The Plague-Ground – Are Your Lungs Older Than Your Denial?

Mine sure are. They’re 70 years old. My wife Jean’s are seven years older.

This puts us both in the high-risk category for dying from COVID-19 if we test positive. So our roulette is different. Of the 65 Canadians who have died so far from the virus, a huge majority have been old (me) or very old (Jean). If it’s coming for anyone, it’s us.

My lungs may be weaker just because they’re older, but my denial is stronger than ever. I believe I’m different from all those other 70-year-olds because I walk 12,000 steps a day and do long-distance road biking (though not recently for either).

I believe because I survived a near-death experience a decade ago, my luck will hold again, although Jean keeps saying my heart issues make me more vulnerable, not less. I counter that with my profound belief in magical thinking and exceptionalism. They aren’t very scientific, but then neither has science been for the past thousand years since, well……don’t most new discoveries go to disprove conventional scientific wisdom?

Jean’s lungs are much stronger than mine. She’s training for the Boston Marathon which was postponed from April 20th to September 14th. So she’s still out there every day on the country road near our cottage where we’ve fled to live until we can see the future more than one a day at a time.

While I write, Jean practices tele-medicine, the new growth profession.  She’s doing this because her 11 family-doctor colleagues at their downtown Toronto clinic have forbidden her from going in to the clinic.


Because she’s so old.

Her partners now spend most of their time at the dozen COVID-19 clinics across the GTA set up to keep pandemic patients away from our hospitals’ ERs.

Jean was not happy to hear this, but she cheered up a bit after speaking with a friend who’s an ER doctor at a downtown Toronto hospital who was told to stay away from the Emerg – because she’s 55.

Jean’s denial is much weaker than her lungs or mine. She was a SARS doctor back in 2003, recruited when a fellow physician at Women’s College Hospital told her: “Jean, you can either come in to the hospital, or stay out. You can’t do both.” So Jean stayed in and learned first-hand how well epidemics strike without fear or favour.

Again, she’s more c-a-l-m and clinical than I am on matters of death and dying.  She has to be. As a MAiD doctor, she’s been providing Medical Assistance in Dying for the past three years. But that too, with its great gatherings of friends, its celebratory air and precise predictability (“Your mother will end her life at 10 a.m. next Thursday”) is also being swept away by the coronavirus.

I guess what’s most unsettling is my suspicion that COVID-19 is not random at all, but preying on us younger elders. Sure, if you’re in your 80s and you get the flu or you trip and fall, it can mean the unlocking of death’s door.

But at 70?

At 55?

It reminds me of John Vaillant’s nail-biting book, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, whose flap copy spells out the premise: “It’s December 1997 and a man-eating tiger is on the prowl outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East. To the horrified astonishment of a team of hunters, it emerges that the attacks are not random: the tiger is engaged in a vendetta.”

I think I’ll read it a second time now.

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15 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Are Your Lungs Older Than Your Denial?”

  1. Bob, I wish I could say “lovelier thoughts Michael, and up you’ll go”, from the 1954 tv production of Peter Pan – and BELIEVE it as Mary Martin wanted me to. But I can’t.
    With all the information from all the experts, with all the solicited and unsolicited advise and press items and and and, how can one step back (even if you have a country oasis to run to) and get some perspective on covid-19?
    I am finding it hard to.
    I appreciate your thoughtfulness and mindfulness and boy am I glad I am younger than you are (just)!

    1. Madeline Thompson

      Yes, I was going to say that – its on my list now. Oddly, I like the idea that animals of any stripe (tigers being pretty significant in that category – truly no pun intended) can come back at us with vengeance in mind. Only because we (collectively) have been so negligent of their place -and their fellow creatures – in our planet’s cornucopia of life sustenance. I do love the idea of a tiger on a vengeance roll – in a book of course!

  2. joseph rosenthal

    holy shyt Bob , i am 85, so i guess that my project is I am going to kill that bottle of Black Label, thats scotch son ,while reading the book this week, Book does sound great. you kids please look after yourselves. joe and Diane

  3. George Emerson

    Bob, another great diary entry, and I won’t at all suggest that the tiger allusion means you’re trying to leverage the popularity of Tiger King, the number 1 show on COVID Netflix.

    1. George — I have something even better than Tiger King for you. The Brit TV series, Suspects, on Amazon Prime.
      Addictive !
      I assume you are all hiding in plain sight?

      1. Thanks Bob! I look forward to your posts. I have watched Tiger King and I will now put Suspects on the list. I you like Brit cop shows you must watch Line of Duty! Just finished 5 seasons…in between telemedicine appointments and wine of course. Stay safe! and Hi to Jean.

  4. Madeline Thompson

    The age thing – it’s malleable I think, in spite of the fact that it does
    attack the upper reaches of that. But I believe you are right about
    magical thinking and all that – it can carry you a long way. I’ve got
    you and Jean beat in the age department but I’m determined to
    hang around till Bernie Sanders wins! That may give me a tad
    more hanging around time.

  5. Charmaine Jones

    First…hello to Jean (a class mate of mine) ….and a big thank you for your diary entries. I am really enjoying them. Linda and I have returned from Texas bird watching…early…and we are just about finished our 14 days of isolation at home, on Charlotte Island. Nothing much will change though after the 14 days! Except we can venture forth – carefully – to pick up our grocery order (ordered online) ourselves.

    I have picked up Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and I am finding some important lessons in this.
    “Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man – his courage and hope, or lack of them – and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect”. So… managing our stress and hope during these days of isolation is of great importance. I am in the process of making up a daily outline “schedule” for myself! How about for you and Jean?

    1. Hi Charmaine – Glad you’re both back and safe. We are up at our cottage on Thunder Beach. Jean is either on the phone all day or doing teleconfeernce calls with her patients. But the connection isn’t all that sound for either, so it’s a bit frustrating. As for the connection between hope and health, we get it ! But thank heavens we’re busy….
      Thanks for connecting.

  6. I am, like you very optimistic , feel I will beat this thing. Will definitely read The Tiger. Take care.

  7. Felt compelled to suggest that Jean’s superior female immune system trumps (pardon the pun) your 7 years younger lungs. Tigers in zoos also sharing the covid19 pain but look forward to reading about the revenge story you recommend.

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