Young and Old

Baby Charlotte had a stressful first Christmas. She tested positive for RSV and spent Christmas night and today in the hospital. As a medical transcriptionist by trade, I am always ready to research information on anything medical, so I did some searches on the Internet about RSV. Doctors like to monitor RSV in infants because it can so often turn into pneumonia, which, of course, can be fatal at such a young age.

Charlotte only has one risk factor - that of her age (6 weeks). At a birth weight of 10-1/2 pounds, she definitely was not premature, nor did she have any other risk factors on the list. Only her neonate status.

I found it interesting that the very young are at risk for RSV - and the very old.

People my age are called the Sandwich Generation. Many of us are caring for children still at home and at the same time, having to care for aging parents. Both groups rely on us to be there, demanding our attention, energy, concern, money, and love.

Today I had to work, although it was understandably very hard to focus, as Charlott'e condition was very much on my mind. I transcribed a report of a 91-year-old woman. They admitted her to the hospital with the symptoms of pneumonia, to monitor her and try to catch the disease with antibiotics. As I listened to her diagnoses and plans for treatment, I was thinking about this old lady and young Charlotte, both having to be hospitalized for a respiratory illness because their health risk factors make them vulnerable.

Viruses that might visit the healthy adult population as a minor inconvenience suddenly become extremely dangerous when they fall into the very young and very old. Both the very young, and frequently the very old, are also totally dependent on others for their care, what the medical community calls their "activities of daily living" (bathing, dressing, toileting, etc.) So many of Hurricane Katrina's victims were poor, but the very old and very young - those who were dependent on others for their very lives - shouldered the most burden.

I once for fun rewrote all the Christmas carols from the viewpoint of an old man. The most provocative one, I think, was The Little Drummer Boy. In my version, the old man is looking at the Baby Jesus and remarks, "He has no teeth like me; he has no hair like me." Babies and old folks might have more in common than we realize!

It's the cycle of life. What goes around comes around. The alpha and omega. We are born dependent and we so often die dependent. And I guess it's just as frustrating for the baby as for the old person. It is hard to be so vulnerable, our very lives dependent on others' responsible (or irresponsible) natures. At these two extreme stages of life, some are blessed to have that support in place. Others, unfortunately, are not.

Ed, when he was a pastor, once visited the beside of a dying woman. He told me she was ready to go, and he knew that because she was in the fetal position. A fetal position - ready to leave the world she knew and be born again into another. From womb, back to womb.

I have heard it said that every society will be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. I think as individuals and as a society we need to be reminded every so often who fits in the "risk category" for that label and act accordingly.

Charlotte came home from the hospital this evening. I don't know what will happen to the 91-year-old lady. But she is in my heart as well.