The COVID-19 outbreak devastated my students at LaGuardia Community College in New York City, which rapidly became an early epicenter of the pandemic in spring 2020. Living in the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods, many students got infected, and others lost their loved ones, livelihoods, and the sense of security and hope.

But this deepening crisis was also a teachable moment. In our composition class, my students and I explored Arthur W. Frank’s classic illness narrative genres and connected them to our lived experiences of the coronavirus outbreak. In this creative nonfiction, I attempt to capture this learning moment by sorting out these messy experiences, thoughts, and feelings according to the three genres proposed by Frank: restitution, chaos, and quest. This sorting is a creative yet critical process. Each genre helps me recreate and document certain experiences of this unprecedented disaster that the other two cannot, whereas some of the experiences may in turn expand the boundaries of the genres.

If my restitution, chaos, and quest narratives below are about many things, it is because the subject matter, the still unfolding pandemic, affects every facet of humanity. But for me as for others interested in narrative medicine, these stories are about one thing: wounded storytelling and compassionate listening. Regardless of their genre, the narratives call for our listening with an open heart so that the wounded storyteller is heard. It is when wounded storytelling is coupled with compassionate listening that healing begins.



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