I recently drew up instructions for my family to follow on my behalf should I fall victim to COVID-19. I did this in response to news reports that the New York Fire Department had issued new guidelines to paramedics, instructing them not to resuscitate cardiac patients who had no pulse, because emergency rooms are so overcrowded.
Furthermore, troubling accounts about the likelihood of U.S. doctors facing the same kind of choices seen in France, Spain and Italy about who gets access to life-saving interventions have me scared. It will be those with the greatest chance for recovery — the young — who get priority over the less-likely-to-survive older population.
And I fall into the latter category.
I am officially considered a non-essential worker. Health care providers, police, first responders, transit and other city workers, grocery clerks, and people in other service industries are critical to fighting this pandemic. But I am an adjunct medical school lecturer, and my course was over before the virus hit. As a recent empty-nester, I already was feeling superfluous.
Now that most of my meetings have gone online, I’ve discovered I’m a failure at Zoom. I’m embarrassed by my lack of proficiency compared with my younger, savvier colleagues. I keep forgetting to mute my mic, and I had to be told to use the gallery option to see those in attendance.
But the term “non-essential” sounds degrading, especially in the current climate.
Recently, some Republican politicians were asking Americans to trade widespread death of senior citizens — those most at risk — in exchange for getting the country’s economy back on track. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” President Trump tweeted in March, fearing the social distancing policy was hurting the economy.
The next day, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick agreed, saying, “Let’s get back to work. Those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”
Earlier in April, U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana said that compared to a failing economy, a new wave of deaths due to the coronavirus was “the lesser of these two evils.” And as the president continues to push for opening the economy and states loosen restrictions without a national program to test for and contain the coronavirus, we are faced with a possible resurgence of COVID-19.
Am I and those of my generation considered so non-essential, that we must give our lives because of the opinions of some Wall Street financiers? It brings to mind a comment once made by a disgruntled millennial who disagreed with my non-materialistic values: “I can’t wait till all you boomers die.”
Yet, when I fear that my life is expendable, I look at all those in the teeth of the pandemic: the health care providers who are asked to save lives without the necessary personal protective equipment to do their work safely. They have been called troops on the front lines of a war.
Although this is meant to be a compliment to their heroism, the failure to provide them with enough personal protective equipment is like going to war without ammunition. It implies a belief that, like fallen soldiers, their place in the battle can be filled by other fighters. Thus, they, too, are dispensable.
As a retired physical therapist, my age and pre-existing medical conditions have probably made me an unlikely candidate to be called upon to serve. So far.
Although feeling guilty, I refuse to succumb to this virus because our president and his economic advisors have put the stock market above my life, and that of others.
The fact there may not be enough ventilators and other medical equipment for all who need them is abhorrent and unacceptable.
To deal with this possibility, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for the nation is based on his New York state model of rolling deployment, also known as his “surge and flex” program. Because there are not enough ventilators in the federal stockpile, his plan would shift national and state resources to areas in most need.
In the absence of leadership to accomplish this on a national level, states such as Washington and Oregon fortunately stepped up and took it upon themselves to share their supplies with New York.
Gov. Cuomo also has convened a task force of neighboring governors to work on a plan to reopen the economy based on public health concerns. Hopefully, the president won’t override their decision, as he threatened to do, in his rush to get the economy to “boom.”
Saving lives will ultimately save the economy. That, along with federal assistance to help struggling families and small businesses, as well as funding to states.
As for my plan, written and distributed to members of my family, they have been given strict orders to fight for me to have every chance of survival. I refuse to sacrifice my life and that of others in my generation for the benefit of the economy, to which we are all essential.