Dr. A. Joseph Layon recounts his journey toward understanding during a time of death, isolation, and disconnection.

When Dr. A Joseph Layon stepped into the Intensive Care Unit to help save the lives and alleviate the suffering of patients threatened by the first wave of COVID-19, he realized that this challenge was similar only to the beginning of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the early 1980s, early in his career. A respected Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Central Florida, College of Medicine, Dr. Layon has a long history of bringing his skills to war zones of various kinds. Nonetheless, he was taken aback by what he saw every day in the ICU.

He captures this life-changing experience in the powerful and much-needed article “Are You Alright?” On Pandemic Death, Isolation, Connection, and Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller” just published in Survive & Thrive: A Journal for Medical Humanities and Narrative as Medicine.

Written with Mary N.Layoun, an Emerita Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the article takes the shape of a dialogue that talks openly about the process of dying in a late capitalist world devastated by a virulent, deadly pandemic. It explores longstanding cultural assumptions about death, isolation, disconnections (physical, emotional, and spiritual), and the stress placed upon relationships due to the spread of the virus. And there is the heartbreaking story of Joaquin and Nejla, a son and mother, who directly confront the horrific reality of the virus.

During his occasional break from the ICU, Dr. Layon rereads Walter Benjamin’s famous essay “The Storyteller” (1936). In it, he finds a provocative message about the stories our culture talks about death, community, and the power of these stories to guide us through unprecedented challenges. Dr. Layon sees in Benjamin’s words not “an elegy for a vanishing past. Instead, from its opening lines, the essay points to the possibility of seeing more clearly the outlines of what is distanced from us – the storyteller, stories, and their counsel, which revolve around the authority of death. Benjamin’s essay reminds us not only of what was but also of what might be waiting to emerge, prompted by the clearer vision of what is distant and vanishing.”

This article is a spiritual salve at a time when individuals, communities, our country, and, indeed, the world, need to begin to heal and reconnect with each other. https://repository.stcloudstate.edu/survive_thrive/vol6/iss1/14/

Dr. Layon has spent a lifetime in the struggle for justice and democracy. From the streets of Chicago to the byways of Keene California; from the organizing efforts of the California Homemakers Association to the mountains of Central America; from the mountains of northern Greece to the plains of Nigeria. Arm-in-arm with the Environmental Service Workers at UF in Gainesville in their struggle for a living wage and workplace control, to defending the rights of faculty as the Grievance Chair, also at UF. Dr. Layon has attempted to live the socialist mantra that best expressed by Eugene V. Debs, that “…. While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free…”

Since 2020, he has been caring for critically ill COVID19 patients.


For more info about Dr. A. Joseph Layon Visit: ajlayon.com