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Covid nurse’s photos document life in ICU to show reality of pandemic

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An ICU nurse has documented life on the coronavirus frontline to bridge the ‘growing gap between the public perception and lived realities of healthcare workers’.

Emily Gilhespy, 28, says she believes ‘you can never fully convey what it’s like to be in ICUs at the moment’, as more than 32,000 coronavirus patients are admitted to hospitals across the UK.

But the medic has been photographing her colleagues at a hospital in north-west England for the past 10 months in an attempt to convey the gravity of the pandemic to the public.

Speaking about the moment she decided to start her project in March, Emily said: ‘I saw a growing gap, a divide, between the public perception and lived realities of healthcare workers.

‘How do you explain intensive care anyway to a non-healthcare person, let alone in the context of Covid?

‘This is a moment in history we will consistently look back on… I wanted to find a way I could form almost a window into what we were living.

‘You hear so much in the media about PPE… I wanted to emphasise the fact that there is a person behind that… to unmask them.’

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A healthcare worker helps a colleague put on PPE (Picture: PA)
Emily wanted to convey the gravity of the pandemic in pictures (Picture: PA)
The photography enthusiast started her project 10 months ago (Picture: PA)
She believes ‘you can never fully convey what it’s like to be in ICU at the moment’ (Picture: PA)

Experts claim NHS workers are ‘suffering more than combat troops’, with research finding nearly half of ICU staff are reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression or anxiety.

However, Emily says her favourite picture captures ‘the resilience and positivity that healthcare staff carry with them into their job’.

Asked which of her photos stand out for her, she said: ‘There’s this one image of my friend Tash and she was smiling.

‘That stuck with me purely for the fact that we are potentially working in the most challenging situation, the most pressure we’ve ever been under, but healthcare workers can still smile, can still retain that degree of positivity despite this chaos.

‘It captured that resilience and positivity that healthcare staff carry with them into their job, which they still do despite being exhausted, despite feeling like there is no end to this.’

She added: ‘My photographs can only supply a snapshot, I don’t think you can ever fully convey what it’s like to be in ICU at the moment.

‘We’ve had to expand into different wards, we’ve got makeshift ICUs, our beds are occupied by incredibly sick, young individuals who wouldn’t normally come to intensive care.

‘In many ways, it’s harder now than it was back in March because people are exhausted, people are tired and we’re still having to rally.’

Experts claim NHS workers are ‘suffering more than combat troops’ (Picture: PA)
Emily wanted to ‘unmask’ the workers behind the PPE (Picture: PA)
Her favourite images show healthcare workers’ positivity (Picture: PA)

Despite some initial ‘apprehension’ about having their picture taken at work, Emily says the response to her images has been overwhelmingly positive from colleagues – with staff from other wards even asking to be involved.

She said: ‘They’ve used it to show family members… to bridge that gap of understanding and go, ‘This is what I do, this is what I’m going through.

‘It’s something that they can then have.. that element of having something tangible of this experience.

‘Yes it’s been difficult but it’s something to be proud of in many ways… healthcare staff have been resilient and really stood up to this pandemic.’

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