April 8, 2021
We have an aged, blind dog. Roy is 12.5 years old. He is a Cairn terrier about 12 kg in weight. All these factors are important in working out his life expectancy. How long will he be with us?
Once upon a time, we multiplied a dog’s age by 7 which would make him about 87 years old in our years. But many Cairns reach16 or 17 years of age – or 112+ human years. Some say, for smaller dogs you multiply by 5, so Roy would be 67.5 years. I think that is closer. Apart from glaucoma, Roy is a fit, dog: no arthritis, no diabetes, no cancer. I found a schedule online which measure life expectancy by dog weight. Roy is between small and medium and on this basis would be 66.5 years. Another method is more complex: That’s the natural logarithm method. Take the log of the dog’s real age, multiplied by 16, add 31 to the total. I used this method of calculation: Roy’s natural log is 2.53 … x16 and add 31; this makes him 71.5 years old. Roy is my age.
However, he now has a morbidity – for a dog – he is blind. So, what do I subtract from this life expectancy to get another estimate?
For us too, there is the question of life expectancy. How to work out the progress of our lives during Covid-19? Quite apart from having to spend 14 months dodging Covid-19, we have had to keep going mentally. And in the process of managing this hiatus in our lives we dabble even more with the question, not of how old we are, but how long we still have. Because that limited time just got gobbled up in an unexpected way. Many have suffered more than we have in Australia, but the hiatus is world-wide. Even if we are OK, others in the family are not. Our Zoom meetings reveal this changed universe.
And in the passage of this time, I believe that I have used up more of my remaining life than 14 months. That is, I have aged more than 14 months. The sense I once had of my age has been disturbed. Why? It’s as if the parameters of my life have changed. Maybe I have less control, maybe I have spent too much time reading about ways of death or near-death experiences of Covid-19 sufferers. I have purchased an oximeter, recommended medicines and vitamins and a stock of basic foodstuffs – all for Covid-19 survival. We are on the cusp of old age and the media’s concentration on the ‘elderly’, on ‘morbidity’, on ‘shielding’, revolves around a discussion of the odds of our survival.
So, what do I multiply the 14 months by to get my true age? 2x? 3x? Some days it feels like this. Normal was a long time ago. Old age and its mental and physical restriction were not yet upon us. Now they beckon.
In May 2020, The Washington Post published an article on this:
‘We are not only sheltering in place but aging in place.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has exhausted us. Time feels heavy and draining. Tuesday was a week. April seemed an eternity. Grief, anxiety, tedium, loss of control, restriction of movement, none of them rejuvenating, are part of our regimen.’
And the NBC.
‘Looking at ourselves during virtual cocktail hours with friends on Zoom, we now notice our wrinkles, the flesh hanging on our necks and the double chins on display when the camera is pointing up, the grey and even white roots exposed, the shaggy beards and fuzzy eyebrows — and we look someplace else on the screen. That isn’t ourselves we are seeing but a version of ourselves the virus has revealed, a version we thought we had rejected but secretly fear is really who we are.’
Today, I met with 3 friends – all published writers and poets. All of an age. And they agreed with this premise. The time of Covid-19 has prematurely aged us. One said she feels worn out by writing and will not take on any major task as she now has the sense of being unable to finish it. And then there was her comment that Donald Trump had made it worse. The stress of his Presidency, his denial of the severity of Covid-19 and refusal to lead, and then the anxiety of the ending of his term made her anxious. And this anxiety has not lifted.
When we took our dog, Roy, to Gavin, the vet specialist in ophthalmology, we expressed concern about how Roy would adapt now he is blind. Gavin said dogs were different to us. Roy would not look back and mourn the loss of his eyesight, nor would he anticipate a future where he would be unable to see. Gavin believed that blind dogs – those not in pain – make the most of the lot they are dealt. If he is well cared for, he will not be suffering with the weight of the knowledge of his blindness.
It is we humans who bear the psychological strain of loss, of looking back, comparing our Covid-19-altered lives to what might have been and looking ahead anxiously.
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.