COVID Chronicles: How Essential Workers Cope

Aimee Valeras, PhD, LICSW

Fam Med. 2022;54(6):481-482.

DOI: 10.22454/FamMed.2022.296128

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Book Title: COVID Chronicles: How Essential Workers Cope

Author: Therese Zink, MD, MPH

Publication Information: Las Vegas, NV, self-published, 2021, 135 pp., $10 paperback or Kindle

In COVID Chronicles, Dr Zink interweaves her own story of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on her family and herself with the personal stories of 11 different physicians, nurses, and medical assistants. She doesn’t shy away from the social and political overlays as she retells her interviewees’ stories and the ways that the pandemic has exposed the deep-rooted racism and classism that permeate the United States. She gives voice to the frustration, helplessness, and fear that health care workers faced in different parts of the country and the way that the 45th president and social media propagated antiscience narratives that resulted in individuals embracing mask-free vaccine rejection.

Dr Zink is a family physician who was working in Palestine on a Fulbright scholarship when the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to cut her stay short to return home to Rhode Island. Living in long-term care settings posed unique struggles for residents and their loved ones. Dr Zink describes her own struggle with the physical separation of both her sister and mother living 1,000 miles away in long-term care. Having restricted access to see them or assist in alleviating their isolation contributed to her constant worry about their health, especially when each of them contracted COVID-19. From three floors down and outside the window, she describes feeling helpless in watching their emotional health deteriorate, which puts words to an experience many might relate to, after enduring months of isolation.

At times, Dr Zink’s writing feels as if we’re reading her journal, a peek into how one physician is making sense of what is happening and attempting to introduce organization into the chaos. At other times, she speaks from an academic perspective, explaining the science behind how and why health care workers were making decisions. Dr Zink allowed her readers a peek into the frontline experience by portraying the personal stories of 11 other health care workers. Her selection of interviewees represented the diversity of experience, geographically, socioeconomically, racial identity, and positionally within the health care system. Some of these descriptions recounted incredibly difficult circumstances, but the writing feels a bit stilted, perhaps because it uses direct quotes of participants rather than the use of “thick description,” a writing tool in qualitative research that uses graphic details to draw the reader into the emotional story. In this way, the nuanced characters of the participants feels one dimensional at times, in part because each chapter was pulled into a neatly-wrapped package with a little bow and a take-home message for the reader, such as to find humor, to give gratitude, to stay connected, or to hold onto faith. That said, this style of writing may meet the need of a readership that is looking for concrete takeaways about coping mechanisms that help in times of tumultuous uncertainty.

This book seems to be written for a largely nonmedical audience—a way to give the layperson a vicarious experience of what it was like as a health care worker in the first year of COVID-19. Simple medical concepts that all health care workers would be familiar with are defined and explained. Any book that attempts to capture the essence of an ongoing pandemic confronts the risk of what was once accepted practice now being outdated, and that is the case here.

The last chapter may be the strongest, as readers are exposed to Dr Zink’s public health perspective about how climate change is creating environments where pandemics will flourish and how world politics are influencing who lives and who dies from these pandemics.

Overall, this book is a salute to health care workers, many of whom kept working in the face of danger to themselves, their family members, and their mental health in order to be there for patients, a choice that very few would likely have predicted when they signed up for the job. Dr Zink’s book offers a mix of personal reflection on lived experience and interview-based stories, and is summarized with a larger public health perspective. When falsehoods and antiscience narratives are proliferating at the macro level, it is refreshing to zoom in on the individual micro level and get to know how these specific humans are living through and with COVID-19.

Lead Author

Aimee Valeras, PhD, LICSW

Affiliations: Concord Hospital, Concord, NH

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