Public Health Defenders

So, you’re getting a little tired of these COVID-19 restrictions? Can’t go where you want, when you want and, most importantly, with whom you want? Life is hard, dressing up as an amateur bank robber just to pick up a litre of milk – or something more substantial to briefly brighten drudge-driven days.

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day,” Shakespeare wrote on one of his down days, probably after being informed by his government of the day of another new restriction on his conduct in public.

Has any other generation ever suffered such prolonged interference and interruption in its daily life as we poor souls have suffered through 2020 and ‘21? It’s permissible to answer “yes” even if you’re too young to remember “the bad old days” that old codgers of my age insist on remembering.

Memories of the Great Depression that we old folk lived through as children and teenagers take us back to less than happy times that I can assure you were desperately real. We were often ragged in clothes, sometimes very hungry, and it lasted for years.

Health care was provided by parents, neighbours, a district nurse, or a family doctor who charged cash for each visit but often settled for something bartered or a promise to pay next visit. Or never, because cash was hard to come by.

Public health was in its infancy when I was in mine. It was public health doctors, nurses, scientists and thinkers who, sometimes forcefully, shepherded us to better times. My left arm still has the vaccination marks from my first shots in the early rounds of the fight to conquer smallpox.

Victory didn’t come overnight but come it did after years of vaccinations. Smallpox, once a frightening scourge and killer, was brought under control. In the long haul of history, humankind has steadily and positively expanded its knowledge of the body and mind, what keeps it functioning and what threatens its vital spark. And medical research and application have provided us with a way of life so long denied millions who have lived and suffered and died in plagues once thought incurable.

We are fortunate to be living where we are, whether by the random choice of birth or a wise earlier family decision to seek that elusive better way of life. It is unfortunate that in the search, we have lost the appreciation of what we have; that however long we may live, it will not be long enough to always remember it’s what we put into life and living that counts far more than what we take out.

Back in 1902, Sir William Osler, physician and man of letters (1849-1919), writing in The Montreal Medical Journal (1902), cautioned critics of new medical procedures designed to eliminate or control what had been uncontrollable for centuries. Remember, he wrote, “the greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism.”

And listen to the frontline workers in public health. They are on our side; they always have been. Make sure you get your shots.

2 comments

  1. Well written and poignant helping us remember how fortunate we are now. The past can remind us of where we came from

  2. An apt quote from Osler about today’s antimaskers and antivaxxers.

    When he wrote those words life expectancy in Canada was 50 years. Now it’s over 82.

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