A doctor in France recently made the most haunting comment, saying that the coronavirus is “extinguishing the elderly like candles.”
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 570 residents at nursing homes have died in eastern France and two-thirds of such facilities have reportedly been hit by the virus. Up until a few days ago, one in three victims in Spain had been a nursing home resident. According to the statistics – from scientists and people on the ground – 27 percent of Covid-19 victims are aged 85 and over.
Greek spokesman and infectious diseases expert Sotiris Tsiodras recently quoted a colleague abroad as saying that the world is making too much of a fuss about a few old and infirm people. He decided to respond to this comment publicly, and did not try to hide what he felt either: “The miracle of medicine in 2020 is that it has lengthened the lives of these people, many of whom are our mothers and fathers, our grandmothers and grandfathers. My response is that we honor, respect and protect everyone, but these people first and foremost. Without them, we do not exist, we have no identity.”
Tsiodras’ rejoinder represents a small yet powerful defense against the terrible cynicism that such crises breed so effectively. Of course much of the traditional media and social media in Greece preferred to comment on his evident emotion rather than on the essence of what he said.
When first we started hearing about this new virus, many people felt reassured by the fact that it tended to affect elderly people. As its virulence and scope started to become apparent, and even though we began to realize that it has no real age preferences, we saw an attitude that has been cultivated for years emerging to the forefront, callously dismissing the elderly as being beyond help. The attitude is that, when push comes to shove (in terms of medical supplies, attention and emotional investment), we need to focus on the young and productive.
In Europe, the elderly went from an alarming demographic statistic to becoming easy prey for the new coronavirus. Tsiodras’ reminder came like a drop of water on the landscape of this emotionally barren attitude: “Without them, we do not exist, we have no identity.” Which means, perhaps, that we should let them go as though they never existed.
So, as we sit in self-isolation, let us perform this simple exercise: Imagine a world without the elderly.