Physician, writer Kang to discuss pandemics through history in CLSC talk on ‘Patient Zero’


Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

Pandemics are a facet of history dating back to ancient Greece. Each one has its starting point, its first patient.

Lydia Kang, one of the authors of Patient Zero: A Curious History of the World’s Worst Diseases, will give her Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle presentation at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

Using the time to reflect on “the status quo, community and the self and the center and how we all felt very isolated and very off-kilter.”

A physician and professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Kang wrote this book with author and librarian Nate Pedersen when the COVID-19 pandemic started.

“The pandemic started right as we signed the book deal,” Kang said. “We said, ‘This is so strangely serendipitous’ — at least from a publishing perspective.”

Kang said she and Pedersen didn’t realize how strange it was to write about pandemics in the middle of one. 

“It wasn’t necessarily a great thing,” she said. “It just so happened we were going to do it anyway. It was both a blessing and a curse to write it, given the timing.”

Pederesen and Kang previously co-authored Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything. The goal with both books was to make them “extremely engaging” for readers interested in nonfiction.

When setting the tone for Patient Zero, Kang said they knew it was going to be different because of the severe and heavy topics they’d be writing about.

“We had to find that balance … that lent the gravitas that we needed for the different subject matters so we played it by ear,” she said. 

Kang said the intent with a book such as Patient Zero is to leave the reader with a sense of “much more perspective about the now after you have read about what happened in the past.”

In order to do this, she and Pedersen guided the readers through history, letting them form their opinions on their own.

“It’s a fine line of being informative, but not being really heavy-handed with your messages,” Kang said. “A lot of our personal shock and surprises come out on the page, because it’s not like Nate and I knew all of these things before we wrote the book.”

Kang said her knowledge as a physician and in patient care is “reflected in my writing, and vice versa.” 

Writing offers her an “out” where she can enter different worlds, and in turn, “refreshes” her when going back to medical practice.

“I joke to people that I have one and a half jobs because I’m part-time as a physician, but my writing seeps into every nook and cranny of my life,” she said. “(The jobs) have informed each other quite a bit.”


The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.