What have we learnt from the past and for going forward?
I remember many years ago as a child growing up how my father used to tell us stories of how, as a young man in the 1940s he spent six months isolated in a sanatorium to recover from tuberculosis (TB). This was before there was a vaccine or antibiotics available to prevent or treat the disease.
Dad would often tell me and my siblings how he was isolated, sleeping on an outside but covered veranda, where he was warm but still had access to plenty of fresh air, rest, good nutrition, and exercise. These were what he described as the basic tenets of good health, which he went on to follow religiously post recovery and ended up marrying the girl of his dreams and having and enjoying children and grandchildren.
Fast forward to 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic and my thoughts cannot help but travel back to dad’s experience. Like dad, it is up to us to now socially isolate, and in the absence of a vaccine or safe and effective treatment for the virus, we must also follow the key criteria for promoting a healthy immune system. We too can do this by maintaining excellent hygiene, following a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and plenty of good rest (the type where we feel mentally and physically refreshed).
COVID-19 is still an unknown quantity in that its effects are widely varied between different people, often with no obvious pattern. While you can understand that older, more immunocompromised people are at higher risk, there are also stories of some other younger, fit people who succumb to the disease, and others experiencing only seemingly minor symptoms or are asymptomatic. It makes you wonder if there is some sort of genetic component to this susceptibility to the disease. My own father lost his mother to TB when he was just four years old and she was only 31 years old – he was lucky enough to survive the same disease just 20 odd years later.
Another thing that I have recently noted from this COVID-19 experience is, back in the mid-2000s, as an early career nutritional epidemiologist, I was fortunate enough to hear a presentation by Professor James McCaw on immunology and fighting pandemics like the SARS virus. Around this time, I also attended research seminars where I was also lucky enough to hear the expert of opinions of other epidemiologists and statisticians now appearing in the media on COVID-19: Professors John Mathews and Catherine Bennett. I have been impressed by their brilliance and expertise in the past, and I am now comforted by the fact of knowing that we have the absolute best people on the job!
As a clinical dietitian, I have also learnt from the COVID-19 experience to actually “walk the walk” when it comes to good health. I was previously a bit of a slave to the office, but I now make the time to invest in my health and that of my family’s. I plan my shopping list over the coming week where I make sure that I have a range of different proteins (good for the immune system) in my meals, with plenty of varied seasonal vegetables which always form the “hero of all the dishes”. I am cooking most of my meals from scratch, and I have to say the variety and quality of meals have never been better. I take time out of my working day to sit down and have a meal away from the desk (home office), fill up that water bottle to ensure that I keep hydrated, and make sure that I do not miss out on the opportunity of masking up and getting out and taking that walk with my dog – otherwise we both will go a bit stir crazy later in the day! Another part of the health regimen is keeping up my vitamin D supplement.
With stage 4 lockdown, the days across the week can also blend into one, so it is important to provide a bit of light and shade into our weeks by differentiating between a work day and the weekend, e.g. maybe enjoy a bit of a sleep in, indulge in a movie or good book, have a Zoom catch-up with some family and friends, and maybe even enjoy a bit of a treat on a Saturday night like a glass of wine or a couple of squares of chocolate occasionally.
Going forward, I want to keep up many of the practices that the whole COVID-19 experience has made me adopt, such as planning meals for the week ahead, which is great for health, the palate and the wallet. It has also made me really value taking time to exercise and staying in touch with those we love by whatever innovative means we can. I may even be a little more discriminating with the big hugs and Dutch style three kisses to the cheeks in the future when we are back in social circulation!
Keep safe and well everyone, and make sure to invest in those healthy lockdown practices.