Over Easy: Considering the meaning of personal sacrifice in the war on coronavirus

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 3/27/2020 10:46:08 PM
Modified: 3/27/2020 11:29:55 PM

Nathan Hale, American patriot, said these immortal words in 1776: “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

Flash forward to 2020: Some politicians and commentators are proclaiming that older Americans tiptoeing around COVID-19 may need to make the ultimate sacrifice. They say that severe health measures could turn the economy into a basket case. The cure, social distancing and all the rest, could be worse than the disease.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the other day, “Let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it. — And those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”

Patrick’s call to duty continued: “Are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? ... If that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

Me? Let me think about it.

Yes, it’s true that as a senior I’ve been obsessing more about my own health lately, along with that of my family, neighbors in West Lebanon, co-workers, employees at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the people who work in our packed grocery stores, the old ladies nearby who live alone, the school kids stuck at home.

For the record, Patrick is 69. I will concede that he looks pretty good for his age, which is all you are hoping for at that stage of life. He’s a former talk radio host who’s risen to the top as a “conservative firebrand’’ in Texas politics. I’m 67, semi-retired and hoping to hang on long enough to get a fair return from my Social Security withholdings. Is that asking too much?

According to the internet, some young people who share their so-called wit online are calling COVID-19 the “boomer remover.” As comedian Steve Martin, who is 74, used to say, excuuuuuse me.

Pre-pandemic news reports said the mortality rate would be especially high among those over 60. Since then, and I don’t think I am alone in this, I have been taking note of any hint of any symptom. I had a runny nose early one morning, but that’s what you get when you’re out walking in 15-degree weather. A tickle in my throat? It was a personal DEFCON 1 alert, but the next morning I felt fine.

We are staying home as best we can. I went to the hardware store several times to get necessities, early, to avoid crowds, and we’ve been to the grocery store rather than go on an extended fast. I appreciate the early senior shopping hour at the Co-op. With all the gray hair in sight, it’s as close as I’ll get to being in Florida.

We ordered takeout after an ad in the paper reminded us of the restaurants struggling to make a go of it. We plan to keep it up. We’re not splurging on anything else, as it happens.

I’ve served the greater good, if not the economy, in small ways. I wash my hands so often they gleam like Mr. Clean. I couldn’t do more for my country on that score unless I sang It’s a Grand Old Flag as I lathered up. The other day in the supermarket there were two four-packs of toilet paper left. I took one, saying some other American might need it more. If that makes me a hero, well, skip the medal ceremony, since I don’t want anyone getting that close.

But would I want the country to set aside the advice of doctors, epidemiologists and other experts — who admittedly don’t get everything right — and embrace the views of a former talk radio host-turned-politician? (Other pundits have since said similar things, which suggests that dumb ideas can go viral, too.)

Should seniors say, “Oh, just go ahead and get back to your regular lives, don’t mind us”? “We’ll just stay cooped up inside for a few months and use up the cheap tuna”?

The fly in this particular ointment (sadly, not antibacterial) is that if the experts are correct we would be making a bad situation much worse (that is, catastrophic) by loosening restrictions too soon. We could be consigning our medical professionals to a hellish period. While caring for a deluge of the dying, they would be exposed to the virus and be sickened as well.

But maybe this will blow by, like the nor’easter that scampers out to sea, or a visit canceled at the last minute by relatives you didn’t want to see. A miracle cure might come along. The media “hype” might be wrong. Epidemiologists might be a bunch of nervous nellies.

Some politicians and pundits like to think so, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.




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