Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Living in Covid Times

A conversation with Prof Leon Piterman:

I was having a chat the other day with my friend Professor Leon Piterman.

Now Leon, former head of the department of General Practice and Family Medicine at Monash University in Melbourne, is one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable medical doctors that I know. However, unlike a lot of very intelligent and knowledgeable medical doctors, Leon has that rare talent of being able to explain complex medical and health matters in a way that sensible people without any medical background can clearly understand.

Our conversation that day was mainly about this Covid pandemic we find ourselves living through – and Leon’s new book ‘Living in Covid Times‘ which was launched last month in Melbourne.

In his thought-provoking book, Leon has put together a collection of essays that he wrote over these past eighteen months in which he reflects on the extraordinary situation we have all had to face as a result of the COVID pandemic. It is a book written by someone with the knowledge and experience of a medical doctor – who is also a teacher and a philosopher with a wide understanding of the world.

Most of us first heard of this new virus named COVID 19 around January 2020. Since that time the Covid pandemic has spread throughout the world, challenging the Spanish flu of 1919 in not only its its reach but also its magnitude, morbidity and mortality. New diseases in small doses the medical profession can handle – we have time to identify symptoms and signs and work out pathogenesis and progress. We have time to observe, to study and undertake research, to treat and find vaccines and cures. But the Covid crisis occurred virtually overnight, catching us unprepared for its impact not just on the state of health and the economies of our societies but also on our own individual emotional and mental states.

As Leon states in his book, ‘We are now victims at the mercy of an unseen and hitherto unknown enemy. We all know that despite the suffering and loss of lives and livelihoods, this too in due course will end. But at what cost?’

What will a post COVID world look like? Human beings need a level of predictability in their lives to survive and thrive. The COVID pandemic has brought home to us the fact that nothing is certain. Our leaders as well as society at large have an enormous challenge: do we stay locked down to prevent the spread of this virus and save lives, or do we lift the lock-down to prevent economic meltdown and social unrest?

It is clear that changing human behaviour is one of the most important ways in which we can slow down the spread of this virus and control this pandemic – but changing human behaviour remains one of our most difficult and enduring challenges. The successful implementation of public health measures requires trust in our scientific leadership and behavioural change on a massive scale.

Whether it is lockdown, curfew, quarantine, social distancing, mask wearing or getting vaccinated – to be successful, all these require compliance by the vast majority of the population. This is not always easy to achieve in democratic societies where those who fail to appreciate the gravity of the situation claim that human rights are being abrogated and individual freedoms are being curtailed. They refuse to understand that individual wants must be subjugated to the common good. We need to replace individualism with collectivism.

One way of bringing a semblance of certainty into our lives during these Covid times is to take each day as it comes – set goals for each day, enjoy the outdoors for a limited time, maintain a regime of physical fitness either outdoors or if that is not possible, indoors. We need to focus on the present (utilising mindfulness or meditation techniques) and reach out to friends and family via phone and digital media to mitigate the effects of physical isolation.

This Covid pandemic has brought fear, anxiety, sickness and death into our 21st century lives, ruining our economies and threatening the very existence of our generation. However, it has also provided us with the opportunity to re-evaluate and recalibrate the priorities in our lives, clarifying and then prioritising those issues and those people that add meaning to our existence.

We need, Leon says, to turn despair into hope – in the firm belief that this too will pass.



One comment on “Living in Covid Times

  1. Gavin Rodie
    July 31, 2021

    Great article Sanjiva. Professor Piterman has espoused a lot of common sense narratives in his article. Regrettably, our powers to be should read & understand what he is saying to all of Australia as a whole. Sadly, in my opinion, it would appear that the States & Territory leaders agree to certain steps to try & stem the severity of the spreading of Covid-19 during the National conferences, however, once that finishes they go rogue on their advice to the respective states & territories.
    We are one country & all parliamentarians should jointly be making decisions to unite the country as one instead of the small-minded egos point-scoring and politicising the well being & health of the nation.
    No wonder people are sceptical, of the ramifications of the pandemic because of the heads of states & territories plus the mainstream media scaremongering & giving a host of mixed messages.
    It is definitely a day by the day learning curve, let’s all work together to minimalise & look after one another’s best interest to bring about a post-pandemic normalisation.


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This entry was posted on July 31, 2021 by in book review, covid, Health Matters, Opinion and tagged , , .

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