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Two Nurses Use Art to Heal Their Way Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Nurses across the country are being pushed to the breaking point as the number of new infections and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continue to rise. Coping with the stress and anxiety of working during the pandemic can be a struggle, but two frontline workers are using the power of poetry and song to lift their spirits.

Tad Morcew in Southern California

As an ER trauma nurse in southern California, Tad Morcew has seen his fair share of pain and suffering during the pandemic. Hospitals throughout the area are quickly running out of ICU capacity, with some having to ration precious oxygen and care to prevent a deadly shortage.

As he told CBS News, “Every shift I walk into in the hospital, you’re gonna be confronted by something that you’re not fully prepared for. You’re never fully prepared for someone to lose their life in front of you on your next shift. And they impact you.”

That’s why he started using his singing and songwriting skills to channel his emotions during the ongoing crisis. As one of his songs goes, “I’ve seen hope from the depths of despair.” He regularly picks up his guitar to express himself after a long day of taking care of people in the ER.

Writing Poetry in Minnesota

Thousands of miles away, hospice nurse Erin Pommeranz is going through a similar situation. She often spends her days watching her patients pass away due to COVID-19 complications. Working at Allina Health in Eden Prairie, which is just outside of Minneapolis, MN, she’s been channeling her experiences on the front line into the magic of poetry.

Her poem “COVID-19” has brought hope and faith to those suffering from the virus. The facility even decided to turn it into a video to help spread the message.

“Gown, mask, goggles, gloves. I enter your mother’s room, the room where she will take her last breath,” reads an excerpt from the poem.

“This poem was based on my first COVID patient. And saying goodbye to the family over the phone was really impactful for me. So, I just needed a way to get it out,” said Pommeranz.

Hennepin County, which is home to Eden Prairie, currently has nearly 89,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 1,417 deaths. That may not sound like a lot compared to other counties, but rural areas often lack the resources and staff necessary to fend off large outbreaks.

The poem continues with, “It’s not fair, you say through tears. I agree, my tears and breath clouding the goggles. A stranger with purple gloves on holds your mother’s hands in her final moments, not her son of 63 years.”

For her, it’s about honoring those that have lost their lives to the virus. “The most sacred part of my job is to be at the bedside of an actively dying person and to be surrounded by family. And that is a great part of that grief process. And it’s a type of therapy that is no longer happening,” she added.

Creating art has also been a way for these providers to remember and capture their experiences on the front line. Future generations can look back on a poem or song to learn more about what it was like to live through the pandemic.

“I have two little boys. And I hope they can look back or, you know, my grandchildren look back and say, my mom or my grandma was working during this pandemic. And she did a great job. And the health care workers did a great job,” Pommeranz said.

Visit her YouTube channel to hear more of her poems read aloud.

The Power of Art

Making art and being creative can help you cope with the current public health crisis. Depression and chronic stress can contribute to negative health outcomes, including poor cardiovascular health.

According to the National Institute of Health, “Engagement with creative activities has the potential to contribute toward reducing stress and depression and can serve as a vehicle for alleviating the burden of chronic disease.”

In the piece “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature”, the NIH notes that, “Throughout recorded history, people have used pictures, stories, dances, and chants as healing rituals.”

Based on research, music remains the “most accessible and most researched medium of art and healing.” Music therapy has been shown to decrease anxiety and restore emotional balance, while audio stimulation can help us better control and respond to pain.

The NIH also notes that visual art can help people express experiences and emotions that are too difficult to put into words, such as the loss of a loved one or getting diagnosed with a deadly disease.

Evidence also shows that art and music can reduce hospital stays, leading to earlier discharges among patients that take part in these activities.

Consider getting in touch with your creative side to help ease the anxiety and stress of working through the pandemic.

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