By Lauren Schiffman, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Adelene Egan, a graduate of Westborough High School, class of 2014, has always loved photography and has spent the last several years honing her skills. Her career aspirations to study nursing came to fruition as a college senior, when she worked at Mass. General Hospital.
Today, Egan is a third-year, post-residency nurse at Manhattan’s New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center – her first without a mentor – and she knew this would be “an interesting year to have the experience of riding solo” when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Egan said that although her hospital was prepared to care for its patients safely – through new PPE and new protocols for isolating patients – some of her coworkers began to fall ill.
“There was a really fast progression of things getting real. I could just see that this was going to be an historical time,” she said.
Documenting the work of frontline workers
However, in the back of her mind, she had a breaktime project brewing.
“As an ER nurse, you see these human moments,” she said.
Personal turmoil took a toll on frontline workers; they were torn between going to work to care for sick patients and staying home to protect themselves and their own families. The hospital began to offer its employees alternative living arrangements so they could remain a safe distance from their families.
“This is such a pinnacle time where people are personally affected but show up for their patients,” Egan said.
That “little breaktime project” became a “super-special” project, said Egan, about the recently published “COVID-19: Inside the Global Epicenter: Personal Accounts from NYC Frontline Healthcare Providers.”
It came about when Egan approached her manager to ask permission to photograph her colleagues. She knew that patient privacy was imperative, so she figured out an alternative way to mesh her hobby and her career.
“I wanted to capture my co-workers to honor them and recognize them for the sacrifices they’re making.”
New book features personal stories and photos
The 300-plus-page book, which can be purchased on Amazon, features photographs by Egan and blurbs by and about her subjects. Egan said that some of the writeups are simple, and some are “super in-depth,” including the following from Dr. Lindsey Kurumada, Emergency Room attending physician:
“There is something absolutely beautiful about working during a pandemic: a true emergency, an event of great need with epic consequences. It is the greatest honor to have the training and education to serve in this capacity. There is a phenomenal teamwork atmosphere among all emergency department staff and consultants. We’re tirelessly researching and collaborating with peers to try to understand a new and dynamic disease in order to save our city. There is a stronger connection to our patients: I see the fear in their eyes, and it’s the same fear I see when I look in the mirror.”
Dr. Krutika Raulkar, a fourth-year resident, provided the copy about the history of pandemics, the science behind COVID-19 and more. Egan’s photos showcase the images of frontline workers.
The book is a “cool testimony to capture the timeline of how things unrolled in Manhattan… from the first patient to how things unfolded,” Egan reflects.
The personal side of professional relationships
A surprising find during the course of the project’s work was experiencing the personal side of her professional relationships.
“I’ve worked for two years with these people and knew them mostly on a professional level,” Egan said. “I was amazed by their reflections. People were so willing to share their uncertainty. It was surprising and beautiful to see a lot of humility,” she added about the people who were (and still are) on the front lines: “They were scared but trying their best,” especially in the absence of family.
“A lot of us weren’t going home. We were stand-in family for each other as coworkers” and for patients whose own family members were not allowed to visit them.
Photos/courtesy Adelene Egan