The Third Third

Just What Does Elderly Mean These Days?

Just what does “elderly” mean these days? 

 I totally embraced the term as the Covid-SARS 2 pandemic started unfolding two+ years ago. I got it. By definition, given my age, I had an older, presumably less-effective immune system, and needed to be more carefully protected from the virus. 

 With the advent of the vaccines, I was enthusiastically elderly: people like us went to near the front of the line for our jabs and the massive sense of relief they provided. 

 Now, however, two vaccines and one booster later, I’m ready to eschew the “elderly” label. I don’t feel elderly, I don’t act elderly, I don’t look (too) elderly, I don’t live elderly. And if I stay as relatively cocooned as I have been, I won’t feel I’m living at all, and that, I feel, will make me very, very just plain old

 But every single article about normalizing the way we can live with Covid-19 and its mutations past, present and future, still contains a stark exception for everyone over 65, for the so-called elderly. This warning, which reads like a red flag to my husband, is separate from, but issued in the same sentence as the heightened risk to the immunocompromised. It is as if we are all diseased, when, albeit gratefully, all I am feeling is un-ease. 

Much as I would love to some days, I certainly don’t feel comfortable outright ignoring these warnings; after all, we have followed the science (and certainly wished everyone else would!) throughout the siege. I would like to change the calculus, though. Can we at least concede that prescriptions for “the elderly,” even the fully vaccinated elderly, are not necessarily “one-size-fits-all”? And can we distinguish between the risks to an otherwise healthy 74 year-old and, well, others? 

Alas, the distinguishing has to be mine. And yours. No one else is really paying much attention to what we do or don’t do anymore — mask or unmask, dine in or dine out, travel by air in the U.S. or drive, travel out of the country or not. Clearly, they’re all making their own risk-benefit analyses. Which means it comes down to this: the risks are known and we understand them in our own ways given our own conditions. But the benefits, aaah, the benefits. A wedding, a grandchild’s birthday, an anniversary dinner out at a restaurant in a restaurant, just a dinner out(!), an in-person gathering of dear friends, a trip to Spain to visit family, or one to Italy with friends. Then there’s the more quotidian stuff — appointments with doctors, dentists, hair stylists, masseuses, plumbers, manicurists. Which feels OK, which feels dangerous, which feels essential, or at least more valuable to you? Again, these lists are all going to be different for different people, and that’s OK. 

 It’s OK — except that these differences engender in me even more of the uncertainty this plague has visited upon us. It’s OK — except when we second-guess ourselves into paralysis, even given the scientific data we keep consulting. It’s OK — except when people you love and trust see only the risks and cannot get past them to any benefits (or the reverse, to be sure), necessitating new calculations about your relationships. 

But let’s be clear: I am not confused and uncertain because I am elderly. I am confused, uncertain, (and sometimes, pissed off) because of Covid.
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