COVID Reflections Using Visual Art

Back cover art by Christy Atkinson
After spending a few intense weeks training in a St. Paul ICU over the holidays, I needed to spend some time reflecting on the experience of being within one of the world’s many epicenters of COVID care. I decided to use a visual piece as a reflection tool instead of trying to process my thoughts line by line in an essay. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is invisible in its path of spread, and only when it finds a home in a human body does its wrath become tangible. I felt numb to emotion following my time in the ICU; I wanted to bring myself closer to the experience of treating COVID-19 on the frontlines by writing the words and experiences that lead patients to become sick as the air that moves into their lungs, and words spoken within the hospital by health care providers as the pulmonary structures trying to keep everything together.The circumstances that cause one to contract the coronavirus are as diverse as the people affected. Although the lies and conspiracies I have heard through the pandemic are infuriating and most definitely contributed to viral spread and increased death tolls, I needed to open myself up to the other reasons people become sick, which are often complex and nuanced without a single person to blame. Some Americans have no choice but to go to work, and they may not have the resources or support to protect themselves. Some Americans had no choice but to send their children to school or to a daycare because adding ‘schoolteacher’ to their list of titles was simply not possible. Others became so lonely and depressed over the year that the risk of illness was outweighed by the embrace of family. And some simply became overwhelmingly fatigued in following the rules, perhaps despair and severe economic hardship quietly contributing to their exhaustion.No matter the circumstance, people become sick and come to the ICU for care. I used the words I heard spoken by critical care providers and residents as the bronchi and bronchioles of the lungs. As the lungs became host to the coronavirus, so did our teams become host to our patients.In the end, seeing the greater picture of the rhetoric and circumstance of the pandemic, paired with the reality of caring for sick patients and the eventual death of many, I am in awe. In awe of a terrible thing we are still living.


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