Trying to keep it real | Reporter’s Notebook

By Diane Craig

I enjoy growing older. I relish the personal history; the value I place on living in the present; and the feeling of not having to prove anything to anyone, least of all to myself.

What I don’t particularly like about the luxury of aging is the process itself. The unexplained aches and pains, arthritic flare-ups, cancer scares, heart issues, irregularity (or its looser opposite) and death.

Like a petulant child demanding attention, my aging process has been throwing a whale of a tantrum of late. First, it was drop foot; then breast cancer; then news my heart needed to relax; and now, the threat of contracting a virus named after a beer! And I’m sorry, but Covid -19 sounds more like a Spring break college frolic film than a deadly contagion that’s bringing countries to a standstill. Whatever.

The older I get the more I’m likely to find myself in rather unfriendly sounding demographics, as well: Like the older American women get, the more likely we’ll be diagnosed with breast cancer; or these days, the more elder among us have an expediently higher risk of serious complications were we to be diagnosed with Covid-19.

Like many on this island, I live alone acutely aware of my strengths and limitations and of the way my body works – or doesn’t. Still, when I feel the beginnings of a sore throat, I wonder: should I be tested? Lately, I’ve had a few more headaches than normal: should I call the doctor? Achy joints: should I be concerned? I know I’m not the only person having these thoughts.

So, what do we do as we self-quarantine and worry about every new physical manifestation? None of us wants to overburden the island’s medical systems with unnecessary requests but how do we know when we should seek help?

Debra O’Conner R.N. who, with an amazing collection of medical and community-minded volunteers, is spearheading the Orcas Island Caregiver Preparedness program that aims to provide care kits for the island’s caregivers, folks who check on our more vulnerable residents. She is on the front line of the island’s efforts to keep us all safe and healthy, and shared recommendations from San Juan County Medical Director’s online presence.

Having a combination of the following should signal a call to 911: shortness of breath; a heart rate of more than 120 beats per minute; breathing more than 30 times a minute; and a sustained temperature of 100 degrees or more. However, if you’re feeling mildly ill but don’t feel you need emergency care, call your doctor’s office or Washington State Department of Health’s call center from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week at 800-525-0127.

Even if a person is infected with the virus (and as of this writing, there are no reported cases on Orcas-touch wood) a hospital stay may not be required. Up to 80 percent of infected patients will have mild symptoms and will be able to stay at home and rest.

Make no mistake. The island has a large at-risk community. A recent analysis of the island’s 4,063 registered voters shows better than 55 percent, or 2,271 folks over 60 years old. Among that group, 1,005 residents are between 60 and 69 and at low risk for infection; 912 (ages 70-79) at medium risk; 295 residents between 80 and 89 are at high risk; and 59 people over 90 are at very high risk.

The phrase ‘we’re all in this together’ has never seemed more accurate.

As we hunker down and wonder just how long this long-haul is going to be, let’s retain some perspective on our aches and pains, worry only about what we can do; continue to be kind to each other and to ourselves; offer help when and where we can; and breathe.

I read somewhere that one way to look at this forced isolation is as an occasion to reset our lives, examine our priorities and focus on what’s important. For me, the opportunity to grow old on this island, with this community, is such a profound gift and I am in no mood to surrender it to a beer-named virus!

So there. Stay strong San Juans!

Air hugs.

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