It didn’t take me too many years of working in New York City to see that the crime of mugging had its own political correctness.  The perps who make a living by mugging innocent people on the streets and in the parks and subway stations of the city do not last very long in public unless they concentrate on the attacking the easiest people to attack. 

And the easiest ones to attack are the oldest people in the city.

It is impossible not to learn this when you watch the facial expressions of the New York elderly.  Or if you haven’t been there, you can see it in the paintings of the New York elderly by such realistic artists as the  late Raphael Soyer.  The dominant expression of such New York art is that of a people who are beware – beware of being mugged on any day, beware of being hustled on the streets by aggressive young panhandlers, beware of being elderly against the young roughnecks of the city’s mean streets.

In many ways, the kind of city that is New York is not a natural place for elderly people to live.  I lived in New York City from when I was age 23 to 40, and I had a lot of fun there as a young man who had no children around to worry about.  I was large and athletic enough to scare aware the occasional roughneck who approached me.  I even learned a certain walking style from watching John Travolta that would make anyone watching me on a deserted street late at night a little leery about getting near me.

But still, I realized there could come a day when I also would join the elderly of the naked city.  And thus I would share their positions as targets for cowardly criminals who often worked in pairs to overcome someone who was so old to be hardly able to walk, let alone run to catch a subway car to escape from some kind of harassment before its doors clanged shut.  But I circumvented the fate of becoming old in New York by quitting my 17-year publishing industry job and moving to Southern California, very symbolically on my 40th birthday.

Soon I was married and then I had a lot of people in my growing familyto take care of.  I am now 67, having lived very different two lives on this earth, each one on a totally different side of the continent.

And yet I am still not out of the woods from predators out to mug me.  But today my predators do not look like human beings.  They look like viruses and bacteria.  And these destroyer viruses and the bacteria in a microscope look eerily like mines that had placed in the sea during World War II.

That is, at my age, I am among the population of Americans age 50 and older who are among the tens of thousands in this country who are killed every year by some kind of a virus or bacteria —some kind of a flu virus or some kind of pneumonia bacteria.

My doctor seems to have has a football helmet where he must place a new star every time one of his Southern Californian patients turns 90.  That was a prime reason why I chose him as my physician – I have never seen so many patients in a waiting room like his who look like they are 90 years old.  Somehow my doctor has ways of ways of keeping them all going, like those rare mechanics for the vintage cars on the road.

From my own experience with my doctor, I know one of his characteristics is to insist that we see him as soon as we start to sense the symptoms of a common cold.

From my doctor’s experience, the common cold is the starting point into an elderly person’s system for inviting all kinds of microscopic home invaders.   Indeed, according to my doctor, the most common way to an elderly person’s death is through the cold.

Once a cold is established in an old system, it is very common for bacterial and viral invaders to work as a team, the viral bandit as the seasonal flu knocking out enough of the immune defenses to allow his bacterial compatriot in pneumonia to stomp all over us.   Most elderly people who die of pneumonia start with a cold or the flu that weakens them to a point where the pneumonia virus finally steps in for the kill.

Fortunately there are now vaccines that minimize this risk, although even today and decades after the first influenza vaccines proved their efficacy most Americans are still choosing  not have themselves and their children vaccinated.  It is from this group that the tens of thousands of flu deaths derive.

The first pneumonia vaccine to make its way to the streets in every major pharmacy within the past ten years is now known as the Pneumovox 23 Vaccine, so named because it defends against 23 bacterial strains of pneumonia.  However, in the past half dozen years, the bacterial strains that had escaped the Pneumovox have reassembled in an even stronger state.  This has in recent years been the reason for the creation of a second Pneumonia vaccine, the Prevnar 13, which as its name suggests kills 13 strains of bacteria that Pneumovox missed.

Today pharmacists and doctors like mine are warning their clients and patients to stay tuned on the war against microscopic terrorism.  It is because these viruses and bacteria are using the age-old Darwinist technique of mutating into new forms that are outside the radar of existing vaccines.  According to the particular pharmacist who serves my prescriptions, this will probably mean all vaccines and not just those for seasonal flu will have to regularly change to keep up with the changes of the little fiends they are fighting.

For us targeted senior citizens, whether we are the prey of microscopic bandits or life-size ones, the challenge is to understand what weapons we will have available to us.

Chris Sharp- Commentary

Chris Sharp is an Educator and a prize-winning professional writer. He has recently published a new book titled How to Like a Human Being . His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon.