Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my forthcoming book “Pressing My Luck”. Enjoy!
Ticket to Ride
As a doctor I’m well aware that the unexpected doesn’t come pre-announced. A person doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking, I’m going to wind up in the emergency room today or I’m going to have a car sideswipe me as I cross the street at lunchtime. As it turns out, the same thing is true when good fortune pulls up a seat at your dinner table. Even moments before it happens, everything seems relatively the same as it has always been.
I was aware that there would be a drawing on the night of September 5, 2001 for what was at that point the largest lottery jackpot in Florida’s history. I fully intended to buy a few tickets that day, as I did nearly every week, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fit it in. I’d worked a short shift in the ER that morning, and I had to take a makeup mandatory course on blood-borne pathogens right after that, and then race back to my office to deal with the mountain of paperwork that had been collecting all day. I had already missed the first scheduled class, because my daughter, Sarah, was swimming in the regional U.S. Maccabi Games.
Since I was the director of a pediatric emergency department, many people thought I did nothing but attend meetings from nine to five, but the endlessly growing pile of documents to review, messages to read, and calls to return attested to something very different. In addition, I needed immediate documentation of my attendance so I had to take extra time after the class was over to get that from the lecturer. I really didn’t have a spot in my schedule to buy lottery tickets, but, since I played the lottery so often, it seemed ludicrous for me not to participate in such an enormous jackpot.
The sprawling Jackson Memorial Hospital complex included an arcade with a variety of shops, including a gift shop that sold the tickets. I ducked in on my way back from the lecture and sighed heavily when I saw a line of around ten people ahead of me, all waiting for the single cashier to help them out. This gift shop was never crowded, even when the hospital was very busy. It became immediately apparent that the huge lottery drawing was the reason everyone was queued up here today.
“I’m gonna get myself a gigantic house when I win,” said one woman to another while they waited.
“I’m gonna have steak every night,” the other replied dreamily.
The man in front of them turned in their direction. “I have my eyes on a Maserati. A black one with lots of chrome.”
They all grinned and continued to expand on their fantasies. I could tell from their ID tags that they were workers at the hospital. A part of me wanted to join in on their musing, but I didn’t. I was wearing a lab coat and was obviously a doctor, and they probably figured I didn’t belong on the line in the first place. Most people, even those who work closely with them, are under the impression that all doctors are wealthy. Even though that’s far from true, I felt a little bit out of place.
“I’m gonna get my kids back,” said the woman directly in front of me. Everyone turned in her direction. She told the group that she’d lost her six children due to neglect, but that once she hit it big on the lottery, the family would be together again. That sounded better to me than throwing a few hundred thousand after a car, though the mention of neglect made me wonder if any amount of money could make that family whole.
I didn’t consider what I would do with all the cash. Since I’d never won anything in my life, and the odds of winning tonight’s drawing were one-in-twenty-million, I assumed my losing streak would continue. I just liked to play. What I did think about was everything I had to do when I got back to my office, along with wondering about crises that might have emerged in my absence. The woman behind the counter was doing the best she could, but she seemed to be moving very slowly. Twice while I was waiting, I considered getting out of the line, but I stood my ground. Once I got close enough to see that the store had York Peppermint Patties in stock today – they’re my favorite candy – my resolve strengthened.
When it was finally my turn, I put a Peppermint Patty on the counter and asked for six Quick Pick tickets. I’d read somewhere that more people won the lottery by having the computer randomly spit out numbers than by choosing their own, so I always played this way. I stuck the ticket with my six sets of numbers in my lab coat pocket, opened the candy wrapper, and headed back up to work.
As anticipated there was a tremendous amount for me to attend to when I got back to my office. I soon forgot about the tickets and the drawing that was coming that night, as I dealt with a full day’s worth of administrative duties in the few hours I had left that afternoon. When I wasn’t in a meeting, I had the phone glued to my ear while I plowed through paperwork.
When I got home, a different swirl of activity awaited me. A quick family dinner. Coaxing my teenaged kids through their homework. Relaxing in front of the television for a while. Taking care of a few household chores. At some point, the drawing for the largest lottery jackpot in Florida history happened, but it was the furthest thing from my mind.
It would not stay far from my mind the next morning, though. “Dr. Press, did you hear that someone from Jackson won the lottery?” a nurse said to me as I walked into the clean utility room.
“Wow,” I said, my eyes widening. “Who is it?”
“No one knows. The winner hasn’t come forward yet. All we know is that the winning ticket came from the gift shop.”
I wondered if it could have been one of my line-mates. Maybe it was the woman with the six kids. I continued to assume it wasn’t me, because I didn’t have that kind of luck. In fact, though I’d been playing the Florida lottery for as long as I could remember, I’d never had a winning of more than nine dollars.