A Story of Nurses

An immersive, audio-driven, essay film that bears witness to the experiences of nurses providing care to Covid19 patients at the beginning of the pandemic 

In May of 2021, I invited nurses who were providing care on the frontlines of the pandemic to share their stories with me. It was a big request, and I knew it. Though the pandemic had been underway for over a year, many had not begun to process all they had experienced.

From May through September, I recorded ten hours of stories from the nurses who agreed to participate. They worked in the ER, ICU, and Covid units of hospitals in a variety of states in the U.S. This film bears witness to the experiences they shared with me.

The voices of the nurses themselves narrate the story. The visuals are intended to support the viewer in listening deeply and engaging with the emotions of the experiences, rather than illustrate them literally with images of hospital rooms, masks, and ventilators that have become all-too-prevalent in our news streams.

I created this project as a service offering for a year-long program I participated in through Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The support of my collegial cohort led by Roshi Joan Halifax was steadfast as I sought to figure out my path into story as an act of bearing witness to suffering.

Through my MFA studies at California Institute of Integral Studies, I had opportunities to workshop the film as it was in progress and benefitted greatly from the insights of my fellow students, artists in an array of different disciplines. Crafting the visuals for the film was my greatest challenge, and I am especially indebted to the visual artists in the group who helped me learn their ways of seeing their art and coached me in applying those principles to mine.

I send my profound gratitude to all who helped me along the way, most especially to the nurses who entrusted their stories to me.

An Invitation to Nurses

A collective storytelling project gathering the experiences of nurses on the frontline of care during the Covid19 pandemic.

Pieces of the Story by Lucy Mathews Heegaard

 

WELCOME

If you are a nurse who has provided care during the Covid19 pandemic, this post is for you. Thank you for considering sharing your story with me. If you think your story is not worthy enough, that someone else has a better perspective to offer, I can assure you that your story matters. Every story is part of the puzzle. I hope to attract a demographically and geographically diverse group of participants who have served in a variety of frontline capacities, from ER to ICU to floor nurses to hospice, to any other front-line patient care roles. I welcome all perspectives.

My purpose is to bear witness to nurses’ experiences through a project that is part documentary, part art. In one-on-one conversations, I will receive whatever you wish to share with me about what you have seen, heard, and felt as you have served patients and their families during the pandemic. Once interviews are complete, I will weave your individual stories, in your own voices and words, into one, collective narrative. The result will be a short film that I hope will open the hearts and minds of viewers to your experiences.

Reading news accounts throughout the pandemic about the harsh realities faced by those of you on the frontline of patient care and hearing stories from friends who are hospital chaplains about your bedside vigils with patients, I have been moved by the challenges endured by nurses on all our behalf and struck by how sheltered I have felt as I have been safely sequestered at home. By pairing your voices and words with images, sounds, and music, I would like to create a record of your experiences that honors the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll of your work and helps those who have not had your first-hand experiences to feel the weight and depth of them more fully than the written word alone can accomplish. I hope the film will underscore the vital role you, as nurses, play in general in the healthcare system, as well as the added weight that has fallen on your shoulders during the pandemic.

To listen to a witness is to become one.

 

⏤Elie Wiesel

My promise to those of you who participate is that I will listen deeply and will treat your story and your time with the utmost respect. Author and physician Rachel Naomi Remen has written that listening with attention⏤and I would add intention, as well⏤offers an opportunity for wholeness and healing. I believe that opportunity extends both ways in a converstion, to the listener and the teller. Through the film I hope to give viewers a sense of becoming your listeners and witnesses themselves.

I will strive to reflect what you share with me accurately and will offer all participants an opportunity to review the film before publication to make sure my use of your words feels true to you. I know that entrusting your story to me is a leap of faith on your part and I do not take that lightly.

Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing…When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness.

 

⏤Rachel Naomi Remen

I am undertaking this service project as part of my participation in a year-long program on Socially Engaged Buddhism through Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I will be working on the film production aspect of it as part of a Master of Fine Arts degree I am pursuing at California Institute of Integral Studies.

PROJECT UPDATE


I have concluded the interview phase of my project and am currently in the process of distilling the narratives from these conversations for my film soundtrack. I am extraordinarily grateful to the nurses who shared their experiences with me and hope to have a draft of the film ready in December 2021, for those of you who participated to review. I anticipate releasing the final film in February 2022.

updated 11.22.21

PHOTOGRAPH | Pieces of the Puzzle ©2018 Lucy Mathews Heegaard.