Pandemicon: The worth of (some) human life

Underlying Conditions Lady Rants: I kvetch; therefore I is!

Content Note: My born of the pandemic alter ego, Underlying Conditions Lady, is unapologetically political and spicy. She speaks the hodge podge vernacular of my life: Caucasoid, Jewish American raised by Germans and an African American, living in New (shiny!) Mexico. Educated. Lower middle class at my luckiest. You’ve been warned.

And here we are, back again to where we started, only worse? 9 months and we have birthed what exactly? I love surrealism as an art form, but I have to say, I’m not a fan of it in public health!

When was it that I became Underlying Conditions Lady? When did I start truly fearing for my life? (Which is a big shift for me, I must say. I’ll save that for a later discussion.) Already in February there were the pronouncements, the risk categorizations: the elderly, diabetics, those with chronic respiratory diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, other underlying conditions.

This year would have been a really good time to educate about the difference between risk and cause and how those play out in disease. But, nah. Instead it was the usual who will give us the best return on our investment. Who has the stronger immune system and who not only gets but actually deserves modern medicine’s resources to help the worthy immune system hosts keep living their superior lives.

There is no such thing as a strong immune system. There, I said it. (I propose flexible. Agile, adaptable immune system is what you want. Yes, another topic for a later date!)

But an immune system can most def be compromised! And it don’t come cheap! HIV/AIDS, MS, ALS, SLE — but a few of the expensive abbreviations that will turn an immune system astray, if not turn it to the dark side of the force altogether. And I mean expensive in all the ways!

Underlying Conditions … I feel sure they really want(ed) to say preexisting conditions, to use the cost-benefit language of insurance. Your health in reference to when you started paying into their bottom line as opposed to, say, the context of your life. Around the so-called civilized world, people with Underlying Conditions sick with COVID-19 were denied ventilators and other potentially life-saving measures so that “healthy” people sick with COVID-19 could benefit. That they should live and we die was the difficult but ethical decision, as borne out by statistics. Or rather, the power brokers’ interpretation of the data. The odds of survival. For how long. Future productivity – in all the ways. And good old Quality Of Life, not only quantified, but monetized.

If I catch this thing, I ain’t got no chance.

It had been building for some time, the recognition of my relatively new status in my country as a disabled person. Now in 2020 it shines like a blinding beacon: I am well and truly marginalized!

In the spring I had the briefest of arguments on Twitter about the ethics of ventilator rationing. I could feel the abject horror of my opponent at the suggestion of first-come, first-served. But don’t all lives matter, Babycakes? Yes, that means you might get left out. Yes, you who have been deemed superior. This is “all [people] created equal” in action, Honey Shnoogums! Feels like Scheiße to be treated as if your life isn’t worth saving, doesn’t it? For how ever many years you may have left. At whatever quality others assign to it. Regardless of whatever metric you hold dear. What you’ve contributed to society to now. Your potential. How well you are loved and by whom.

Meanwhile, ethics demand we work to increase resources and decrease need. But we are stuck in this system that can’t quite shake its feudal roots. The many, the people on whom the economy truly relies, are the necessary foundation as a whole, but are expendable individually. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the Administration decided to deny the rock and act as if the dead bodies stacked up underneath them could prop them up, eventually getting them clear of the situation.

I do not apologize for the graphic nature of that metaphor.

Like so many nameless, faceless — but still masked — others, Underlying Conditions Lady has essentially been in quarantine since mid-March. There were a couple-three months when it seemed I might have a chance, when at least my state of New Mexico could maybe spare a ventilator or other limited and pricey measures for such as me. But no more. Again we are stretched to the breaking point. Medical providers are forced into the role of heroes, instead of people doing their jobs with adequate resources. Care is being rationed. And among so many other things, bodies are piling up — quite literally in some places. (Not to worry, we have inmates moving them. For a whole $2/day! With near adequate PPE, even! So not quite slave labor …)

T S Eliot proclaimed April to be the cruelest month. As that’s my birth month, I have some issues with that pronouncement. (My mother did an awesome impression of the guy reading The Wasteland. Just thought you should know.) November is feeling like the most surreal month, with November 2020 topping the charts. The Virus Dominator actively plans the continuation of his reign —claiming his pink slip was lost in the mail, which doesn’t exist because it did not work as he designed it to not work — and there are people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, simultaneously denying they have COVID and demanding better treatment for COVID. (I have thoughts on how this denial might come to be. Yeah, that’s right. What we got here is yet another topic for another time.)

And so, in the words of my friend, the late, great Gurubhai Khalsa Singh, I’ll leave it there for today. Until next time, I remain yours in autoimmunity, Underlying Conditions Lady