Atul Gawande enters the patio of the Mexican restaurant proffering his arm — clad in professorial lilac elbow patch — instead of his hand. It is my first in-person interview in five months, and I was expecting him to know the right Covid-19 protocol. I am surely one of many looking to him for guidance and solace on living through the pandemic — and recovering afterwards.

The 54-year-old literary surgeon is famous for changing the way people think about the end of life. His Being Mortal (2014) moved many readers to have difficult conversations about a topic we notoriously avoid, prompting patients to examine what makes life worth living and guiding them away from intrusive last-ditch treatments. Beyond his best-selling books, his articles for the New Yorker helped to shape Barack Obama’s healthcare policy. He has also had stints in government and most recently the private sector. He could be exactly who we need at this moment: a practising doctor with a grasp of politics...

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