Photo by J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA 

ALI R. TAYYEB Ph.D. professor of Nursing at Cal State LA with an Art project he created in honor of Covid-19 first responder victims

Part One of a Two-Part Story

Nursing Professor Ali Tayyeb plans on completing as many as ten art installations that accurately convey  today’s very serious plight of nurses and health care workers.

The Woodland Hills resident, and assistant professor at the Patricia A. Chin School of Nursing at Cal State LA, doesn’t consider himself an “artist.” He instead describes himself  as “more of an art hobbyist.”  

His work, however, says otherwise: created in his home-garage-turned-art-studio is of a health care worker moving forward.  

It stands tall with the strength of a warrior but is constructed with the fragility of papier maché, made from newsprint on top of wood and PVC pipe that perhaps — consciously or unconsciously — mimics the relationship of the human body covered by a thin shell of skin layered on top of bones.

He gathered the news headlines from articles worldwide, written about the dire conditions that nurses and front line health care workers now find themselves in. He adhered those words onto the human formed structure — like hard-pressed tattoos that deliver the painful news and stories he understands too well — the conditions that moved him to create it.  

“This came from a need to visually get the message out and record what is happening to nurses and healthcare workers with this pandemic and in the world of healthcare,” Tayyeb said. “I want this to be displayed wherever the message can be shared.” 

The affixed headlines read: “American Nurses Association says masks and PPE being reused.” “As they rush to save lives, health care workers are updating their own wills and funeral plans.” “Nurse suicides rise in Europe amid stress of COVID-19 pandemic.”“Nurses left vulnerable to COVID-19: ‘We’re not martyrs sacrificing our lives.’”

Tayyeb, who has worked as a health care professional for all of his adult life, feels the pain of the nurses he has trained for many years and understands the situation through his own professional experience.  

“Nurses are told, ‘you signed up for this,’ but nurses didn’t sign up to go unprotected without proper PPE into an infectious room and put themselves and their families at risk,” he explains.   

Tayyeb is a nurse, a veteran, educator and artist. He’s worked in the healthcare field since age 19, first in the Navy and also in the Marine Corps.

He makes a comparison to being in combat. “You don’t go into the battlefield without  being prepared — you go in with guns and weapons,” he said.  

Nurses under extreme stress from working into overtime shifts are comforting patients who are  facing this life-threatening virus alone because hospital rules dictate that because of the risk of the virus spreading, no one but those in need of care and hospital staff are allowed into hospitals.

Patients can’t have their loved ones at their side, so nurses hold up phones for them so that they can call their families. Too many times they have the very difficult job of making the calls for final goodbyes. 

Nurses who went into the profession to provide health care now find themselves putting their own lives and the lives of their families at risk by working in a profession that is no longer safe.

“We started seeing health care workers getting infected and dying,” Tayyeb said. “Those dying from COVID-19 included nurses, health care workers, paramedics and hospital staff all working on the frontlines.” 

Nurses never reused PPE before and especially during the beginning of this pandemic. But there has been a shortage of PPE and nurses found it necessary to reuse protective equipment, he said.

“When there wasn’t PPE available, there were hospitals in Southern California who were writing up nurses for wearing their own personal protection equipment to work,” Tayyeb said. 

“Hospitals don’t operate at this scale — at capacity and 24/7,” the professor explained. “They were never prepared for this kind of surge.  I think what surprised everyone was how unprepared everyone was.” 

While hospitals have received “emergency planning,” the kinds of emergencies expected prior to this pandemic were generally considered to be from natural disasters, which in Southern California included earthquakes.  

“From a staffing perspective, they never prepared for this kind of surge,” Tayyeb said. “They also don’t supply for this kind of demand from a financial perspective.

“There were gag orders that were placed on health care workers by hospital administrations. We still see administrative things that happen that make no sense at this time,” he said.    

With visitors not allowed into hospitals because of the threat of being exposed to the virus, there was no public view of the conditions inside hospitals and nursing homes. But news still leaked of the lack of resources and available beds as patients were placed in conference rooms, gift shops — even on loading docks.  

Tayyeb is expressing these very serious conditions in this project in progress. 

“I’m working on another piece related to social media and how health care workers are sharing information through social media to help each other and support each other,” he said. “They are communicating with each other about how bad it’s been, and sharing their concern about how people should be wearing masks.”

Tayyeb has reached out through social media to other health care workers who want to contribute to his art installations so that health care workers “could be even more present.” 

He also has donated items from nurses around the country.

“Some [items] are a reminder of what is going on right now and some are in memory of other health care workers that we’ve lost that includes some of the personal stories,” Tayyeb said.  

“As a symbol of what we are going through I have covered the items with plexiglass not only to protect the donated item, but because we live in a plexiglass world right now.” 

In Part 2 of this story next week, Ali Tayyeb shares more of the stories and concerns of health care workers and his plans for his art installations to get the message out about the burdens and risks placed on health care workers during this pandemic.

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