’m waddling when I walk. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that, but I feel it. And, one more thing. I seem to be losing my ability to control my urine. Several times recently, I had little ‘accidents’ where I couldn’t hold it in.”
His wife felt alarmed by what she had heard.
“Charles, I want you to see a neurologist. These symptoms sound very concerning. I hope you’ll do that.”
Charles nodded that he would, and a few days later, he met with a very fine neurologist, Dr. Jonathan Miller, at the University of Arizona Medical Center. A battery of tests ensued, including bloodwork to exclude a thyroid abnormality or heavy metal toxicity. An MRI of the brain was ordered. A full series of neuropsychological tests was scheduled. And an ultrasound study of the carotid arteries was prescribed. A followup visit with Dr. Miller was also set in order to discuss the results of all the tests and to formulate a treatment plan.
But Charles was the type of man who could not wait for a visit. Due to the new HIPAA regulations governing patient rights, Charles had access to the neurologist’s office notes on the practice website. And upon the completion of the tests, he engaged the website and downloaded the clinical notes.
Charles read the note with a heavy heart.
“This is a 64-year-old man with the new onset of cognitive dysfunction, gait disturbance and urinary incontinence. Early dementia is suspected. Symptom triad suggests normal pressure hydrocephalus. Tests ordered, including an MRI of the brain, bloodwork, and neuropsychological survey. Rule out hypothyroidism. Rule out heavy metal toxicity. Consider a more exotic differential, including multiple sclerosis. Further advice following the completion of these tests.”
To Charles, this office note represented a death sentence. Most importantly, it meant depriving him of control over his own destiny, something that he found totally unacceptable. He had conducted his life his way, based on his own decisions and plans. And he was not about to allow something as foolish as a disease deprive him of his dignity. Charles was determined to control the circumstances of his death his own way as well.
To Charles, the plan was obvious. He had always loved the Grand Canyon. He knew the Canyon very well, and was familiar with its topography intimately. One of his favorite spots in the Canyon was its highest point from the bottom, standing 8000 feet directly vertical to the rocky ground below.
Charles had a knack for physics, and spent the afternoon utilizing a few formulas from a college textbook to calculate exactly how long it would take in free-fall from the height of 8000 feet to the rocks below (please see Addendum A at the end of this story to see Charles’ work).
His calculations revealed that he would leave the highest peak from 8000 feet and have just a bit more than 22 seconds to enjoy the descent before vanishing into oblivion at the floor of the Canyon.
But Charles was not planning to jump. His plan was much more subtle and creative. His favorite auto was a beautiful Mercedes Maybach sedan with lots of seating and leg room. He loaded the radio hard drive with his favorite music. He had decided that his last music was to be Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.”
Driving to the Canyon, he stopped at a Starbucks and ordered an extra large cappuccino with two sugars, steamed half-and-half, whipped cream and chocolate shavings. He turned on his music and drove to his final launch spot. He realized that an added benefit was the weightlessness encountered during free-fall. Because of that, the Starbucks cappuccino had to have a well-fitting cover to prevent the coffee from floating up out of the cup during the descent.
He thought of a passage from the movie The Naked Gun, when Leslie Nielson philosophizes about the right way for a man to die. “Your parachute not opening. That’s a way for a man to die! Getting caught in the gears of a combine. That’s a way for a man to die!”
He thought, “And taking your life and death into your own hands. That’s the way for me to die!”
Charles maneuvered his Mercedes Maybach into position, facing the cavern in front of him. From the driver’s seat, he could see only the edge of the cliff about 50 feet away, then emptiness. But he knew very well what was just beyond that cliff.
He sat for a few minutes, staring into the abyss, listening to Sinatra and sipping his cappuccino. He thought how soothing and warm the coffee was. Then, as Sinatra was crooning the last majestic phrase, Charles revved the engine, pedal to the metal. The rear wheels spun ferociously in the dirt, launching his automobile forward, while at the same moment Charles involuntarily screamed “Yaaaaaaaaaah!” as his car hurdled over the edge and began his 22 seconds of bliss.
At that very instant, Charles’ wife received a phone call from Dr. Miller.
“Hello, Mrs. Cameron. Is Charles there? Oh, no? Well, I just wanted to tell him some good news. The tests we ran confirm that he has a condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus. I know, it’s a long name. But the good news is that it’s totally reversible. The dementia and the other symptoms such as his ataxic gait and urinary incontinence should resolve with treatment. The treatment involves placing a shunt from the inner ventricles of the brain under the skin and down into the abdomen. It might sound scary but it’s actually a relatively easy procedure, and it should lead to a quick and complete recovery. Do you happen to know when Charles will be home?”
“Well,” said Rose Cameron, “I think he went to do some sightseeing at the Grand Canyon. You know, that’s his favorite place in the world. I don’t understand it, but he doesn’t seem afraid of heights at all. But I’m sure he will be thrilled to hear this good news. He was very concerned and worried. When he hears the news, I’m sure he will feel like he’s been given a new lease on life! I’ll text him right away.”
Charles’ text chime sounded at approximately the 5000 ft level, giving him about 15 seconds to read the text of the good news.
To find the time it would take to hit the ground from 8000 ft high, Charles used the acceleration of gravity, represented by g, which is approximately equal to 32.17 ft/s2. The height from where Charles started his descent is represented by h. Time of descent (the time it will take to hit the ground) is represented by t. He then plugged in the numbers using the formula: t = √2h/g.
t = √2h/g —> √2•8000 ft / 32.17 ft/s2 —> √16,000 ft / 32.17 ft/s2 —> 22.3 sec
This gave Charles the time of descent if the event took place in a vacuum. When adding in the factor of air resistance, the actual time would be somewhat longer than 22.3 sec.
To find his velocity at the moment of impact with the ground, Charles used the formula: v = gt, where v is the velocity; g is the acceleration of gravity; and t is the time of descent that was found by the previous formula.
v = gt —> 32.17 ft/s2 • 22.3 s = 717.4 ft/s, which is equal to 489.1 mph.
However, adding in air resistance, the terminal velocity would be much less, but certainly adequate to result in instant death.
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great story! And exactly why I stopped reading MRI reports.
That ending got me! I was like should I cry or? It’s almost humorous at that moment and the way you write how much time Charles had at the end, but then the juxtaposition and the gravity of the situation…😬😱‼️😳 I really enjoyed the way you told the story, it was a quick read but the detailing was well written, you give us just enough and we read on, wanting more. I like how the narrator brings us through the psyche and intellectual qualities of Charles. The calculating yet rushed demeanor of Charles’ actions could seem to contradict but in t...
Dear Amanda, Thank you so much for your extensive comments and critique. I really appreciate it. I definitely like your recommendation to expand the emotional response of certain characters. I agree with you that it can be made more effective and colorful. I will try to introduce that concept in my future stories. Meanwhile, I began reading your stories. I'm looking forward to that. All the best, Bruce