Filmed in Harbor City, CA 90710
National Nurses Week
May 6 - May 12
Throughout the course of this pandemic experience, the collective nursing and frontline worker community has served with unparalleled courage and an unflinching commitment to duty. They've been a lighthouse in a storm of confusion and fear.
I wanted to offer my skills in gratitude and recognition of theirs. My great friends and long time collaborators, Christopher Johnson and Glenn Rossney of The Misty Falls Motion Picture Company, joined me in this endeavor.
Every person I photographed and interviewed was asked to bring one item which represented their own personal experience of the pandemic.
These are the portraits and stories of some of our heroes from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was a challenge we went through with a lot of hiccups, but we got through it and we managed to care for our patients and keep our families safe. That was one of my major challenges but we had to stay strong. My family is my anchor and I had to separate from them for their safety. I know that was one of the things I had to do to keep my elderly parents safe. I was actually able to get married during the pandemic and we wanted to because I knew that family was key. You gotta take advantage of those special moments. It was very intimate, but I think it was the right time and we did it in a safe fashion. I just wanted that special moment, some happiness, to counterbalance the challenges."
MSN-Ed, RN, PHN, Home Health Nurse
"I brought a pair of boxing gloves and some weights because exercise is what really helped me get through the pandemic. It was a huge stress reliever. I was working home health so we were actually out in the field, going into patients homes that have COVID, and then go home to our families. At one point, we were in a hotel that they provided so we wouldn't put our family at risk. But exercise really helped me. That's what saved me; that's my therapy."
"I brought my stethoscope today because it symbolizes COVID in a lot of ways as we all know COVID attacks lungs. It's a way physically for us to connect with our patients. It's like my ears connecting to their lungs. It allows us to assess our patients lungs for any worsening conditions, any improvements, and it's a really important instrument that we use everyday throughout our shift. I just thought it would be nice to bring it and show how it's really important."
"One of the things that I really missed was the race track so I brought a helmet. All the good feelings and good energy that come from all the people you're around at the track, and a lot of my buddies are racing their cars too, so it was one of those things that I missed and was really looking forward to."
RN, Adult Primary Care Nurse
"During the pandemic, one of the good things is that I met a lot of new people. I saw the good side of people and I saw camaraderie and teamwork, and I saw every nurse breakdown in their own time. We all did. Everybody did. Staffing was worse than ever. I brought this headband today because we started feeling pain in the back of our ears from the masks. That was never a thing, so now how do we do everything that we're doing and we're sweating and we're wearing all this stuff. How do we find a little bit of comfort? I just started noticing some of the girls that were looking really cute with their headbands and none quite fit me right, so I just started making my own with buttons to take the pressure off the ears, and it was kind of like a conversation starter. So for an extrovert like me, that's really fun 'cause I get to talk and it was just something that didn't have to do with what we were going through."
RN, BSN, CN-BN, PHN, RN Specialty Case Manager
"I come from a family of doctors and nurses and realize that caring about other people, not just clinically, but also their emotional well being is very important. There's a lot of us who were isolated from other relatives and friends so the phone represents the pandemic for me."
"Rosemary actually stands for love and remembrance so I remember the times when I would go home with my family when I was off and we'd go to the garden. We just went to our garden - my husband, my son and I - we just tended to our garden. We went to the Rosemary to smell it to make sure that we could still smell, and that we weren't sick 'cause I was working as a nurse in the COVID unit. The hand crocheted headband is one that a patient gave me in the beginning of the pandemic. I gave her one of my hair bonnets because she really thought it was cute, so she made this for me."
"During the pandemic, what I thought was really ridiculous was that people were hoarding toilet paper and all of these things like Clorox wipes and all that stuff, and places like Costco and Target were having to limit people's purchases of these things. I mean Amazon had toilet paper going for $100 at one point. I thought I was going to be rich because I had this overload of toilet paper and I thought I could sell it. I think it really represents how desperate people get during a global pandemic for even basic things like toilet paper."
"I delivered many babies during the pandemic, through much fear and apprehension and everything else that came along with it. I still needed to give someone the joy of their life. I brought my Bible today because for me that was the ultimate way that I was able to walk into my house every day after a shift just praying for protection and standing strong."
RN, ICU Float Pool
"I chose to be an ICU nurse knowing it was gonna be tough. That is the place where people have their last chance to make it. I was happy to have the skills to help people. It was so hard during the pandemic because none of us knew it would be like working in a funeral home. It was just constant death and families crying, trying to just be strong for them. I'll never forget their faces. We all learned valuable lessons, to really hold on to what's important - to your family and friends. Show them that you love them because you may not have them the next day.
As an ICU nurse during COVID, we just got hit the hardest and the last two years we ended up losing so many lives. Unfortunately, it was a situation where no matter what you did, it didn't matter. It was like once they got to the ICU, it was almost a guarantee that they would pass. Especially in the beginning, families weren't allowed in the ICU and they would literally call me on the phone and ask me to be with their mom or their dad or whoever, and to hold their hands so they wouldn't pass alone. There are these images that I'll never forget."
"So I always carry this pocket rosary with me everywhere I go, especially when I work. It's a symbol of the crucifix and Jesus' sacrifice and the hardships and sacrifices we've made for everyone. It also symbolizes for me the hardships that all the patients have gone through and the sacrifices the health care workers have made in taking care of them. Then there's the prayer beads to strengthen our faith. And of course praying for all the sick people. The stethoscope is the main medical device that we use to listen to patient hearts and lungs, so for me it's like I'm a medium listening to their problems, their worries, lending my ear and lending my shoulder to help them."
Clare (and Noodle)
"This photo shoot was such an uplifting, appreciative effort you guys made to support us and recognize our hard work over the many months of this pandemic and and I brought Noodle here because he's always a happy face and brings joy and is uplifting after a hard day. He helps me forget what happened yesterday and always keeps me moving forward boldly."
"When COVID hit and nobody knew what was coming, it was terrifying. And while we were there taking care of our patients, and of course their families, we also worried about our own families. You don't want to go home and make your family member sick, especially when you have a family member that is immunocompromised. I brought hand sanitizer because I used it to protect myself, protect my coworkers, and protect the patients that I was taking care of."
RN, BSN, MSN
"My cereal represents comfort food. It was hard for me to get up in the morning time and do another 8 to 12 hours work. My cereal was like my comfort, my joy and it was something that kept me going. It's something that sustained me for the rest of the day because I never knew if I was gonna have lunch. I don't know during the pandemic because we moved floors and everything had to be moved. There were so many changes going on, but we adapted and at the end of the day we usually got together and talked about the day - how did we manage, how could we make it better, not only for our patients but for us and our families. Going back home at night time, you were so exhausted you just took your clothes off, took a bath and didn't even eat because you were too tired."
"During the last two years of the COVID pandemic, it's been very draining for the nurses personally. I know mentally, physically, sometimes spiritually, and emotionally. I do lean on my God, Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior, but also my family and just knowing that a group of people are praying for us to be safe. Taking care of our patients, we love to see them become healthy enough to go home. It's always a happy, joyous thing and we clap for them, we play music for them when they leave."
"At one point during the pandemic, I wasn't working because I was per diem and I had a lot of guilt over that because I was ready, willing and able to help, but yet they weren't using us. So I prayed a lot and I would go up to point Vicente with my dogs and just meditate and think about all the people, all the patients, how it was affecting everyone. I have a picture of the spot that I would go to and I would just take pictures of the lighthouse and watch the waves."
"When COVID hit, I already had a dog that was my everything and then in the middle of the year she had a stroke, so she's now paralyzed and she can't really walk. So I have to take care of her because she is my everything and she's really been my best friend through like hardest days. Coming home to her, taking care of her, just took my mind off of everything. It just kind of felt like I shouldn't really complain because she's in such a worse state than myself. She's what made everything easier during the pandemic."
BSN, RN, Emergency Dept. Thrive-Charge RN
"I used to cycle a lot, like 4 hours a day I did double classes but now since the pandemic it's not safe to go out, so I had to buy something that I can do at home. I put these shoes right outside the door before I go inside the house, so every day it reminds me that I do need to take that time for me to decompress. It has helped me mentally and physically so that the following day I can be ready again for my patients and for myself."
"The item that I brought today is a picture of my family because they're my strength. They're the reason that I stay as safe as possible, because I want to return home to them."
"During COVID I was very isolated because I couldn't go to church or have meetings, so I had a lot of time just reflecting to myself so I wrote a lot in my diary just thinking about the events of the day and it helped me get through the work and everything."
RN, Emergency Department
"At the beginning of the pandemic, they made us reuse masks and we had to write our names on them, and we put them in paper bags, so not too many fit on my face. And it was difficult to obtain them at times, too. So it was very important for me to keep my mask in a place where I knew I would be safe. Because I know this is what kept us safe and I haven't haven't caught COVID this far, so that's why this mask is important 'cause it fit correctly."
Kim (and Sadie Moon)
"The pandemic for me has contained the worst experiences and the best ones. Aside from the obvious hardships of trying to care for our patients and keep the population safe while going up against the unknowns of this virus, I also experienced the two most joyous occasions of my life at the same time. Being a woman over 40, I was worried that my chances of having a child were decreasing, but I was able to not only get married during the pandemic, but have a beautiful baby, too. And because we were short-staffed and in overdrive at the hospital, I did need to work all the way through my 34th week, which was nerve-racking, to say the least. But we managed to get through it safely."
"My journal and my faith kept me going through the roughest days of the pandemic. Having hope that everything would be better, that tomorrow would be better. Writing all of that was very therapeutic when I was having a hard day. I came home at night and I wrote."
"My family, my kids, they're the reason why I got through COVID. The hardest thing I had to go through I was by myself, I didn't have anybody else around me and to come home healthy and ready to go, for them, each and every day, was the hardest part. They gave me so much courage to keep myself safe, my community safe, and to keep going, to not give up, to be strong for them and to not let them feel that we were in trouble."
Mimi & McCaul
RN, BSN, PHN, Emergency Department
"We're sisters-in-law and we work together, so we understood the challenges each other faced during the pandemic. It was reassuring to have our family so close. The experience was made a little more secure knowing we had each other's back."
- Mimi & McCaul
"Photography has always been a big outlet for me in terms of my self care. I realized during the last two years all of myself care went out the window. Going outdoors, socializing, working out - I would go do those things and always happen to have a camera with me. I wasn't about to go into these communities that are so dear to me, that have two ventilators for the whole county, after treating patients with COVID in the hospital in LA. But I did start using my camera in other ways and it was very emotional going through photos over the past two years and seeing what I took. They were just very different than my usual photography and it was also pretty exciting."
"I brought this pin because it's the closest thing I could bring to actually being given the vaccine. It represents to me that somehow we can finally start to put this behind us, starting off with protecting myself, not passing it to my family and my children at home, or my parents who come and watch my children when I come into work. I'm a clinic nurse but I came back to the ER to help during the original surge in winter and I just think what we saw and witnessed was very traumatic. I don't ever want to see anybody go through that. Being able to be one of the first people to be vaccinated, it was just like a light at the end of the tunnel."
"One of the most important objects for me during COVID was my journal. Writing in a journal is something that I've been doing since I was a younger person and it became really important to me through COVID because there were a lot of unknowns and there was a lot of fear. Writing helped me process through all of that."
"My job was to go around and talk to our nurses who were burned out, because they didn't feel heard at times. That was my sole purpose to go around and talk to all the nurses at this facility, see what their needs were, bring that information back to management and help them. Even something small, like they needed uniforms so we could change out and not have to take our dirty ones home. It was those tiny victories and people actually saying to me, "You know we really appreciate you were there to hear us." So that's why I chose a blanket 'cause it's a comforter. That was how I felt during the pandemic."
PT, DPT, OCS, PCPS
"The first item I brought is a picture of my son who was born three months before COVID, so he had his first year in this pandemic. We were learning how to be parents at the same time we were learning how to you know survive in a pandemic. We needed to make sure he was healthy and he didn't get COVID and it was a lot.
When we got married, my wife and I honeymooned in Thailand. I'm not Buddhist, but I identify with some of the elements of the religion and so we got these little statues while we were there. The stress during the pandemic drove me to focus much more on my mental health, so I dove deep into meditating to keep my brain healthy."
"During the pandemic, I started reading and since then it's been book after book. The experience was very emotional for me so reading was like inspirational guidance on how to be a better person, how to lift my spirits, and I feel now that I'm totally aware of what is important to me, what matters to me. I now know that I mean to live every day with gratitude and I'm just happier and smarter and feel better. I think I've read about like 20 books during the pandemic and I love it! I love reading now and I was never a reader before."
"Pretty much we cannot live without our stethoscopes. That's why I brought it. This is listening to your heart, your lungs, your stomach. This is our tool being a nurse practitioner. When COVID started, I was a nurse in the emergency department. There were just a lot of things going on. It was just chaos at the beginning. This is why the stethoscope is my symbol."
BSN, RN, Emergency Room
"We keep working towards an end to the pandemic, but it's never really going to go away entirely, so we all still have to be safe and take care of ourselves. Anything I can do to help make others feel good makes me feel good."
"This basket represents me trying to keep my family safe during uncertainty because we didn't know a lot about COVID. I just didn't want to bring COVID to my family. We live in a house that has a private courtyard, so since the beginning of the pandemic, I have entered my home through the courtyard. I get undressed and put my clothes in this basket and go straight to the shower. I never thought of our courtyard as a changing station, but that's what it's become now."
RN, BSN, RNC-NIC Baby Catcher
"My hip pack is what I brought today. I love having it because I feel like I'm ready for anything. I have my stuff ready to go if I need to check a heart rate. I have my phone if someone emergency is happening, if somebody has to call me. I have alcohol and band-aids in here in case they're forgotten. It just helps me feel more prepared and more secure and I've kept it with me during the pandemic."
"I brought my mask and it's a two-in-one really, it's a mask and a barrier between me and the patient, but also allows me to take care of the patient and it allows me to interact with my family and friends. It says "Essential" on it, because that's what we all are. Every one of us is essential, so we have to keep ourselves safe and protected. That's what my mask represents."
Christopher, Mariana & Glenn
"To all those who have given so much of themselves in the service of protecting others during this pandemic, we thank you."
- Christopher, Mariana & Glenn