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?
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.