At 82 of years of age. I am in reasonable health, just the usual aches and pains and I don’t drive at night anymore. As a semi-retired psychoanalyst, I work from my home office and see a limited number of patients every week. My wife, age 80, is pretty much recovered from a recent five-day hospital stay, but would still be regarded as compromised because of an over-reactive airway after a serious pneumonia eleven years ago. She is a retired guidance counselor, my night driver and manages our active social life —or should I say former social life—with family and friends.
Along comes COVID-19 and we are daily reminded we are the most vulnerable to die if infected (20 percent) and should self- isolate for who knows how many months; no dinners with friends, movies, lunch at the diner, shows and this year no Passover dinner with our family. We’ve been put in isolation by a handyman who won’t come to the house to install a railing to the basement laundry room we now need and by our sixteen -year -old helper who we depend on to help us with tasks like gardening and light bulb changing and who won’t come around because of his concern for us. All pretty bourgeois stuff to be concerned about while the death count rises and doctors tell us they may have to triage us if we need to go to a hospital for any reason at all because of a severe shortage of ventilators. My wife has voiced her fear she may die if she ends up in the hospital again. So I ask her every morning how she feels and if she slept okay.
I’m no hero and realize I’m afraid too. Several weeks ago, before the news became as bad as it is now—pre shelter in place—I was doing an errand which took me past a local market, where I thought of a few items we needed and pulled into an adjacent parking garage; but I thought, what if, and I couldn’t get myself to get out of the car. I called my wife and she said, “Come home.” Now when I go out, I have wipes in the car to clean my hands before I come home where I wash them more thoroughly, and I also wear a proper face mask (N95 five for $50 from China). Yes, I know we in the US are told only to wear masks to protect others if you have the virus or are working with infected people, but the Chinese disagree and believe all of us should wear masks until the pandemic abates. I side with the Chinese.
Perhaps the saddest news of all is the message from the White House that we are no longer of use to society, a drain on limited resources —the young come first, the elderly come last if resources must be rationed in this the richest country in the world––a conundrum. So we are careful, clean closets, read, (she )bakes cookies, (I) work on my latest book, Why Not Read Poetry, work on taxes (more time is good for procrastinators like me), take our meds and extra Vitamin C —and welcome the daily calls from our kids and friends checking up on us, as we check up on them to keep up with their lives. We don’t watch the news before we turn off the lights anymore, we take daily walks now that the weather is milder and we cherish our almost sixty years of marriage that gives us the strength to carry on—a little luck helps too.
Howard Schwartz, MD, is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and is a certified psychoanalyst. He has been in practice for 50 years, is still practicing, and is the author of 5 books.