First published in the May 7 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
A stethoscope. Some rosemary. A dog named Noodle.
These were some of the things that dozens of health care workers brought to their photo shoots with Mariana Tosca, a Burbank producer and photographer. And they are some of the things that feature in an online exhibit highlighting health care workers and how the coronavirus pandemic impacted them.
The “COVID Courageous” online exhibit, which Tosca hosts on her Blue Jasper Productions and Tosca Photography website at covidcourageous.org, opened Friday, the beginning of National Nurses Week.
After watching many of her friends in the medical field endure several grueling coronavirus surges while others in the community appeared to dismiss their severity, Tosca said in an interview, she felt inspired to spotlight them.
In March, she spent a day in a parking structure taking high-quality photos of health care workers with objects — or even people and animals — that reflected their pandemic experience, interviewing them about their choice of item.
“My intention and goal was, first of all, to make them feel like they were on the cover of Vanity Fair, like they were superstars,” Tosca said.
One of those health care workers was registered nurse Pooneh Salehi, who brought a “Vaccinated Against COVID-19” pin to the photo shoot. Salehi said in an interview with Tosca that receiving the shot felt like seeing a “light at the end of the tunnel” after working in an emergency room for three months to help combat a winter pandemic surge.
“Those three [months] were very traumatic, and I don’t ever want to see anybody go through that,” Salehi said in the recorded interview, clips from which were provided to the Leader.
“I’m so thankful to be a part of this,” she added. “It makes me feel like these last two years as nurses, we’ve been seen, so it’s a great opportunity to have our pictures taken.”
In statements posted about the exhibit, several of the workers said caring for patients during pandemic peaks was a terrifying and often draining experience.
Registered nurse Cheryl Thompson brought a box of tissues to her photo session, explaining that being in the intensive care unit felt like “working in a funeral home.” She helped facilitate phone calls between patients and their family members, she said, and held the hands of those who were dying to ensure they wouldn’t be alone in their final moments.
“We all learned … valuable lessons,” Thompson said in a recorded interview, “you know, to really hold on to what’s important, to your family and to your friends and to show them you love them. Because you may not [be able to] show them the next day, you may not be able to say anything because now you’ve been intubated.”
Tosca said she plans to expand the project to include other front-line workers, particularly those at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and the Burbank Fire Department. She produced COVID Courageous with her friends and producers Christopher Johnson and Glenn Rossney.
“I wanted [the workers] to feel very special,” Tosca said, “and I think we accomplished that.”