The Library of Congress has acquired a digital archive of real-time impressions of more than 200 frontline health care workers, documenting the nation’s origins in the COVID-19 pandemic
Calvin Lambert, a fetal medicine fellow at a Bronx hospital, recalls how a black pregnant woman who came in for a checkup when he attempted to give her a COVID-19 test still “became irritable and scared” “. He thought that the swelling in the nose itself would give him the virus.
Lambert, who is black, said she has “learned to understand the deep distrust of the patient and that many patients who are black are to the medical system.”
The audio diaries of health care workers like Lambert were collected by The Nocturnists, a medical storytelling project, for its “Stories from a Pandemic” podcast series, which runs in spring 2020. The collection contains over 700 audio clips documenting the chaotic situations. Hospitals overwhelmed as medical workers struggled with their own stress, exhaustion and grief.
Elizabeth Peterson, director of the Center for Folklife, called the collection “a truly remarkable gift” and said that the intensity of the audio medium and environment create a deeply intimate and sometimes tedious picture.
“You hear the voices of the workplace, the exhaustion in their voices, and the ways they try to cope and contribute, big and small,” she said.
Emily Silverman, a practicing internist and founder of The Nocturnists, said in a statement that she “could not have imagined a better home for our audio library.”
“It captures the raw emotions of many health care workers in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic and will serve as a landmark document for future generations,” Silverman said.
Nocturne, which produces live medical storytelling shows in addition to podcasts, also plans to donate recordings for its follow-up series, “Stories from a Pandemic: Part 2,” which launches Tuesday.
A sample of audio clips released by the Library of Congress covers a diverse range of medical professionals, from neurosurgeons in Los Angeles to medical students in Philadelphia.
Samuel Slavin, an internal medicine resident in Boston, reflected on “the unexpected way these patients go downhill rapidly” and “how heavy this is taking on us as doctors.”
Feeling exhausted in his audio clip, Slavin saw a colleague struggling to complete a simple procedure that involved shaking hands and aching nerves. Slavin helped calm his colleague, then reached out to call his parents, who feared he had begun to display COVID symptoms.
“That was when I started feeling crushed. I could feel myself trembling and trembling with my own phone,” he said.