WASHINGTON (AP) – The Library of Congress has acquired a digital archive of real-time impressions from more than 200 frontline health workers documenting the country’s descent into the coronavirus pandemic.
Calvin Lambert, a fetal medicine researcher at a Bronx hospital, remembers how a pregnant black woman who came for an exam “got mad and scared” even when he tried to give her a COVID-19 test . would give him the virus.
Lambert, who is black, said he has come to understand “the patient’s deep distrust that many black patients have in the medical system.”
Audio diaries of healthcare workers like Lambert were collected by The Nocturnists, a medical storytelling project, for their “Stories from a Pandemic” podcast series, which took place in the spring of 2020. The collection contains over 700 clips audio documenting chaotic conditions overwhelmed hospitals as medical workers battled their own stress, exhaustion and grief.
The digital archive will be housed in the library’s American Folklife Center, which has built a collection of oral histories dating back to World War I, including testimonials from 9/11 first responders and Hurricane survivors Katrina and Rita.
Folklife Center director Elizabeth Peterson called the collection “truly a remarkable gift” and said the audio medium and the intensity of the surroundings create a deeply intimate and at times exhausting portrait.
“You hear the sounds of the workplace, the exhaustion in their voices and the big and small ways they are trying to cope and contribute,” she said.
Emily Silverman, practicing internist and founder of The Nocturnists, said in a statement that she “couldn’t imagine a better home for our audio library.”
“It captures the raw emotions of many healthcare workers during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and will serve as a historic document for future generations,” Silverman said.
The Nocturnists, which produces live medical storytelling shows in addition to podcasts, also plans to donate recordings from its follow-up series, “Stories from a Pandemic: Part 2,” which launched on Tuesday.
A sample of audio clips released by the Library of Congress contains a wide 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 “unpredictable way these patients descend quickly” and “how much it weighs on us as physicians.”
Looking exhausted in his audio clip, Slavin remembers seeing a colleague struggling to complete a simple procedure, hands shaking and nerves on edge. Slavin helped his coworker calm down, then went out to call his own parents, who he said had started showing symptoms of COVID.
“That’s when I started to feel overwhelmed. I could feel myself shaking and shaking with my own phone, ”he said.
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