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McClellan: A view on the coronavirus from the back of the herd

McClellan: A view on the coronavirus from the back of the herd

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Honorable Mention: "Spirit Dance" Bill Fields submitted this photo of a Blue Wildebeest herd taken at sunset in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Good morning, fellow antelopes. I am speaking to you as we gallop across the savanna. If someone were to look down on us, they’d see me at the very back of the herd. I’m the one with the white hair and the limp. I’m the one struggling to keep up.

It is difficult, from this position, to be dispassionate about a disease that culls the herd. A lion, so to speak.

But I try to be. As a grandfather, I am very grateful that the coronavirus does not seem to kill children. I am not quite old enough to remember the polio epidemic of 1952, but the fear engendered by that terrible time lingers in my earliest memories.

For reasons mysterious to children, kids were stricken and died. Or were left paralyzed. Or were forced to live in an “iron lung,” which looked like a medieval contraption somewhat akin to a modern MRI machine. From a playground to an iron lung. The mind reels.

The coronavirus, on the other hand, seems to strike adults, and is fatal mainly to older adults, especially older adults with preexisting conditions.

Like me.

My survival depends partly on you, and the choices you make. No offense, but that does not inspire confidence. The last time you had to make choices, you elected Eric Greitens as governor, Steve Stenger as county executive and Donald Trump as president.


As far as the level of your concern about the virus goes, I would not want to impugn your sense of community, but old people with preexisting conditions are costing Medicare a fortune. Eating up Social Security, too. If I didn’t think you had thought of that already, I wouldn’t have mentioned it.

Can I still count on you to self-quarantine if you have the sniffles?

Then there is the matter of children. They may not be harmed by the virus, but almost surely they can spread it. Parents are being advised to watch their kids themselves, and not let them play with their friends. I am not sure how that will work. My wife’s younger brother, who has two school-aged children, sent us a note from Texas.

“Home-schooling is not working. Two students suspended for fighting and a teacher fired for drinking on the job.”

Can I count on parents?

Even more troubling, can I count on me?

Regular readers know I am not one for deep thoughts. The last time I really struggled over a moral issue was in 2008 when the Chicago Cubs won the Central Division. That was exactly 100 years after they had won their last championship. The planets seemed aligned. But I struggled with my emotions. An ex-Cardinal, Jim Edmonds, was on the Cubs. I did not want an ex-Cardinal to play a pivotal role in our return to our rightful place on top of the baseball world. If we could wait 100 years, we could wait 101 years.

Did my ambivalence have anything to do with the Cubs getting swept by the Dodgers in the playoffs? Maybe not. As my wife sometimes reminds me, everything is not always about me.

But I do have a key role in what is for me an existential crisis. Can I show good judgment?

I am doing my best. Little things matter. Wednesday night I bought half a case of red wine. Normally, I buy wine by the bottle. I enjoy going to the store every couple of days. But hey, limit my exposure. I can do that.

Because I was patriotic enough to flunk out of college and get drafted into the Marine Corps, I am eligible for medical care at the VA. I recently received email instructions from my caregivers there. I was given instructions for how long to wash my hands. “Hum ‘Happy Birthday’ twice while scrubbing.” It is easy to get nostalgic about the military. Another instructions was this: “Avoid sick people.”

That is easier said than done. One of my preexisting conditions is cancer. Two types of cancer, actually. I am treated at the Siteman Cancer Center. As a Stage 4 patient, I am being maintained — and maintained very well — but this maintenance requires chemotherapy every other week. It is impossible to avoid sick people at the treatment center.

By the way, I am always grateful to the people who work at the hospital, but especially right now. Keep them in your thoughts.

In fact, that is exactly who you should be thinking of. Do not think of those of us at the back of the herd. Please. Think of the doctors and nurses and techs at the hospital. If you do not show good judgment, the hospitals will be overwhelmed and if you get the virus, you will not be able to get treatment.

Hey, I’ve got to limp along. I think I hear a lion behind me.

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