Professor Ali Tayyeb

Part Two of a two-part series

Concerned with the deaths and growing risk on healthcare workers during this pandemic, Woodland Hills artist, veteran, and CSULA nursing professor Ali Tayyeb is pushing his artwork forward to raise awareness for those on the frontlines each day.     

With the creation of multiple art installations, the Healthcare Professionals Memorial Art Project #HCPMA Tayyeb has started  continues to grow. Each installation is unique, yet all carry the stories and objects of healthcare workers.  

Some objects represent a painful reality — there are thousands of nurses who are dying worldwide and an untold number at risk each day. Healthcare workers caring for patients find themselves  testing positive. In this artwork is the experiences of those who work in hospitals and facilities  currently overwhelmed by the stress and toll of COVID-19.

Tayyeb reached out through social media to nurses and other healthcare workers to contribute items to the artwork. Among the items he received are much cherished stethoscopes. 

“Some of the stethoscopes are from brand new nurses, and some of them are more than 30 years old. Some of them are the first stethoscopes that those nurses had,” Tayyeb described.  

“Some of them are a tribute. Some of them are a reminder of where we are now. Some of them are in memory of other healthcare workers that we’ve lost. It was like the one symbol that represented healthcare that I thought would be important to include, and there are personal stories attached to all of them,” he said. 

On his website, Tayyeb has taken photos of the donated instruments with the stories of those who’ve donated them. Each story is different and conveys purpose. 

Among them was Marita Landreth, RN, who donated her stethoscope along with a handwritten note that read: 

“I used this stethoscope to listen to hearts & lungs and sometimes to confirm their absence. I used it to take blood pressures & elicit deep tendon reflexes. It was used for many shifts & lay in disuse for a few years. It has touched literally thousands of people. Just like I have. Just like you have. Just like the nurses who lost their lives to COVID.” 

Dr. Anna Valdez donated the stethoscope that was given to her by her friends when she was a young Emergency Department nurse and shared why her donation was a cherished item. 

“I was very poor in nursing school and could not afford a good one. They pitched in and bought me a Littman. I remember feeling better about myself when I put it around my neck like my worth increased that day. I have worn this stethoscope for 25 years in EDs, trauma rooms, ambulances, ICUs, and helicopters. It has touched thousands of patients. It never failed me. My favorite memory though is when someone else wore it.

When I was still a nursing dean I had a student sent to my office for being “unsafe and unprofessional. He was sent home from clinical because he showed up “unprepared” without  a stethoscope for the second time. His teacher said he was unprofessional and at risk of failing. They told him if it happened again he was done. This young man was in preceptorship with 3 weeks left in nursing school. When he came in my office he was shaking and clearly afraid. I sat down with him and gently asked him why he kept coming to clinical without his stethoscope. He began to cry and said someone had stolen his stethoscope and he was sharing with a friend. 

Now that they were in preceptorship he could only use it when his friend was off. He took some coins out of his pocket and said this is all I have. I cannot buy a new one. Now with tears in my eyes too, I reached in my drawer and handed him my stethoscope. I told him to take good care of it and bring it back to me at graduation. I hugged him and told him it would be okay. A few weeks later that young father graduated. He showed up with my stethoscope in his hand. I traded it with him for a brand new Littman. I can afford one now. We both cried and he went on to become a nurse with a shot at a different life — much like I did.”

Dr. Valdez pointed out that the medical field needs to have compassion from all sides. 

“I hope he and his family are thriving and safe. I hope he is being protected by his employer right now. I will miss this worn stethoscope. And it is because it holds so many important memories that I chose to donate it. This is the least I can do for our colleagues who have lost their lives to COVID-19.” 

Meanwhile, Tayyeb continues to gather items that are now forming into his meaningful art and is considering locations to install them for display. 

While exhibiting the artwork in hospitals seems like a likely spot, he wonders whether some of the critical headlines including the lack of protections and adequate PPE for nurses would deter its display. Tayyeb would like the installations to be shown in places where they could be widely viewed.

With a worldwide pandemic, he hopes that the purposeful artwork can be exhibited internationally. 

It is particularly disturbing for Tayyeb, and others who know what it’s like to be on the frontlines, to see how casually too many people are still treating  this virus.

“We are not seeing the community be as vigilant as they could be. We’re seeing people still gathering, we’re seeing people still going to each other’s houses,” he said.  “They’re taking unnecessary risks and they’re being infected, they’re taking vacations to other countries and they’re bringing infections from other countries to the US.”

The artwork delivers the message that very serious issues continue that are contributing to the loss of life and putting healthcare workers at risk.   

“We should not be dealing with a PPE shortage anymore. We are almost a year into this and we’re still seeing healthcare workers having to put their PPE in a ziplock bag and having to save it for days,” Tayyeb said.  “Since early into the pandemic we heard the stories of shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), lack of life saving equipment, and shortage of qualified personnel.” 

Nurses have described conditions that they’ve never encountered before, where there aren’t enough rooms for patients and many who test positive are sent home to fare for themselves and because of lack of space are not admitted.

The nurses’ patient caseloads have increased, and because there aren’t enough nurses, less experienced nurses are put into situations they are unprepared to handle, which can put both the patient and nurse at risk.

Many of those issues are expressed through the news headlines affixed to the artwork for this project.

“We are seeing nurses working additional shifts, they’re doing more than the normal 3-4 days a week. They’re getting paid for that however it’s putting the nurse at risk, it’s putting the patient at risk,” Tayyeb said.

“There’s just not enough nursing there to take care of the patient,” said Tayyeb, who noted the disconnect between health care workers and those making decisions. “I think what everybody is protesting is a lack of empathy from an administrative perspective.”

Nurses’ unions have recently held demonstrations about these issues.“There seems to be not a lot of transparency for how these decisions are being made, what the oversight looks like, who is really in charge,” Tayyeb said.   

Problems have persisted, including more recent ones that include the lack and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Why isn’t the public health sector, right off the bat, being put at the head of the table and being allowed to do what they do best, which is deal with infectious disease?” asks Tayyeb.

“Instead, it’s turned into a political thing. It has people who are not qualified sitting at the head of the table, making decisions, and not really listening to the qualified individuals. Some institutions, some government level committees don’t have the qualified people at the table to help them make their decisions.”

“I think what surprised everyone when the pandemic happened was how unprepared everyone really was,” he continued. “Because even though we do emergency planning, we do emergency planning like ‘something’s going to happen to Southern California, something is going to happen to Los Angeles, to one or two hospitals.’

“The preparation has never been ‘Something is going to happen to the world and we have to respond to it.’ So when the supply drain comes from every sector of the world, nobody was prepared for that,” Tayyeb explained. 

“We must recognize thousands of healthcare professionals and healthcare professions and workers who have lost and are continuing to lose their lives during the COVID19 pandemic while trying to aid others in their fight and recovery,” he said.

“They aren’t disposable commodities. I recognize the importance of remembering those that have not only died but are fighting for the health of our nations.” 

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to assist in completing this project.  For more information go to: https://www.gofundme.com/f/honoring-healthcare-proessionals-memorial-art?utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link-tip

For more information on the Healthcare Professionals  Memorial Art Project #HCPMA go to: https://www.alirtayyeb.com/

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