Senior Living in the Days of the Plague

The COVID-19 pandemic has me rethinking assisted housing for seniors. I’m watching the death toll among nursing homes and veteran facilities skyrocket. They are like petri dishes enabling the virus to leap from one human being to the next.

I’m 74-years-old and my wife is 72. I’m grateful that we haven’t made the transition to any of those places for elder care. When my parents lived in a senior housing complex in Florida visiting them became a nightmare, even when there was no plague quietly disappearing residents.

What was bad was my father talking to me about how nice it was when they first moved there, along with several friends in their fifties who all applied at the same time, but years later many of those friends were sick and dying. I can only imagine what it’s like there now. I’m grateful my parents didn’t have to live through this.

Maybe the idea of senior housing needs to be reconsidered, or even done away with.  Places like that didn’t exist in the 1920s, just one hundred years ago. It seems unnatural to group silver-haired men and women together without the support of the rest of the family living close by.

Across the street from where my wife and I live is a two-family house where grandma and grandpa live downstairs and their daughter and their son-in-law live upstairs with their children. It gives us great pleasure to see the elder citizens sitting on the front porch playing with their grandchildren.

We’re missing our adult children and grandchildren because our daughter is working in Cairo, Egypt with her family and our son is living in Honolulu, Hawaii with his family.

Living with the virus at our age is not easy. We hate to ask friends to shop for us, but we actually get nervous when we have to go grocery shopping. We’re both in our 70s with pre-existing conditions, and would not make the cut for a ventilator. When they pick and choose who gets to live, we would not be first in line. This is a terrible and strange time.

But there are few people who aren’t touched in some way by the virus or the country’s response to it. It appears, according to the Boston Globe, that there is some kind of coverup at the Holyoke Veterans’ Home, where so many have died and are sick with the virus.  Bennett Walsh, the man in charge who is suspended with pay, says he and his staff were in constant contact with state agencies including the Secretary of Veteran’s Services, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Public Health. Walsh says, “We provided updates on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. These updates were by phone, text, email, conference calls and official report forms.” 

This raises some questions for Governor Charlie Baker.

I’m sure there will be an electronic trail showing who is telling the truth and who isn’t, but the tragedy is that there are so many elderly veterans who have paid the ultimate price for the folly of others.

Because I was homeless for a long time, and imprisoned for a few years, I especially remember feeling totally cut off while I was in prison. I knew that if there was a crisis, I would probably die in there. I got lucky and made it out alive. My heart goes out to all those trapped in steel and stone, living in a giant petri dish of disease and loneliness.

Loneliness. That’s one of the most frightening parts of this Plague; when sick our loved ones can’t be around, and people die surrounded by strangers in masks and costumes.  I’ve reread part of Stephen King’s book The Stand, and his story really hits the mark as Captain Trips, the Super Flu, wipes out most of the people in his fictional world.

COVID-19 isn’t quite like that, but I always worry that the coronavirus will mutate into a more lethal strain. Our current situation is enough like our previous concept of science fiction, that a more deadly mutation doesn’t seem like a particularly unbelievable plot twist. 

To end this column on a lighter note, I wonder why liquor and beer are regarded as essential, but marijuana is excluded except for medical purposes. Governor Baker says he doesn’t want people from out of state coming in to buy weed at our local stores, but that’s easily remedied by having people show identification, and if they aren’t from Massachusetts they can be turned away. No problem, right?

What we call recreational marijuana is de facto medical marijuana for veterans who are unable to access it with their benefits due to medical marijuana being illegal at the federal level. In fact, they risk losing their veteran’s benefits if they buy medical marijuana. Baker should open the weed stores; if booze is essential, why not grass, eh? Also hit by unemployment, the marijuana industry had to lay off close to 8,000 people who could be hired back with a change in the law.  

Well, I’ve certainly spoken my tattered mind on my thoughts about matters related to the Plague as I work up my courage to go to the grocery store. I’m looking forward to the end of it, although the end is nowhere in sight.



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