The entire world is wrapped up in this COVID-19 pandemic.
We’re bombarded with death counts, state-by-state information on new cases and deaths, medical bulletins and political statements. Some of which are lies and damned lies from our “president” and his coterie of truth slayers.
We’re inundated with scenes of medical personnel doing heroic things at the risk of their own health. We’re told where the worst of it is at the moment, how bad and where new cases - hundreds of thousands of new cases - are likely to happen next.
Most of us are now under orders to stay home. Staying isolated. Staying separated from everyone else. Many of us are concerned for family and friends who are far away. Most of all, we’re a bit fearful for what the next day will bring and how soon our neighborhood will be among the statistics. Whether we’ll be infected and, if so, what will happen to us.
I’ve previously told you of our large, Arizona neighborhood of seniors. Three communities - cheek-by-jowl - of about 92,000 folks over the age of 55. Based on three years of desert residency, I’d guess about 60,000 of us are over the age of 70. And some 10-15,000 over 80. That would seem to make us a handsome target for any infection. Especially this one.
We have two modern, well-equipped, well-staffed hospitals. Each has about 100 beds. You do the math.
Barb and I did the math. And it ain’t good!
We’re sheltered at home with sufficient provisions for a month or so. We’ve ventured out for medical appointments but that’s about it. Lots of time on the old computers, reading or binging on Netflix. Pretty typical. Cloistered. Which gives us a lot of time to think.
Here’s where it gets personal. During that thinking time, a single scenario keeps playing in my head.
I get the symptoms. Coughing, sweating, flu-like stomach problems, etc.. Barb takes me to the hospital - a five-minute drive.
The emergency room is full. Takes about three-hours to be seen by a nurse. She tests and soon confirms COVID-19, calls an orderly and, suddenly, I’m on a gurney in the hall on the sixth floor. Me and dozens more. And there are five similar floors below.
Time passes. The sound of coughing never ceases. Workers appear, do their duties and disappear. Coughing. People talking in hushed voices. Once-in-awhile a gurney is moved someplace else.
Then a doctor arrives and introduces herself. She tells me what’s currently going on in the hospital, how rushed everyone is, how supplies are running low and describes the never-ending line of old folks still in their cars outside.
Then, she lowers her voice, bends closer and says “We’re out of ventilators. We’ve been out of ventilators for three days and we’ve had to make some hard choices.”
That’s where this repeated scenario ends. Each time, it ends with that doctor and those words. Each time.
Then, it’s back to all that time to think. Hearing those words and imagining what happens next.
The reality is I’m 83-years-old. Though healthy for my age, there are some things that can be medicated but not fixed. I’ve been blessed to have a long, mostly healthy lifeline. Survived cancer and some broken bones. With occasional prescriptions to mask various elderly afflictions, living a comfortable retirement. But, still 83.
That means there are lots of younger people. Lots. They’ve got years ahead of them that I’ve already crossed off life’s calendar. They’ve got things to do I’ve already done. They’ve got things to see I’ve already seen. They’ve got time to go. Time I’ve already used up.
Suddenly, the news we’re watching gets very personal. Very. The endless statistics become more meaningful. The number of cases and the number of deaths more real. Concern for Barb and the rest of the family are more important than ever before. Thoughts of the end-of-life more immediate.
We are a nation under siege by an enemy we can’t see and can’t control. While most of us are trying to follow the new and, hopefully, temporary rules, others are not and they’re endangering us as well as themselves. For too many, the seriousness, the reality, the eventuality that it will suddenly become personal has not registered. But, it will.
Barb and I elected to stay where we are largely because there are so many doctors, specialists of every stripe and easily accessible health care facilities for people our age. With some 92,000 of us, medical necessities would seem to have been met.
Which creates a significant irony in my scenario when the doctor says “We’re out of ventilators.”
The same excellent and plentiful health care that caused us to change our lives may now play a significant role in our end-of-life.