Quarantine, isolation: medical terms heavy with accreted meanings (psychological, metaphorical). Terms we’ve been hearing a lot lately, as in the case of nurse Kaci Hickox, quarantined in a tent in New Jersey after her return from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, released today after days of public controversy.

These words have vivid histories. Epidemics of polio, influenza, and other illnesses took many lives in the U.S. during the 20th century. And nurses were always there, taking risks, applying the latest knowledge to control or cure. In the April 1940 edition of the American Journal of Nursing, a nurse wrote a short but evocative essay about her own fears of entering an isolation room to treat a child with an unnamed condition, perhaps measles or scarlet fever. Here’s a snippet.


(One wonders if she had been given the recommended personal protective equipment of the time for such infections . . .)

To read the article, free until December 1, click this link and then click through to the PDF version in the upper-right corner of the landing page.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

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