—There is nothing exempt from humor— even death— so forgive some self-deprecating humor in these troubled times.—
Old guys used to have it made. We ruled the world. Sure we started some wars along the way and were responsible for the demise of a slew of young men who never got a chance to become old guys like us. Yes, we made our mistakes, but did it really have to come to this— sacrificed in the backwash of a viral marauder?
We are still awaiting a policy of who lives and who dies when we have to decide who gets that ventilator.
On the battlefield, surgeons and medics often operated, so to speak, under a medical protocol that dates back to the American Civil War, if not before. All other factors being equal, that means that when you have to make the choice as to whose life gets saved, you go with the person who seems to have the most to give and gain from living longer.
Perhaps when the bubonic plague swept the land in the Middle Ages it came down to this decision during a blood-letting: Who gets the last leech?
That right to deliverance today is being measured in years, not subjective standards of worth, when it comes down to who has to die when trying to contain massive casualties like the battle against COVID-19.
I’m being candid here, because some doctors and the hospitals in which they practice are already inundated by patients. At the same time, they are undersupplied with equipment and tragically lacking pharmaceutical remedy that might save lives. They, therefore, must deny immediate medical treatment or resources to patients whose odds of survival are diminished due to (1) age, (2) perceived quality of life (3) age, (4) statistical life expectancy and (5) age.
So I’m a 72-year-old man who, without a ventilator, only has a few hours or minutes of breath remaining in my wheezing body, compliments of that lung clogging virus. On the gurney next to me lies a 32-year-old man in the same dire need of this breathing apparatus. Both of us are otherwise healthy, for our respective ages, of course. The accepted practice under such life-and-death conditions is the final stage of triage, prioritizing treatment based on severity of illness or injury and likely outcome.
That means that I, the old guy, am sentenced to die. Nothing personal, old man, but demographics tell us you only have six years left anyway. The other guy, however, is statistically most likely to live another 46 years.
There is no fair chance. No luck of the draw. No toss of the coin. Heads he wins; tails I die.
This is another good reason for those of us who are lifespan-impaired to stay away from those smarty pants younger adults who think that, if infected, they’ll just call in sick, if they still have a job, and sleep it off for a few days. For those who do develop a bad case, they’re sure to be allocated a ventilator in a hospital ward congested with gasping old people.
As it stands now, it is up to the physician to make that call. I’m not so sure I want that decision made by someone, regardless of presumed skills, whose work is known as a practice. Give me somebody who qualified for the varsity, not the practice squad, to make that call.
Great grandpa was fortunate to reach his fifties…
Nobody wants to say this, but, when pressed, the beleaguered warriors on the front lines of conquering this malicious invader will tell you, as one did when pressed this weekend, that “people who have more life years would get the ventilator.” That’s just a gentle way of saying your time has run out, old dude.
No physician wants to be in that position, but that’s just the way it is now— even knowing there are supposedly healthy young people dying from this, too.
Consider that my grandfather was born say around 1900 when the average lifespan for men was 46 or 47. I’ve already lived well beyond that, and I still haven’t finished writing that book. I had my chance.
Let me just add this here: lol.
Yes, we may find ourselves in a triage situation “when limited medical resources must be allocated” and some man or woman in scrubs gets to decide. There is no time for biographical reviews, church attendance, arrests and convictions, voting record or whatever else might be taken into consideration to determine who deserves the ventilator. Let’s say I get a pass on a life extension and the guy who gets the ventilator turns out to be a serial killer on the run? Oops! I’m sure everybody involved would feel bad but, after all, life goes on. Well, not for me maybe, but I was probably only good for another six years anyway.
Life isn’t always fair, but you only have one life on the Earth— unless you get to come back and compensate for all your shortcomings with another one. Let’s say I’ve already lived other lives, and I was making up for previous sins, failings and lessons unlearned. Maybe I got a lucky break and was on sick call when my fellow soldiers got that assignment to check out Little Big Horn with General Custer or I handed somebody else my ticket on the Hindenburg in May of 1937. Maybe the karma all balances out cleanly like a CPA’s checkbook, and it actually turns out as a fair trade that I missed out on that ventilator.
You just don’t know. You know?
Note: A ventilator moves breathable air in and out of the lungs for those unable to breathe or struggling to breathe. A respirator filters and purifies the air or supplies clean air externally.