It isn’t easy being 80 years old.

Things don’t work like they used to. People don’t treat you like they used to.

I’m standing before the shower in my hotel room.

“Temperature?” A voice asks me.

“Warm, but not too hot,” I answer.

The shower starts, the water’s perfect. 1/
Of course, I remember a time when everything wasn’t automated like this.

In my day, you had a hot water knob and a cold water knob and you had to experiment until the water temperature was just right.

My grandkids laugh when I tell them.

I’m a relic.

That’s why I’m here. 2/
I shower, and let the machines “flash-dry” me. I imagine this is what it feels like to be microwaved. Another technology that’s become antiquated.

Putting on my suit, I tie my tie myself.

The cyborg concierge could do it, but I want to do at least this one thing. 3/
I leave my room and make my way to the elevators.

It wasn’t my idea to attend this conference. An acquaintance of mine had reached out to me. An opportunity to catch up with old friends, he said.

I am to be “a link to the past.”

A doctor who was there, to bear witness. 4/
The elevators are nearly silent as they whisk me down.

I look at my reflection in the mirrored doors. It’s strange, I still don’t quite recognize myself.

I know I’m 80. I’m not a young man.

But my mind doesn’t feel the passage of years, not the way my body has. 5/
The doors slide open and I step into the main lobby.

The banner is large, covering the main entrance archway.


People smile at me as I slowly make my way. I nod and smile in return.

We are all masked, they’re just invisible. 6/
Masks made by nanotechnology, see-through and almost impossible to feel. The only way you know someone is wearing one is the green light on their ID badge.

If you’re not wearing one at this conference, you get a flashing red light and a quick visit from a detox team. 7/
I enter the main lecture hall.

There is an eerie silence. Of course, I’m one of the few people attending in person.

Most people don’t risk crowds anymore. They haven’t for decades.

I make my way to an empty seat on the stage and sit down.

The moderator welcomes me. 8/
People want to know what it was like. I understand that.

Since COVID-19 there have been several others. HantaVM-26. COVID-35. FluVAR-59.

But people want to know about the “original.” After all, our original mistakes are what changed everything.

Original sins. 9/
As I look out from the stage, a sea of faces on video screens look back at me.

How do I explain something called “Twitter” to them? How do they grasp “MedTwitter”? Those bonds we formed, so long ago.

How do you explain “social media” to a society that IS media? 10/
The first lecturer is presenting.

There are graphs I’ve seen a thousand times.

The so-called “American Aberrancy.”

It’s hard to describe to people nowadays what that mindset was like.

Global warming has destroyed most of our nationalistic tendencies.

We survive together. 11/
I remember when I was younger, meeting survivors of World War II. Trying to imagine their reality then, when the outcome of the war wasn’t known.

I suppose that’s how the audience sees me now. Someone who witnessed a great uncertainty.

And the best of us.

And the worst. 12/
My turn comes. I walk to the podium, and I begin to speak.

I wrote down notes on cards. Archaic I know, but I like the way they feel.

I introduce myself, and try to paint a picture of the world before the virus.

My role is not to be an expert. But to be a living memory. 13/
I describe those first few news broadcasts. The denial that ran rampant. The confusion. The obfuscation. The masks and the anti-masks.

The fear.

Names that have become as well-known as Normandy and Dunkirk: Wuhan and Bergamo.

The data and the disinformation. 14/
I know the vast majority of what I say sounds too bizarre to be true.

People questioning masks? Questioning distancing? Re-opening despite the data?

Perhaps this is what Semmelweis or Lister might have felt were they to lecture a modern medical school class on hygiene. 15/
I finish my remarks on a note of hope. I describe the vaccines and therapies that brought us out of the darkness, and helped mitigate the subsequent waves.

I describe the investment in our healthcare systems and the massive societal overhauls as change finally came. 16/
My talk ends with the final global and American casualty figures for COVID-19 being projected on the screen behind me.

I look away.

I’ve never been able to look at those numbers without my eyes filling with tears and my heart sinking.

It didn’t have to be that way. 17/
Afterwards I’m making my way back to the elevator.

A young woman walks up to greet me.

She says her name, and says she is a medical student and wanted to ask me a question, but not in front of everyone.

I smile, and say hello. It’s nice to talk to a person, in the flesh. 18/
“You said you lost people you knew.”

I nod. “Almost everyone did, in the end. Everyone knew someone.”

“Did you lose something too? A part of you...”

I know what she’s asking. We rarely discuss it.

Some scars never leave you.

You have to heal.

I smile, and say nothing.
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