face shield
Dr. Brant Slomovic of the UHN Emergency Department says, "this new uniform of sorts, that traps heat and mutes all conversation, takes a toll emotionally and physically." (Photo: Brant Slomovic)

Uncertainty. Isolation. Upheaval. Fear.

The change to daily life triggered by the coronavirus pandemic is profound.

For frontline healthcare workers, the fallout has been doubly impactful. Caring for and treating patients with COVID-19, while also trying to prevent becoming sick themselves or infecting loved ones.

Words seem inadequate to describe what it feels like to face these challenges every day.

That's why Dr. Brant Slomovic of the UHN Emergency Department (ED) used his photography skills.

"If you view wearing a mask while shopping for groceries as an inconvenience, perhaps consider wearing a mask and shield for an eight-hour shift," Dr. Slomovic says. "This new uniform of sorts, that traps heat and mutes all conversation, takes a toll emotionally and physically.

"The feeling is of working with tunnel vision, looking through a blurred lens while experiencing a nagging pressure around your head analogous to being underwater."

With that muted-blurry-tunnel-vision-underwater feeling in mind, Dr. Slomovic, a published photo-essayist accustomed to projects using high-end film and digital cameras, wrapped his iPhone in a plastic sandwich bag and set out to visually capture what it's like working in the UHN ED during the pandemic.

The result is a powerful photo essay he calls "The New Normal."

phone in sandwich bag  

Staff in the UHN EDs put their mobile phones in a plastic sandwich bag at the start of each shift to minimize potential sources of COVID-19 contamination and make disinfection easier. That’s how Dr. Slomovic shot all photos for this project.

Dr. Slomovic says his workday begins at home "with how I prepare, and what I take with me – essentially nothing." His watch and wedding ring don't go. He makes a protein shake and has it and water over the course of a shift.

Brant in different masks  

Brant in different masks  

The rules around personal protective equipment have evolved from the early stages of the pandemic. Today, Dr. Slomovic protects himself and patients with PPE that includes a scrub top and bottom, gloves, a surgical mask and eye protection of goggles or a full face shield. All of this is a dramatic change from his first decade working at UHN.

Wearing a mask for an entire shift can be incredibly uncomfortable. Small alterations, such as strategically placed buttons and clips shown by UHN ED staff here, help minimize the physical discomfort, headaches, skin breakdown and pressure caused by masks.

Ear and mask solutions  

Hands of nurse  

There is an awareness of space and where your hands are at all times. Repeated use of abrasive sanitizer takes a toll.

Maintaining physical distance from colleagues in a cramped UHN ED is virtually impossible. There are no longer handshakes with patients upon introduction or a simple, gentle touch to build connection and offer reassurance. The physical limitations make compassionate caring all the more challenging.

Feet close together, sign on door  

nurse getting nose swabbed  

Shirley, a registered nurse in the UHN ED, getting a COVID-19 test as part of the weekly surveillance that was required during an outbreak.

Teamwork is vital at all times, particularly during a pandemic. (L) Dr. Shajan Ahmed is a leader of the resuscitation code team. Yuliya Petrenko is a personal protective equipment coach who ensures all staff are wearing and removing their protective gear properly at all times.

two coaches  

The Independence  

Mohammed Haque of UHN Environmental Services cleans rooms in the ED with a heightened level of attention to procedure and detail.

Eva Perater, a patient care assistant, watches over a patient who is suspected COVID-19 positive and also deemed a flight risk.

patient care assistant keeping vigil  

Shoes outside door of house  

Before leaving work, there's a decontamination process that never existed before COVID-19: badges, pens, phones and any personal items are disinfected in an attempt to limit the possible spread of infection. At home, no items from the hospital go through Dr. Slomovic's front door.

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