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.
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.