Since the escalation of the SARS-COVID19 from outbreak to pandemic in March 2020, we have been collecting ceaseless the narratives of citizens – students, health care professionals, employed, unemployed, retired people – using a free place where to leave their own voice, thoughts, feelings, beliefs about the most disruptive experience in our western countries after World War II. 

Spring, Summer and Autumn of this year, 2021 were also time of collection when things substantially seemed to change with the advent of the vaccines: the 2021 narrative had two prompts, a first related to the experience with the vaccination, but given the current turmoil, it’s out of the scope of this column, and a second related to a global diachronic evaluation, moving from the past, “Covid was…”, to the present, “Covid is…”, and adding the future tense with this “incipit”, “For the future I hope…”. While Covid was.. and Covid is.. from a linguistic point of view are neutral, in the narrative prompt “For the future, I hope”, there is indeed a bias, adding the word “Hope”, influencing for being hopeful.

(In detail, the platform was accessible from the website page:  )

We had 459 access, with 53 (12%) not analysable info, mainly people curious about the research project,  129 quantitative answers related to the vaccination domain (29%) and 277 (60%) full narratives, indicating the great success of this agency of citizenship involvement. Indeed, we went beyond the current illness narrative practice, but we were closer to paradigms related to listen to the voice of the population, going beyond the oversimplifying surveys (70% women, 28% women and 2 % who did not specify). 

To analyse their narrative, being inspired by them, while they unfold through time, it came quite clear that the possible best classification to use, beyond the beauty of each narrative, was that one developed by Arthur Frank, chaos, restitution and quest. 

  • Chaos narrative, which is really a nonstory: there is little narrative drive or sequence, just a list of negative things that will never improve and by which the narrator is almost overwhelmed. The story signals a loss or lack of control, and medicine cannot do anything.  
  • Restitution narrative: this is the story most favoured by physicians and other medical professionals and poses the emphasis on restoring health. These narratives often have three moments: they start with physical misery and social default, continue with the remedy (what needs to be undertaken) and finish with the moment in which remedy is taken; moreover, the narrator describes how physical comfort and social duties are restored.
  • Quest narrative: this is the teller’s story, where the teller is in control of things. Narrators tell how they met the illness ‘head on’ and sought to use it, to gain something from the experience; the story is a kind of journey, with a recognised departure, an initiation (the mental, physical and social suffering that people have experienced) and a return (the narrator is no longer ill but is still marked by the experience).

Our world initiation, ad in the hero’s journey, was the sudden appearance of the COVID-19 and the beginning of a new era. 

At a very first glance, it looks like that Chaos narrative are related mainly to the people who say NO: one year ago, No Mask, No Social Distancing, and this year No Vax, No Green Pass. This potential Chaos Narrative have to be included in the hugest Chaos media metanarrative communication: the deeds of this year with changes of the target people to vaccinate, the imposition of Green Pass, the need of anticipating the third dose, the uncertainties provided by wonderful but very short terms clinical trials has created a huge distrust in the institutions. Based on the real Chaos that is the ceaseless virus mutation. 

However, despite a daily Chaos in the news, Chaos is also not pervasive in some narratives of the NO people, who tends to foresee and see deceptive conspiracy in geopolitics (so for COVID was and Covid is answers range from the Wuhan synthetic virus hypothesis, to the Illuminati projects to promote a tyrannic world government), but they are very few, and we should therefore be very cautious before using the blaming culture.  Many NO people who left their narrative are still in chaos for the next steps to do, asking themselves this kind of question:  Will I go or not to vaccination? – and this belongs to hesitancy, – and beyond this there is a life style question: Am I so interested to go back to a social life, if there is such a confusion around?)  This kind of Chaos paradoxically reaches the Quest existential position; that is “What am I doing here? What should I do?”, with no clear definition between the borders. The Quest is a recherche which goes from understanding the causes to be open to the new possibilities of living. As Arthur Frank teaches, to find a new style for living, given a certain condition.

Let’s go to analyse other narratives of Covid was and Covid is and for the Future I hope: in the majority of vaccinates people, the narratives of 2020 – the first one looked so far in time, as coming from another age, where mostly Chaos Narrative, and describing Covid as a monster, a murderer; but than things changed and they are still prevailing the Restitution Narrative from 2020 and 2021: one year ago Restitution was achieved with social distancing, lock downs and masks, now with vaccinations.  Covid is, 2021

The worst of evils that has brought to the surface a pervasive ignorance on the part of many, which has been suppressed for years”.

“The Covid is a dangerous virus that is now partly known but is destined to last in the world for many years as it continually mutates and for which there is as yet no effective cure. We will have to learn to live with it.”

However, the position of Restitution is very common in every narrative that ends, after the prompt “for the future I hope”: 

“… I hope everything will go back to normal”.

“Return to embrace each other”. 

“The pandemic will be resolved, so that we can go back to living with the peace of mind we had before”. 

“I hope the NO VAX are abolished, reduced to zero, by whatever means”.

“To return to normal. That’s all”. 

Quest Narratives are wider, they embrace multidimensional topics: from the health of the people, to the health of the planet and the cosmos: they cry not for going back to the past, that past, which I so many Restitution narratives was worshipped as an untouchable idol, but they look at the future: and in the vaccinates people here some excerpts from their narratives as lessons for the future. 

For the future, I hope that we will succeed in creating the conditions to ensure that the majority of the world’s population is vaccinated, that in the event of a subsequent pandemic we will be able to learn from the experience gained, and that everyone will become more aware that in situations such as these we must think in terms of collective well-being and that no one saves themselves.”

“That we can rethink a future: if we go back to ‘the way it was before’ we will miss an unmissable opportunity to change reality and solve even more urgent problems”.

“May this lesson make us realise the fallacy of any presumption of “omnipotence” and prompt us to reorient our way of life a little freer from the frenetic obsession with doing more and more, going further and further, going faster and faster (but to where?). 

“I hope we can understand that we are made to live “together” and this means taking a greater interest in the good of all and not only in our own immediate benefit; that the measure of time is the beat of our heart (the second and not the thousand or micro seconds); that we have to wait many months to reap what we have sown in the fields; that it takes nine months for a child to be born who then needs many more years to develop fully; that when a human being dies, a piece of us goes with him; that probably the best thing we can do is to leave a motivated good memory of us in those who remain… “

These are authentic Quest Narratives: for the future they embrace the opportunity to change, the fragility of human being, declaring the limits of the Anthropocene age in its accelerated pace, with the human being at the centre of the universe, and embracing the new generations to come, leaving a sign of tangible memory. 

The voice of citizens should be more listened in a narrative away, accepting as the first point the initial position and trying to bring them safely out from their comfort zone of mind set: some of the narratives were testifying the beauty of life on the earth, at whatever conditions, looking full of hopes at the future. Maybe, more than a bias, that word hope represents one of our strong belief. 

Maria Giulia Marini

Epidemiologist and counselor in transactional analysis, thirty years of professional life in health care. I have a classic humanistic background, including the knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin, which opened me to study languages and arts, becoming an Art Coach. I followed afterward scientific academic studies, in clinical pharmacology with an academic specialization in Epidemiology (University of Milan and Pavia). Past international experiences at the Harvard Medical School and in a pharma company at Mainz in Germany. Currently Director of Innovation in the Health Care Area of Fondazione ISTUD a center for educational and social and health care research. I'm serving as president of EUNAMES- European Narrative Medicine Society, on the board of Italian Society of Narrative Medicine, a tenured professor of Narrative Medicine at La Sapienza, Roma, and teaching narrative medicine in other universities and institutions at a national and international level. In 2016 I was a referee for the World Health Organization- Europen for “Narrative Method of Research in Public Health.” Writer of the books; “Narrative medicine: Bridging the gap between Evidence-Based care and Medical Humanities,” and "Languages of care in Narrative Medicine" edited with Springer, and since 2021 main editor for Springer of the new series "New Paradigms in Health Care."

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