New exhibition explores stories of nurses during the Covid pandemic

The display aims to lend insight into the struggles faced by health care staff during the pandemic.

A new exhibition is exploring the stories of nurses during the Covid pandemic.

‘Unmasked: Real Stories of Nursing in COVID-19’ at the Royal College of Nursing in Edinburgh examines the real life experiences of nursing staff and the challenges they faced.

Morag worked in an Emergency department as a senior charge nurse when the pandemic hit in 2020. It’s stories like hers that are being shared.

During her first visit to the exhibition, Morag said one poster in particular stood out to her.

She said: “I love the quote about smiling with your eyes – because somebody said that to me once.”

Many of the memories Morag has from the pandemic she finds difficult to confront.

“I spoke to somebody this morning and said ‘I’ve not thought about it.’ I’ve tried very hard not to think about it, I don’t feel comfortable thinking about it,” Morag said.

Morag, a senior charge nurse during the Covid pandemic, said she related to some of the posters featured in the exhibition.

“I looked at some of the exhibition in here and I find it really confronting and quite difficult to deal with.

“But maybe it will give lots of people some time to think about what they did go through, how difficult it was and how incredible it is that we’ve come out the other side of it.”

The exhibition is designed to explore the real life experiences of nurses during the pandemic and the crucial role they played in caring for others.

For many, the memories are difficult to confront.

The exhibition takes a look at past pandemics and the similarities faced then and now.

It also explores the relationship between heath care workers and their patients and the challenges that arose.

Morag said: “You instinctively want to comfort somebody if you’re a nurse and we weren’t allowed to go too close, we weren’t allowed to touch anybody.

“Every time you did do a procedure you had gloves on, masks, visors – it’s not a normal interaction, it’s a very impersonal, sterile interaction – which it had to be – but it must have been so hard for patients and so sad.”

The exhibition also includes Michael Rosen’s patient diaries.

The famous poet and children’s author contracted COVID-19 in March 2020 and was put into an induced coma for 48 days.

The nurses caring for him kept a diary and wrote letters of hope and support.

Michael Rosen’s patient diaries that features in the exhibition.

It also includes theatre production studio, China Plate’s Humans Not Heroes project which began in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visitors will be invited to listen to a series of audio artworks which have been co-created with healthcare workers.

As part of the exhibition programme, China Plate will be running a series of workshops with artist Caroline Horton, inviting RCN members to help create a seventh audio artwork to add to the Humans Not Heroes series and to tell their stories.

Eileen Mckenna, Associate Director for Nursing Policy and Professional Practice at RCN said the exhibition comes as part of a series of exhibitions being held in the RCN library.

She said: “I think it’s important for people to hear the nursing voice and the impact it had in terms of supporting people at a really really difficult time but again the impact that had on their own wellbeing.

“At the beginning of the pandemic I think now, it’s quite unreal to look back and think what was that experience and we all have experiences but I think having no option but to go into what was basically the unknown.”

It’s hoped the exhibition will give nurses a better understanding of what it was like for nurses during this difficult time and ensure their stories will not be forgotten.”

Sian Kiely, Knowledge and Research Manager, RCN Scotland said: “Nursing staff across Scotland’s health and care services supported the country through the COVID-19 pandemic, doing their best in extremely challenging circumstances and often at great personal cost.

“This exhibition is an opportunity to recognise that contribution, to share some of those personal stories and to capture more, so we have a record of the impact on nursing for generations to come.

“We are delighted to be working with China Plate on their Humans Not Heroes project and to be adding voices from Scotland to this important collection.”

The exhibition runs until May 2024.

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