The imminent COVID-19 crisis is forcing health workers to re-learn the 'old' lessons of health care and the threat of infections.
The importance of hand hygiene. The central importance of hospital cleaners, orderlies and other support staff.
The dangers of lack of space or time between patients, or 'cutting corners' when performing procedures.
The 'Pax Antibiotica' since the discovery of penicillin and other powerful antibiotics has, perhaps, made us lazy in these matters.
When I was a medical student in the 1970s, we were at times amused by the fastidiousness of one of our tutors, an old Scottish surgeon. He talked of diphtheria, tetanus, scarlet fever and various other 'ancient' diseases that could be a threat to the patients - and to us.
He seemed to think that every lump could be the dreaded syphilis or tuberculosis. He seemed particularly fearful of both. We thought he was a dinosaur from the past.
How wrong we were.
Re-learning these 'old lessons' is a crucial part of responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
But there is a more profound lesson to re-learnt as well, by health care workers and by the community generally.
Health care work can be exciting, challenging and rewarding. Glamorous at times.
But it is also, inevitably, unpleasant at times. It involves messy things. Disgusting sights and smells. Having to do revolting procedures calmly and competently. Dealing with emotionally confronting situations that haunt you for the rest of your life.
Illnesses and injuries may be the result of irresponsible lifestyles, and patients and families can be anything but grateful for the care we provide.
The threat of violence towards health staff has had some attention recently.
And now we are being reminded that, even in the antibiotic era, there remains a real threat of infection from patients to health carers.
We are being reminded that, even in the antibiotic era, there remains a real threat of infection from patients to health carers. All these realities are reminders of why being a nurse, a doctor, or any other health worker, is not just a job.
All these realities are reminders of why being a nurse, a doctor, or any other health worker, is not just a job.
It requires dedication and commitment, and a willingness to serve others.
Some would say health care is a vocation.
Certainly, it is based on a willingness to put the needs of others before self.
Traditionally, this was understood by the community, and nurses and doctors were honoured for this.
At its most extreme, think of the doctors on the Burma Railway, or the nurses at Bangka Island. More recently, Catherine Hamlin or Fred Hollows.
But in the 21st Century it seems unlikely that anyone would be prepared to work in healthcare.
The current workforce has grown up in a world dominated by the 'greed is good' individualism of the past 40 years.
Self-serving narcissism and a celebrity culture seems all-pervasive.
Think of charismatic media-savvy surgeons in flashy cars. This doesn't seem to be fertile ground for raising people who will care for others, particularly when they are putting themselves in danger.
And, yet, the amazing thing is that the younger generation is not stepping back.
Social media is abuzz with health staff sharing their fears and frustrations, but also their ideas and solutions to challenges. Warnings of what is to come. Exhortations to be prepared. Tributes to colleagues who have fallen ill or worse. Photos shared showing them smiling proudly after donning or doffing the high-level PPE (personal protective equipment) required for high-risk procedures.
They need to be reminded not to be heroes - that they need to protect themselves first and foremost so they can help others.
They are inspiring.
The next few months will be a time of trial for hospitals and healthcare. It will also be a trial of the values of society more generally.
We have had many years of valuing individuals over society, materialism rather than caring for others.
We are now being reminded that epidemics can strike us all. That we all need to care for each other.
And that health care workers need to be honoured for their commitment, courage and care.
Dr Ross Kerridge is a senior anaesthetist at John Hunter Hospital and Associate Professor at the University of Newcastle
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