Audio logs of healthcare workers during COVID-19

The Library of Congress acquired audio diaries featuring more than 200 frontline healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19, a collection that provides first-hand testimonials from hospitals and communities across the country then as the public health crisis unfolded. The audio library was donated by The Nocturnists, an independent San Francisco-based medical storytelling community, and a podcast.

The majority of records were originally collected for the “Stories of a pandemic” series in the spring of 2020, of which only a small fraction was published on the podcast and accompanying online history map. The giveaway also includes pandemic-related material from The Nocturnists’ ‘Black Voices in Healthcare’ series, which was recently selected as the podcast winner in the Webby Price 2021. In addition, the group plans to donate the collected recordings for the follow-up series, “Stories of a pandemic: part 2”, launched today on The Nocturnists podcast.

The “Stories of a Pandemic” archive, a unique continuing collection of over 700 audio clips to date, help describe the “inner landscapes” of doctors, nurses and other health professionals – some of whom have worked at night – as they faced what the CDC called the country’s worst public health crisis in a century. In fact, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States last year, and more Americans died after contracting the virus than in the two World Wars and the Vietnam War combined.

As the nation begins to return to normal amid a massive vaccination effort, the audio log collection recalls the impact COVID-19 has had on the healthcare system, the economy, education, the world trade and daily life in America. But the collection also offers testimonials about what normalcy can look like at home and in the workplace, ranging from fear and anxiety to hope and optimism.

“The Nocturnists collection is full of intimate, real-time stories of physicians at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, facing the human toll of their patients, themselves and their communities. You hear the sounds of the workplace, the exhaustion in their voices and the big and small ways they try to cope and contribute; it truly is a remarkable gift, ”said Elizabeth Peterson, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center, which will house and preserve this digital archive, has been collecting oral histories from different groups and communities since 1976. The collections include interviews with civil rights leaders, as well as testimonials from 9/11 first responders, survivors. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and veterans since WWI.

“The Nocturnists is delighted to partner with the United States Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, for our ‘Stories of a Pandemic’ audio documentary storytelling project. We couldn’t imagine a better home for our audio library, which captures the raw emotions of many healthcare workers during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and will serve as a historical document for future generations, ”said Emily Silverman, a practicing internist and founder of The Nocturnists.

Many contributors have withheld their full names and other credentials to provide a candid assessment of their working conditions, and the poignant accounts describe their personal risks, struggles and consuming frustrations while caring for the sick and dying.

The collection reflects the daily scenes and emotional toll that unfolded in rural and urban hospitals across the country during the first weeks of the pandemic, when the first wave of cases overwhelmed emergency rooms, intensive care units and morgues. The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical staff, including masks and gloves, or ventilators for critically ill patients, has added to the chaos in already understaffed and overcrowded facilities.

Arghavan Salles, an Iranian-American bariatric surgeon in Stanford, Calif., Had volunteered in an intensive care unit at a New York City hospital in what she described as a “climb in the mountains. Russians “emotional, sometimes fearing that ill-fitting PPE might protect her from contracting the virus.

“The first two nights I was here were worse than I expected in terms of the condition of the patients. I was very disappointed, I guess, really more upset with a few patients who are struggling to stay alive, ”Salles said in a recording. “Who has signed up to ration care and have to decide whether someone’s mother, sister or friend is going to have dialysis? I don’t think any of us have.

For his part, Calvin Lambert, a first-year maternal and fetal medicine researcher in the Bronx, reflects on the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on African Americans and other communities of color and their general distrust of it. with regard to medical authorities.

Lambert recalls treating a pregnant African American patient who became “angry, scared and in tears” as she refused to have her nose cleaned for the coronavirus, fearing that by doing so, she would contract the virus .

“Rather than being on the defensive, it’s up to us to be understanding, to understand where they’re coming from and to try to demystify and rebuild that trust through (patient) education and empowerment, ”Lambert says in the recording. “I can’t help but think about how the health care system has failed these groups at times and how we need to continue to restore their confidence in us.”

Jacqueline Flores, a family medicine practitioner in California, remembers the day in March 2020 when an intensive care patient died of COVID-19 after being removed from the resuscitation system. At that time, the hospital had a no-visit policy in place, so her family could only say goodbye from a computer screen set up in the room.

“It just made me sad to think of all these people who are currently struggling with this disease, and their family members are not allowed into the room, in their dying moments. It made me pretty emotional today, ”said Flores, whose hospital has reassigned a unit for an anticipated increase in the number of COVID-19 patients.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 595,000 people in the United States alone, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. This crisis has also created a mourning pandemic, as thousands of people have died alone in hospital beds due to restrictions on visitors. Families have had to say goodbye to loved ones from the blue glow of their smartphone screens, and virtual funerals have become the new normal.

Silverman, an internist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, founded The Nocturnists to support the well-being of healthcare professionals through the healing power of storytelling and “to discover complex truths about doctor, build community and facilitate an environment of acceptance and healing ”, according to the group’s site.

Since its debut in 2016, The Nocturnists has produced more than a dozen live-action storytelling shows in the Bay Area and New York City and is now in the fourth season of its podcast, which features selected stories from the shows in direct from the Nocturnists, an ongoing “Conversations” with medical authors, and the two special audio documentary series, “Stories from a Pandemic” and “Black voices in health care”. The Nocturnists is in the process of creating a new audio documentary series for fall 2021 titled “Shame in medicine”, in collaboration with researchers from “Shame and medicine” project at the University of Essex and “The conversation of shame” at Duke University.

The timely collection of newspapers joins the Library of Congress as the ongoing national vaccination campaign aims to accelerate the reopening of schools, businesses and institutions, and a gradual return to normal family life ahead of COVID-19.

Before receiving the gift from The Nocturnists, the Library of Congress started creating new collections over the past year to document the global COVID-19 pandemic through photographs, posters, public health data and artist responses to the health crisis.

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, providing access to America’s creative record – and many documents from around the world – both onsite and online. It is the main research arm of the United States Congress and the home of the US Copyright Office. Explore the collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit to; go to the official site for US federal legislative information at; and register the creative works of authorship at

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