These are the worst and yet in some ways the best of times with modern medical science responding brilliantly, rationally and scientifically to that worst thing - the pandemic - with the creation of wondrous vaccines.
When I count my blessings one of the blessings-in-chief is that, as age begins to require me to do more darkening of the doors of doctors and apothecaries, modern medicine is there to pay sophisticated, scientifically sensible attention to my infirmities.
My thankfulness in all this is deepened especially by the wonderful news of the vaccines but also by everything I read, in horror, about premodern medicine.
So, for example, although I mostly enjoy radiant, swaggeringly good health (sometimes I remind myself of a 75-year-old Tarzan of the Apes) I am very occasionally attacked by gout. And I use the word "attacked" advisedly for the pain of it is like having one's red and swollen foot clamped in the chomping fangs of a demon that won't let go.
And so it is with interest that one reads in a recent long-read piece "Once the Disease of Gluttonous Aristocrats, Gout Is Now Tormenting the Masses" in The New York Times Magazine that gout, an ancient malady with a fabulous history of eminent sufferers, seems to be on the march again.
The Times examines the possible reasons for gout's return in a piece which is beautifully illustrated, including with an 18th century James Gillray cartoon of a writhing sufferer whose swollen foot is clamped in the chomping fangs of a gout demon.
But my point is that whereas today modern medicine enables me to quite quickly prise the gout demon's fangs out of my toe (with my doctor's prescribed little white pills, of laboratory-proven efficacy) once upon a time gout sufferers were not so lucky.
"Premodern medical treatments [for gout]," the Times shudders to report, "were largely ineffective: leeches, diuretic purges, poultices of fermented ox dung, ointments of boiled dog ..."
Suffering in 1518 and carried to my GP by my manservants (for sufferers from severe gout find walking a torture), the Times thinks he would have quackily prescribed "a roasted goose stuffed with chopped kittens" and would have insisted "this must all be eaten, and the drippings applied to the painful joints".
In the 17th century, the Times says, gout sufferers, were terribly preyed upon "by bamboozlers promising miracle cures". Alive and writhing then this columnist would have been vulnerable to the bamboozlers, paying them anything they asked, for the pain of gout is so character-buildingly terrible that one would try anything on Earth that might perhaps make it go away.
Heaven be praised, then, for modern medicine's achievements! What a relief it will be as I queue for my anti-COVID perforations to know that no animals were injured (no dogs boiled, no geese stuffed, no kittens chopped) in the preparation of the vaccine.
Resolve for better resolutions
Meanwhile, resolving to count one's blessings (just commended above as a humbling thing for us to do) would surely make a fine New Year's Resolution.
This insightful thought is prompted by a timely opinion piece "What Is Your Moral Plan For 2021?" by professorial philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer.
Writing for Project Syndicate he philosophises most of us are not making the right sorts of resolutions.
"Many people make New Year's resolutions. The most common ones ... are to exercise more, eat healthier, save money, lose weight, or reduce stress. Some may resolve to be better to a particular person - not to criticise their partner, to visit their ageing grandmother more often, or to be a better friend to someone close to them," he writes.
"Yet few people - just 12 per cent, according to one study - resolve to become a better person in general, meaning better in a moral sense."
This is self-centred and just not good enough, Singer insists. The world - our planet - urgently needs each of us "to resolve to become a better person in general, meaning better in a moral sense."
"Being a good person today requires thought and work," Singer challenges.
"Our actions now - or our failure to act - affect people all over the world and people who will live on this planet for many centuries to come.
"That means we face moral choices all the time. Global problems like climate change, extreme poverty, the cruel confinement of billions of animals in factory farms, overfishing of the oceans, and of course the pandemic raise complex questions about how we should spend our money, how much of it we should give to help others, what we should eat, and how we should use our abilities to influence others and our governments.
"To be a good person today requires time and thought. We need to inform ourselves about problems like those just mentioned, decide on our priorities, and consider where we can make the most difference. That's why this is an appropriate area for the kind of commitment involved in making a resolution."
Singer gives suggestions of how each of us can resolve to make and then activate a 2021 "moral plan". I own up to feeling a pang of shame when I compare the miniature picture of my niggly, narcissistic list of self-centred resolutions with the resolutions' Big Picture he paints for us. I commend his piece in Project Syndicate, its ideas, its conscience-nudging decency, to all big-hearted, wide-minded readers. Please, please resolve to read it pronto, while this year still packs youthful promise.
- Ian Warden is a regular columnist.