Know how it feels to be very old?  

Imagine this: You’re living in Milan. You’re a fairly healthy eighty-eight year old.  Then the virus gets you. Symptoms of Covid-19 appear: Fever, extreme fatigue, difficulty breathing. In other words, difficulty staying alive on your own.

Into the hospital with you. Ordinarily, they’d intubate – stick a tube down your throat and attach it to an apparatus called a respirator that would breathe for you while doctors had a chance to work on the underlying disease and you could breathe again without help. Except now, during this tidal wave of respiratory need, the hospital doesn’t have enough respirators. Your doctors have to decide who should get a respirator and who should go without. In other words, who should live and who should die. Who would get the respirator? Grandma (meaning you)? Or the mother of four young children? Guess who they say they must choose.

According to news reports, that was the situation in Milan last week. I don’t live in Milan. I’m in Princeton, New Jersey – on the East Coast of the United States.  But the tidal wave has reached us. And I am eighty-eight years old. I have two other strikes against me, as well: underlying coronary disease (which my own doctors are managing very well, thank you), and a compromised immune system (thanks to a hospital infusion of contaminated blood in 1969). So I’m particularly susceptible to the virus. If it reaches me, I will almost certainly not be asymptomatic.

Like all my contemporaries, I recognize that the number of years left to me are limited – how limited still uncertain.  Like all my contemporaries, there are memory lapses (in my case small ones, mostly of names – and thank goodness for Google). Like all my contemporaries, the body is stiff in the morning, there are minor aches and pains that come and go, prescription meds to swallow with breakfast in the morning. But I live in a residential community where the median age is 82, in a town that skews heavily to college professors and senior executives of pharmaceutical corporations, none of them spring chickens. So on a day to day basis, I don’t really feel so old. Until now, when I read the news from Northern Italy. What being old means has finally come home to me. It means that in some previously unimaginable circumstances –to a “decider” who is someone else, not me — I’m expendable.

Expendable?  Me?

That’s what it feels like.

Well, I really don’t think it will come to that. For one thing I am very well protected physically, in a fortress of a building where the resident trustees have taken every precaution that can be taken and then some.  (More of that perhaps, in a later post.) And our state governors, if not the elected leader of our country, are aggressively preparing for the apex of the catastrophe. Many doctors have also spoken out on the nightmare scenario in Milan last week; the determining factor here would not be who’s a grandma but who’d be likely in any event to die of some other condition within the next half a year.

How do I end this gloomy post?  With determination to go on living for as long as I can.

Keep safe. Be well.  More later.

24 thoughts on “MEDICAL TRIAGE

  1. Rita Stewart

    Hi Nina: Delighted you are back in rare form giving voice to all of us oldies who are dealing with this viral horror. Actually, I’m selfishly angry that the remainder of my years have to be spent hiding out from COVID-19—–that I can’t hug my son, who drops by with supplies and just waves from the outside or having to cancel my daughter’s visit etc etc etc.
    Keep on dear friend!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t envy the doctors who are forced to make this decision. It can’t be easy. That’s one of the reasons that they are trying to flatten the curve. If our ICUs aren’t inundated they will have enough equipment. Hang on Nina, it will pass and we’ll probably be okay. Meanwhile spring is here and maybe that will stall this plague.


  3. Isabelle Selikoff

    Stay away from the news. I have to keep reminding myself that at 77, I too am in the “at risk” group. As is my daughter in law at age 49 as she is a type 1 diabetic since childhood, a breast cancer survivor and a recovering from a complete hysterectomy done just before Christmas 2019. We both need to stay healthy so we can shepherd Sam through his adolescence.


  4. Grim but sadly true. I worry about my brother who, like you, is very healthy but has very well maintained asthma. He gets it, he’s dead. Did I mention he’s 90? He is also suffering from cabin fever having been a very active person up until a few weeks ago. Stay safe.


  5. It’s so good to see you back writing, Nina. Certainly a sobering time for all; and having politicians talk about old people “taking one for the team” isn’t helping. Thanks for this reminder that each and every one of us are lives worth keeping. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I always thought you would come back and only recently I wondered when this would happen. Your writing is as erudite and funny as ever. A restorative drop and well received, in my own case. Thank you, dear Nina.

    Just as I was making some new friends while walking around with my dog, the corona started to make social intercourse so difficult. We now meet through messages, and I am back to more isolation. A law has been passed that allows no more than two people together.
    When I walked out of the shower this morning I nearly called the police when I noticed a gaunt figure in the mirror. It’s what living on your own does.
    You are amazing and I shall look forward to your next post, Nina. So much proof that life does go on.


    • What a cri de coeur, GerardI But also a splendid welcome back. Thank you so much for your always kind words.

      I’m sorry you’re so lonely. This awful time would have been much easier if Helvi were still with you, especially as she’s so recently gone. I too wish Bill were still here, to discuss everything with and to hug, but I’ve learned (with difficulty) to be without him over the nearly four years since he died and by now I know for sure that anyone I glimpse in the mirror is me.

      Well yes, life does go on. Until it doesn’t. Let’s hope the day it doesn’t is still far off for both of us.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Familiar faces and thoughts in your corner of the world Nina. Thanks for sharing with us. Like Rita, my children leave groceries and medicines outside the door, and I have learned how to use zoom to converse with my grandchildren. Otherwise, my life is no worse than usual. I find enough to do even shut down in my home. But I can’t help but listen to the radio in the morning and watch TV in the evening… and that is a trial. It triggers difficult emotions. Otherwise, I see the virus as aliens from another world, and feel much like a buffalo seeing white men a couple hundred years ago. my best wishes to all.


    • It’s good to see you again in the Comments section, Shimon, and to learn you won’t go hungry or without medication. I also admire your fortitude in your apartment-fortress. What I miss most in mine is conversation. Although I must admit the cats, although leaving hairs everywhere, are quite a comfort, especially at night. Is your cat (whose name I have forgot) still with you? Learning to use Zoom is on my to-do list. I may also have to break down and sign up for Facebook, a thing I’ve avoided doing for many years. But these are unusual times, requiring unusual measures. I don’t know about that buffalo business, but if it works for you I wouldn’t dream of questioning it. Very best wishes right back.


      • Yes, my old cat, Nechama, is doing quite well, though she has only one eye for some time now. I am progressively more amazed by how much she understands, and keeps on learning even now. I haven’t signed up to facebook either. And I certainly wouldn’t have started with the zoom if it weren’t for the plague. It’s okay, and very easy to learn. Also got a defibrillator since we met…


  8. Florence Gellman

    You do have exceptional powers of expression. I find myself wishing to backtrack to your prior entries.
    My experience of these times differs markedly from yours. Yesterday, alone in my lovely apartment, I found my self reviewing my life including parents, education, marriage, children and current circumstances. It took awhile. Considering the years left to me following my 87th birthday, coming in a few weeks, I am not sure that a quick, quiet passing is not an improvement on a dragged out depletion of mental and/or physical capacity. I did not end my mental exercise with either a sense of dread or elation at the thought of succumbing to this dreaded bug. Current mild depletion of mental and physical capacities somehow makes the future less than appealing but I found myself experiencing very positive appreciation of the life I have lived so far.

    I guess I decided death is part of life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome to the blog, Florence. And thank you. By all means rummage around in past entries. You may recognize the circumstances that produced the relatively few I’ve written since the fall of 2016, when I moved into Windrows (and met you). However, let me suggest that some of the earliest ones, from 2013 and identified on the left side panel, are (to my mind) equally interesting.

      Unlike you, I haven’t yet considered whether I’m ready to die. My response to the mere suggestion that someone else might consider me expendable suggests I’m not. I don’t yet consider what you would call “depletion of physical capacity” a basis for calling it quits. I’m still in reasonably good functioning shape, and there are many things left in life for me to enjoy and — perhaps more important — to accomplish. (Who else is writing a blog like this at 88 and 2/3?)

      But intelligent people can certainly differ. Keep commenting!


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