Audio Diaries from Healthcare Workers during COVID-19

Healthcare workers struggled with their own fears of the COVID-19 pandemic while trying to save lives. (Art by Lindsay Mound)

Collection from The Nocturnists Documents Challenges Healthcare Workers Faced as Pandemic Evolved

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

The majority of the recordings were originally collected for the “Stories from a Pandemic” series in the spring of 2020, of which only a small fraction was published on the podcast and accompanying online story map. The gift also includes the pandemic-related material from The Nocturnists’ “Black Voices in Healthcare” series, which was recently selected as a podcast honoree in the 2021 Webby Awards. Additionally, the group plans to donate recordings collected for the follow-up series, “Stories from a Pandemic: Part 2”, launching today on The Nocturnists podcast.

The “Stories from a Pandemic” archive, a unique on-going collection of well over 700 audio clips to date, helps describe the “inner landscapes” of doctors, nurses, and other health care practitioners — some of whom worked the overnight shift — as they faced what the CDC has called the country’s worst public health crisis in a century. In fact, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. last year, and more Americans have died after contracting the virus than in both World Wars and the Vietnam War combined.

As the nation begins to crawl back to normalcy amid a massive vaccination effort, the collection of audio diaries serves as a reminder of the impact COVID-19 has had on the healthcare system, the economy, education, world commerce and daily life in America. But the collection also offers testimonies about what normalcy may look like at home and in the workplace, going from fear and