To experience an epidemic while lying on a sickbed opens up other ways of thinking through time, epidemics, and sequence from those developed by Charles Rosenberg in his 1989 essay, "What Is an Epidemic?". In this essay, a patient recovering from COVID-19 analyzes how histories of epidemics often follow the logic proposed by the discipline of epidemiology itself: a focus on acute cases and on a tracking of the "peak(s)" often means that longer temporalities of suffering are hidden. In contrast, this essay follows "Long Covid"—an illness collectively made and named by patients, which changed how the natural history of a new disease (COVID-19) was being mapped out by conventional scientific experts. Long Covid conceptualizes time differently from common categories and prefixes used in medicine and epidemiology, such as the "chronic" or the "post-." The collective labor of ill people thinking from the sickbed—both those with Long Covid and those working to bring to visibility other illnesses and the sequelae of other epidemics—has allowed other possible arrangements of sick bodies, symptoms, and diagnostic classifications to come into view. These arrangements hold potential for historians of medicine, as well as for clinical scientists.


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Callard, F. 2021, 'Epidemic time: thinking from the sickbed', Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 94(4), pp. 727-743. https://doi.org/10.1353/bhm.2020.0093

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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