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Living with Uncertainty in a Time of Crisis

Author Elizabeth L. Silver wrote the very personal memoir The Tincture of Time. It is about her then baby daughter’s stroke at six weeks and the trauma and uncertainty for a full year before she recovered.

Silver spoke to many people about the current pandemic crisis and found their biggest concern was fear--not of illness, financial loss ,or death, but living with uncertainty. She also interviewed many people living with various diseases--living with medical uncertainty.

She learned that:

How we approach uncertainty in our health is a litmus test for how we approach life. Uncertainty is living outside of life and within it. It is the baseline of experience, of joy, of energy, of possibility, of fear. And uncertainty—especially in a pandemic—reflects how we as a society and we as individuals are.

Silver contrasts how most people deal with a medical crisis compared to doctors and nurses. Talking to non-medical people she “asked each person for the first word that came to mind when they hear the phrase ‘uncertainty in medicine.’ The overwhelming response was ‘fear’ or ‘blindness’ or ‘powerlessness.’”

Yet when she asked scientists and health care professionals the same question, their first response was “challenge” or “reality.” The difference was that they understood and expected this uncertainty; it is part of their professional worldview, and it is no different now. Health professionals and experts know that we don’t know much about this novel coronavirus. “The difficulty now lies in convincing the rest of us that uncertainty is something we can and must live with.”


Elizabeth Silver, “On Managing Acute Uncertainty in a Time of Medical Crisis,” Literary Hub, (5-8-20)

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