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Thursday Review: “COVID-19: The End of a Story Through the Eyes of an Emergency Practitioner”

In this brief, reflective essay, Saïd Jidane and Lahcen Belyamani never explicitly say what the story is, or what particular end they’re referring to.

One of the likely candidates is the end of our collective isolation. The piece was published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine in late May. When this review is posted, COVID-19 cases in the United States will almost certainly have continued to surge after the 4th of July weekend. The authors mention a real danger of a rush to make up for lost growth because of a risk of losing … previous achievements. These narratives of fear are exactly what Michael Greenberger brings up in his article for the American Journal of Public Health.

The coronavirus outbreak has also been another kind of end. This pandemic and isolation has put a screeching halt to something in almost everyone’s life. The authors call this aspect of our shared story a collective stopping point. Some of us have witnessed what life has been like for people who were isolated before the pandemic. Some of us have witnessed for the first time how really fragile we are, and how fragile all of our globalized world is.

We live in a time when we can almost witness our own history transforming. For centuries, the authors point out, we see how epidemics, by killing many people, modify civilizations and force us to think differently. One way to view the beginning of any story is to find what interrupts, intrudes on, or disturbs “normal” life. We are at a point when our own story is discovering all new kinds of normal, from work and school to personal relationships and our presence in public spaces. What makes a story exciting or gripping is how the problem is solved, and how life returns to a new normal. For people around the world and especially in the United States at this moment, “normal” seems very distant, and whatever happens between now and then often seems a cause for anxiety.

One of the authors’ deepest insights is that the very notion of “Home” has changed:

Governments keep asking their citizens to “stay at home”, but they ignore that this home has lost all of its dimensions. In fact, “Home” is usually where we rest and enjoy the freedom that is restricted outside, “Home” is where we have control over how [to] create comfort in our place away from all the disorder outside that we have no control over…

“Normal” life has a rhythm. We begin Home. We venture out, away from Home, to have the adventures of the day. We return, hopefully triumphant, to our Home. Home is the start of the daily story, the uninterrupted, undisturbed space. The story of an average day only begins when we leave Home, and we return there for the end, to find “normal” again.

Isolation in the time of a pandemic means that Home is lost in a real way, even though many of us are Home all the time. Work is now Home, school is now Home, summer vacation is now Home, the sum total of our relationships (whether real or virtual) is now Home.

As one final insight in the era of COVID, the authors teach us that where we live and our daily routines are deeply connected, even linguistically. They write that our habits are directly intertwined with our habitation. The words habit, habitation, and habitat are directly related: they all come from the Latin word “to have”. Even among the dangers outside of our habitats in a pandemic, life won’t feel normal until what we have at Home is something separate from what we have outside of it. Jidane and Belyamani remind us if there is no outside, the inside no longer exists.


The article reviewed: Jidane, Saïd, and Lahcen Belyamani. 2020. “COVID-19: The End of a Story Through the Eyes of an Emergency Practitioner”. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Featured Image: “Work From Home” by Charles Deluvio