My COVID-19 Story: Adelene Egan

An Emergency Department nurse captures the faces of the frontlines through photography and storytelling.

During her breaks in the Emergency Department of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, nurse Adelene Egan walks the halls with her camera. She speaks with nurses, doctors, physician assistants, and medical staff about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, then snaps a photo of them. The photos — shot in black and white and called “Faces of the Frontlines” — capture her colleagues who, every day, risk their lives to save the lives of others.

“I think these photos will serve as a place to reflect and remember all of these beautiful and heartbreaking experiences that we’re having every day,” Egan says. She shares the photos on her website and Instagram; it’s a chance for the public, as well as families and friends who have loved ones working in the hospital, to witness New York City’s healthcare workers fighting the virus together. Here, she shares why she started “Faces of the Frontlines” and its importance to her.

I started ‘Faces of the Frontlines’ as a side project with the goal of uplifting my co-workers through photography and storytelling. In a way, it’s helped me process my own experience. Being a nurse during this unprecedented time has been humbling, heartbreaking, and beautiful in surprising ways. You really start to realize that the most important thing is just people. To be with them, to savor them, and to love them, especially when life feels super big and scary. Isolation has a way of telling us that of all things, we need each other the most.

Through this project, I’ve been able to connect with my co-workers on a deeper level about their reflections as they navigate this whole pandemic experience. Despite their own fears and their own health, they’re still completely prepared to give everything that they can for their patients and support their co-workers as best they can. I admire their bravery.

This pandemic has demanded the best of myself and my co-workers, to show up despite sometimes feeling uncertain and afraid for our own health, despite knowing that we need to distance from our families to avoid putting them at risk. It has demanded that we are more resourceful than ever. It has asked us to stand in for our patients’ families, who can’t be with them. It’s humbling to look at my role as a nurse in that way, to see my relationship with my patients as being more of a family member and a stand-in support person.

Working as a nurse during this time has made me prouder than ever to be part of the nursing profession and to be part of NewYork-Presbyterian. I have never felt more connected to my co-workers — we’re all leaning on each other — or felt a stronger connection to my patients and our community. It’s overwhelming, the amount of love and support that we have received from family, friends, and the community. That’s what keeps me showing up — knowing that I get to be with a family of co-workers and that I have the community’s love and support.