The Guy Next Door

A professor of Italian I knew had an apartment in Milan. He loved it!  He would spend his sabbaticals  there doing research and immersing himself in the culture he loved. One problem: The man in the apartment next to him was obnoxious to him and to the other neighbors. The professor disliked him.  And the professor wanted to buy his neighbor’s apartment so he could expand his tiny place into something more comfortable. After he returned to the United States from a sabbatical there, which included some uncomfortable neighborly interchanges, he got word that the guy next door had died. Because the man had no friends, his body was not discovered for several days. He had bled into his abdomen through a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

The professor was able to purchase the apartment. He now had a much larger place and settled in with great verve. He began working on his fifth book and setting up a program for exchange students from the University of Bergamo

I would often speak with him at the gym but did not see him for a year or so. Then a mutual acquaintance told me that the professor had died in his new apartment of a ruptured aneurysm. His body had not been discovered for several days because many people did not know he had returned.

Two men, dead from ruptured aneurysms, lying for days with no one finding them in the same apartment. I looked for a link. Could the professor’s animosity toward the neighbor have ricocheted back onto him?  Was there something about the apartment? Or am I trying to imagine a cause when this is only a low probability event happening?

Statistically, about 1 percent of all deaths in the Western world are caused by ruptured aortic aneurysms.  I could not find whether or not the professor had an aortic or brain aneurysm, and I could not find the percent of all deaths caused by brain aneurysms. So I will guesstimate that the combined percentage of ruptured aneurysms contributing to all deaths in the Western world is 1.5%.  The probability of both deaths occurring in the same place is estimated by multiplying the two percentages (1.5%  x 1.0%) which equals  .0015% or .000015. While this is a small number, it is not very tiny. Statisticians will be able to say that in large populations like those of Europe and North America combined, which is well above 1 billion people, this low probability event has to happen. The most unlikely thing is for low probability events like this NOT to happen.

However, this coincidence involving next door neighbors dying of aneurysms is more improbable than this small percentage indicates. They had been located next to each other.  They had a relationship—they were feuding. The professor died in the new apartment that included the one where his neighbor had died–they died in almost the SAME space. And, because they were living alone, their bodies were not discovered for several days. These facts decrease the probability even more. This sad story is not just about two men dying of aneurysms in the same apartment building. There seems to be a link, which we can use to define a subcategory of coincidence—simultaneous deaths of two people in an intense emotional relationship.  Probably the most famous such example involves two United States presidents. 

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