Pic: Krati Garg

News & Commentary

The week we tried the new normal

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As Covid-19 restrictions came into effect, oral surgeon KRATI GARG and journalist ANDERS FURZE kept a diary of the week they social distanced. Nine weeks on, with Australia slowly opening up again, they reflect on a very different seven days: the week they edged towards a new normal.


Saturday May 23 


I begin the day watching Streetscapes [Dialogue], an odd film from director Heinz Emigholz, in which a man and his analyst have a near-continuous dialogue in various urban locations that are mostly empty. The camera tracks the men, but it also explores the architecture of their surroundings, capturing it at odd angles and in unevenly timed cuts.

It produces a weird effect. The man’s stream-of-consciousness is continuous, but the film’s edits are not. It scrambles a conventional sense of time, which is doubly strange because I’ve only just created a new sense of time for myself after two months of upheaval. 

Today is the first moment since I abruptly moved in with my parents that I’ve thought about returning to Melbourne. I don’t have a firm return date yet, but it no longer feels hypothetical. That feels like progress.


The last two months have been hectic with a rapidly changing environment: evolving work guidelines, evolving community rules, and juggling things at home and at work. I have actually enjoyed the social isolation and the overall slowing of the pace of my life. I am not yet ready for the old normal.

I head out for the weekly grocery shopping with my son and, for the first time, we forget hand sanitiser. I assume the supermarket will offer some at the entrance but there’s nothing, and there is no standing in line to limit the numbers inside the store.

The stickers on the floor to keep us apart don’t stand out as much as they did a few weeks ago, but people are wearing masks and bagging their own groceries.

The cafe next door is empty: still just takeaways. There’s little left on display and a worker seems to be wrapping things up. It’s just after midday. 

It’s a similar scene at the trendy Glen Waverley cafe, once full of vegan meals and hipster brekky combos and a weekend crush that made finding a seat almost impossible. Now there’s only one staff member and some takeaway boxes on an otherwise empty counter.  

This extended lockdown has killed my appetite for social interaction. 

That night we catch up with friends for the first time in over two months. 

I’m a bit apprehensive but mostly because this extended lockdown has killed my appetite for social interaction. For now, I’m just as happy being home alone with Netflix, home-cooked food and an early night.

Sunday May 24


I plan to spend some time preparing for the week but instead I’m distracted: first by my sister’s new dog, secondly by social media. Everybody has an opinion on some meaningless drama … I resolve to delete the Twitter app from my phone. I’ve been there before. Many times.

It’s reassuring, in a way, to be making the same mistakes I made in my pre-pandemic life. Is this one sign that I’ve traversed that coronavirus ‘bridge’ that Scomo has been talking about?

In normal times, this unseasonably warm late May weather would be an anxiety-inducing reminder of global warming. But in the context of a lockdown the sun is a welcome relief, and an excuse to get outdoors.

The dog in question. Pic: Gena Furze


I visit a friend whose daughter’s seventh birthday has come and gone without the usual fuss and celebration. I am seeing them after a long time. We don’t hug. But the kids just carry on with their play, as if nothing has happened. Time and space don’t seem to affect children as much as adults.

My partner has had a busy weekend in the intensive care unit and he won’t be home until late.

I call my parents in India. The calls have lost some of their edge from when the pandemic first emerged. My parents have been in strict lockdown for over eight weeks with no stepping out for walks or essential services. 

Stuck in their apartment, their lives have never been more clock-worked. They’ve split the daily chores. As I watch my dad do the dishes while we face-time, I wonder if they will keep this routine post-Covid.

I plan for the next day, wash my scrubs, make muffins for my son’s school lunch and watch an episode of Utopia, a series that seems too close to home. Nonetheless, it cracks me up, both with laughter and pain. 

Monday May 25 


It’s a cliche, but it’s true: this whole thing is prompting some drastic changes in many lives. I wonder what the cumulative effect of all these shifts will be; what blurry new shape our society will form on the other side?

All of which is to say, I’ve enrolled in a law degree. The bleak news about the journalism industry just keeps coming: the past week, in particular, has felt like one giant crashing wave of redundancies.

I’ve taken to this change with all the zealotry of a recent convert. The start of semester is still two months away, but I’ve already ordered half my textbooks, and I’m reading everything I can get my hands on. I’ve bookmarked AustLII, signed up to the uni portal and joined the student wellbeing page on Facebook.

I’m aware this enthusiasm is probably not a renewable resource. I mention to Dad my slight ambivalence about leaving one profession behind for another. He quotes a recent interview with Bob Geldof, published in The Guardian: “There’s no rear-view mirror in this car.” That’s a bit of boomer wisdom that I’ll happily take.


Monday mornings are a rush. Unlike a lot of other people, we haven’t been able to work easily from home. It’s been an altered routine for both me and my partner. Get into the scrubs. Pack clothes to return in, and pack for my son. Everyone out the door by 8am. Take a shower at work. Come home, cook, eat, watch and sleep.

Each day, as we drop off our son to his empty school campus, I say a mental thanks to the teachers who supervise him so that we can go to work.

My private clinic is still following the Covid-19 protocol we established two months ago. Plastic chairs, spaced appointments, temperature checks and consulting patients in scrubs and crocs instead of our usual clobber.

On my drive home, I notice it’s getting darker sooner. I listen to talkback and an expert about the Australia-China relationship. I switch to music on FM. I need to unwind before I get home. I visualise a meal that I have been planning to cook as I drive on a crowded freeway. Maybe I will share it on Instagram. #isocooking. 

A fresh batch of iso-cooking. Pic: Krati Garg

Tuesday May 26


A combination of being newly 30 in a pandemic and the flawless skin on display in the reality TV show (and my new obsession) Vanderpump Rules means I have developed a skincare routine in isolation. Some moisturiser and cleanser I ordered online arrives.

This prompts me to reflect on the importance of routine over the last few months. Against a backdrop of fluctuating levels of uncertainty at work, I’ve anchored my days around a 9am coffee, and my weeks around Thursday morning online French classes.

I was initially hesitant to enrol. For a while it felt as if everyday life as we knew it was coming to a grinding halt. Would there be any point in studying a language? That, too, online. 

Focusing entirely on the task at hand and interacting with people who weren’t acting as if the world was falling apart did wonders for my anxiety.

But I’m happy to have given it a go. My fellow students and teacher have become a vital window to the outside world and, really, the only people I’ve seen in months, outside of my immediate family and some work colleagues.

Way back in the first week of class, we learnt our way around Zoom in French. Focusing entirely on the task at hand and interacting with people who weren’t acting as if the world was falling apart did wonders for my anxiety. I now look forward to this class every week.


My son is excited. His school is opening for face-to-face learning. I can’t believe it has been two months since his school closed.

I have mixed feelings. I know the long queues outside the school during drop-off will be back, and the luxury of empty roads and no traffic is already disappearing.

After being in emergency mode for some weeks, my public hospital is now slowly trying to create some sort of new normal. The problem is logistics and maintaining social distancing and controlling numbers in a small space as the restrictions ease. 

The plans for moving forward are being drafted. Every meeting that I have attended since the outbreak has had a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the discussions.

I head out for a stroll on Lygon Street with a colleague during lunch. There are more people than in recent weeks. Most cafes and restaurants are now open and offering some form of take-away. I go to a favourite Italian café. They are selling their a la carte pasta and salads as take-home meals. 

It’s freezing, but the sun is out and we want to sit somewhere and eat. There are people around a roadside bench. We all eye each other and the bench hesitantly. The others decide to move somewhere less crowded and suddenly the bench is ours. 

My colleague and I reflect on the patient we have just seen, a 91-year-old woman who is fighting cancer, and yet so full of life.

Wednesday May 27 


Rushing out of my Melbourne apartment nine weeks ago, I had the frantic thought to bring some sort of memento with me. I chose a birthday card from a close friend, with an illustration of a stovetop pot pouring coffee into a cup. I’ve blue-tacked it to the wall next to my computer, a small reminder of the pleasure to be found in the little things. Human things.

I’m thinking more about returning to Melbourne. I’ve got a bit of cabin fever, and it would be nice to regain some lost independence, but I’ve also settled into my rhythm here. Our next-door neighbour’s adult children are also getting ready to return to the city. 

Could I live here for good? Maybe. There’s no doubt that my experience of Albury has been far more peaceful than that of Melbourne, and the weather is incomparably better. And for the past few months I’ve had no fomo – most of the things I love about Melbourne are shut anyway.

Growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave this place. Over the course of my twenties my relationship with Albury began to shift, as it did for many people I know. But my country upbringing has had a mixed legacy and I’m not racing to return here for good. I can, however, see myself returning more frequently. 


There is traffic on the freeway heading towards the city. The multi-level car park, which has comfortably accommodated me for the last few months, is now full up to level six. People are returning to work. 

My day is a usual mix of chaos and periods of complete lull. As I walk the hospital’s silent corridors, I realise that the new ways of conduct around Covid-19 are now becoming a part of everyone’s day-to-day being. The awkwardness and hesitation is dissipating. Patients are wearing masks as they enter the building; everyone uses hand sanitisers and waits for vacant lifts. There is a feeling of acceptance. 

My brother in Houston informs me that he is still working from home. Although most businesses have opened there, people are not returning to work just yet. It reassures me. I want him to be cautious. With America, anything is possible.

The view from the carpark. Pic: Krati Garg

Thursday May 28


Friends are experiencing big changes in their lives. Lost jobs, lost homes, changing future directions. A couple of weeks ago I interviewed a bunch of teachers, for a series of stories on how schools have adapted to remote learning. Many of them said Covid-19 had acted as an accelerator, suddenly forcing changes that were otherwise slowly occurring anyway.

It’s easy to think about that in the abstract. But what it means for people’s lives is a different question altogether. Many journalists and academics I follow on social media are expressing anxiety about their jobs in the face of massive job losses in those sectors. How this all settles is anyone’s guess.


Today is my first general anaesthetic list at a private hospital after a two-month hiatus. All the elective surgery had been cancelled as per the directive from federal and state governments in March, except for emergency cases.

Dental pain is quite debilitating, but it has been a struggle to get patients in need across for general anaesthesia. Hospitals are still under restrictions and spots are limited. 

This has been a huge topic of debate among my colleagues who, like me, have been struggling to find hospital spots for patients in pain. Who should get priority: a patient needing shoulder replacements, somebody having IVF or somebody with extreme dental pain?

For now, I have been allowed a small percentage of my normal theatre time to fit in some patients. 

 I finish mid-morning and look for coffee. The hospital café usually leaves a sandwich for operators in the staff fridge. I find my sandwich and my name is misspelt exactly as it used to be pre-Covid. Grati Garg. Somehow, that just lifts my spirits.  

Friday May 29


Earlier in the week, my social media feeds were full of meaningless debate. As if to underscore how quickly things seem to be moving, now they’re full of shocking scenes coming out of America. I catch myself falling into the same trap I fell into three months ago: getting overwhelmed by the big picture and ignoring what’s directly in front of me. 

My parents, sister, her girlfriend and I have instigated a ‘Friday night drinks’ tradition for the house. After one glass of sparkling wine we’re all noticeably loose – I realise we desperately needed this.

It is our last Friday night together, for who knows how long. After dinner, we watch the comic book movie Birds of Prey, the second last thing I saw in a cinema. As we take our seats I think to myself, we live in interesting times. I think it often these days.


The drive to work is a bit solemn. I had missed the news of the police shooting on the Monash freeway the day before, so I listen to talk of Tasers on the radio and have a sinking feeling.

At work, I check reports of the incident online and chat about it with staff. We wonder why the offender had to be shot. “Why couldn’t they have used something different?’ 

I bury myself in patient notes. I want to finish work and leave early. Usually, I love Fridays more than the actual weekend. Fridays bring hope and anticipation. 

Typically, we farewell the week by asking each other, ‘What’s the plan for the weekend?’ Covid-19 and lockdown had taken away that pleasure. 

But these small pleasures are coming back. My assistant says she is catching up with her friends and family. I reply that I’m looking forward to the first face-to-face meeting of my writing group in three months.

It’s time.

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