Gary Tetz

With so much still to say to the long-term care profession, I’m realizing I better write fast, because I may not have many years left. Less all the time, according to a study from Oxford University.

Researchers say the COVID-19 pandemic has caused life expectancy for American men, i.e. me, to drop by 2.2 years, the largest amount since World War II. I’m also Canadian, so it’s unclear whether I’m exempt from all or a portion of that early projected demise. But I’ve contacted the Grim Reaper to get clarification, hopefully in writing and notarized. 

Frankly, I don’t appreciate learning about changes to my mortality status in a generic news story, when it seems like I deserved to have been personally notified. The AARP figured out a way to find me the second I turned 50, so why couldn’t the life expectancy people? 

“Dear Gary,” the letter could have begun. “We are writing to inform you that your unremarkable existence will probably end at least two years sooner than previously anticipated. Since you’re a writer, we doubt you’ll have much of an estate to worry about. But please pay your credit cards, apologize to those you’ve hurt and stop buying green bananas.”

Would that have been too much to ask? Apparently so. 

Actually, as I’ve tried to honestly process this news, a quick tour through photos of me in the McKnight’s archives over the past nearly dozen years reveals a trajectory of two-year incremental decline that vividly supports the study’s claims. 

This 2012 photo against a pretentious black background shows a smug obliviousness to the impermanence of life. By 2014, it’s been replaced by a jaundiced skin tone and unsettling half-grin that barely conceals the fear and denial. In 2016, I’m slowly recognizing the inevitable, as dark shadows on my face attempt to conceal my decline and the white light of eternity glows behind me. Then in 2018 and beyond, I slipped into the black sport coat I expect to be buried in, finally appearing to accept the grim reality. I notice the photo is also out of focus, an eloquent though unintentional reflection of my increasingly tenuous status on this planet.

I’m also haunted by the possibility that things could actually get worse, and even more years could be shaved off my human tenure if this pandemic doesn’t end soon. I actually don’t think the words “life expectancy” are appropriate or should be used, because if we’ve learned anything from the past 18 months, it’s that we can’t possibly know what to expect. 

But regardless, as the Oxford University people continue their unsettling calculations, I’ll try to go about each day as before — looking fearfully over my shoulder and scanning the news for my new expiration date. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.