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Keeping our stories for the future

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2021 Issue 167


When the staff started planning for this issue of Yale Medicine Magazine over a year ago, working in our office instead of fumbling with the unmute button on Zoom, we thought it might be useful to compare our efforts to check and then resolve the emerging COVID-19 pandemic to those of Yale School of Medicine (YSM) faculty and students struggling against the influenza pandemic of 1918. That, as it turned out, would not be possible.

For a number of reasons (chiefly the United States of America’s participation in World War I and the resultant wartime censorship), there was barely any reporting at Yale on the flu pandemic as a phenomenon. Stitching together an account of how the pandemic collided with early 20th-century New Haven is possible: that story can be found in data (for example, life expectancy in the United States dropped more than 10 years among women and men from 1917 to 1918), photography, obituaries, and news stories.

But no single space exists in which people described an institutional response to the pandemic. Confronted with the absence of a single curated source of information about the day-to-day ways in which Yale School of Medicine had met 1918’s pandemic, we realized the importance of documenting what was happening at YSM: The interruption of almost every facet of “normal” life in March 2020; the onset of critical illness and deaths; the scramble to coordinate a scientific and economic response; and the human toll—as well as the stories of people adapting to that adversity.

And so, this issue is dedicated not only to the scientists, physicians, students, and staff of the recent past and present, but to those of the future who, years or decades from now, will be able to draw inspiration from our failures and triumphs when they look back and discover this issue. These stories are a small but we hope representative sample of what happened here when the wave of infection first broke over our city and state in 2020.