We all know what before-and-after photos are – a quick and simple visual display of rapid change. But while this approach is usually taken to show progress it can just as well be used to showcase a quick and distressing regress.
And, in the midst of a third and disastrous wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S. (1), this is exactly what ICU nurses from across the country have been showing with a recent stream of before-and-after photos on Twitter.
It all started on Sunday, Nov 22 when nurse Kathryn from a Nashville, Tennesse ICU uploaded two photos of herself on Twitter.
The “before” photo was taken very recently – in April 2020. That’s when Kathryn – last name withheld to avoid harassment – graduated from nursing school and joined the battlefield against the pandemic. It’s a wonderful “before” photo, showing a bright and optimistic young woman, looking forward to helping people.
The “after” photo was taken in the Nov 21-22 weekend and it tells a different story – of an exhausted and distraught woman who continues to help people while in a dire need of help herself. She looks tired, emotionally drained, with bags under her eyes, and distinctive face mask marks on her face.
The before-and-after photos were captioned succinctly and amply – “How it started… How it’s going.”
Kathryn later said that she shared the two photos in the hope of showing people just how bad things are in many ICUs across the country.
“It’s exhausting,” she later shared in a telephone interview. “People don’t see it. They don’t. They don’t see what we see. They don’t see the reality of this every day.”
It may be puzzling to some people at first why nurses need to show that ICUs are overworked during a pandemic – it seems quite obvious. And yet, even ten months into the pandemic, there are still dozens of millions of people in the U.S. who think Covid-19 is a hoax (3) and that most hospitals are actually empty.
And that’s exactly why Kathryn shared her photos – to show a glimpse of how hard the situation really is for hospital workers.
“I mean just the physical effects of wearing all that PPE (personal protective equipment) for so long,” she said. “We’re dehydrated all the time because we’re sweating so much and because with the masks on, you can’t drink until you leave the floor or go into the break room to take your mask off and drink.”
And with many experts warning about an even stronger Covid surge during and after the holiday season (5), Kathryn felt like this was the perfect moment to send a message to the people of Tennessee and the U.S.
“There’s still no definitive treatment for this disease and so to see my patients, these people that I provide care for, suffer so intensely and then see other people acting like that’s not happening, or like they couldn’t cause that to happen to someone else, is infuriating,” she said.
Thankfully, Kathryn’s initiative was met not only with positive feedback but with lots of reciprocity from nurses across the country who also shared their before-and-after ICU photos.