Trial By Error: An Interview with Journalist Ed Yong

By David Tuller, DrPH

In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, journalist Ed Yong played a key role in alerting the public to the wave of people suffering prolonged symptoms after an acute bout of COVID-19—the phenomenon that has come to be called long Covid. Yong, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coronavirus coverage in The Atlantic, first reported on long Covid in June, 2020, ultimately writing a total of eight substantive articles about the issue for the magazine. His work addressed many key issues, such as the dismissal and disbelief faced by long Covid patients, including medical professionals, and the emerging science on symptoms like brain fog and post-exertional malaise. Read in succession, these articles seem to represent Yong’s own learning curve and his growing alarm over this secondary wave of illness.

Throughout this body of work, Yong’s empathy for patients with long Covid is palpable. Last month, he wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in which he discussed what he learned as a journalist from covering the issue. He and I spoke earlier today (audio only) about the Times piece, how he came to grasp the seriousness of long Covid, and related stuff.

3 thoughts on “Trial By Error: An Interview with Journalist Ed Yong”

  1. Ed’s point about ME being so outside a healthy person’s experience that it’s hard to e comprehend is right on. Even as someone with ME who experiences PEM, it took *years* for me to really grasp how limited my energy envelope is and how easily PEM can be triggered. It’s just completely unreasonable.

  2. A veritable voice of reason. I especially liked the bit about how journalists can mess up, can believe they’re doing the right thing when they’re not, just as medics can. That self-reflection was really refreshing to hear. With regard to medics, I’d say that it’s not only that they’re trained to be extremely confident about what they know (and that they perhaps believe that they know much or all that they need to know?) but that the selection is of people who I suspect in the main are prepared to bow to the greater knowledge and authority of their superiors and not to question what the are told. They may think of themselves as scientists because they are taught and know so much about science, but in their medical training they seem to have that essential ingredient for scientists – the ethos of questioning everything – beaten out of them, or they happily surrender it. Not all of course, but an awful lot appear to me to be that way. So that even when patients are yelling at them en masse that they are wrong, they don’t seem to be able to compute that – their superiors have taught them otherwise so it must be true. They come across as extremely confident that their knowledge base is sound, that it is unquestionable, and so their patients are therefore flawed and are being hysterical, threatening even. I’m reminded of that quote in a 2017 article on medically unexplained symptoms - – where there’s an apparent fear of losing control because, it seems, control in medicine is everything, THEY have to be in charge. If they acted as scientists they would appreciate that observation is key and that the best observer of a disease or condition will be the person who is living with it. The patient possesses the best clues to solving the mystery and listening to them intently, (but minus the prejudicial armchair psychiatry – oh, could we shorten that to ‘PAP’?), and taking at face value what they say is indeed of prime importance to unlocking it.

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