Tribute to a Toronto SARS Nurse Counter
I Promise Poster
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Timeline of a SARS Crisis
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ACCOLADES
ICN Pledge
Photo of a framed poster
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We Torontonians try very hard to make our city a world class city. We built the highest free standing tower in the world. We built a domed stadium with a retractable roof and we put together a major league baseball team which won the World Series, …twice! When will we ever achieve the feeling of living in a world class city like London, Paris or New York? Maybe if we host the Summer Olympics.

In the spring of 2003, the SARS virus quietly arrived, unannounced, in Toronto from Hong Kong. The virus took advantage of our multiculturalism. Toronto had never heard of SARS when it arrived. The virus took advantage of that too. First, a mother who had recently returned from Hong Kong died and then 5 days later, her son died. Toronto newspapers began to report about voluntary quarantines. Newspapers worldwide began to talk about Toronto. The reports began to displace the events in Iraq from the headlines. With each update the news sounded more serious. When the World Health Organization announced a travel ban for all but essential travel, it seemed that Toronto's fate was sealed. It became one of the least desirable places in the world to travel to. The newspapers began to report daily counts of total probable SARS cases, the new infections and the numbers in quarantine.

I remember when the newspapers counted the daily progress of the building of the CN tower. I remember when the newspapers counted each win towards the World Series. But in 2003, they counted the rising death toll caused by SARS.

I know a great many nurses. Nurses who worked at administrative positions said the situation was serious. Nurses who worked in the regulatory bodies said the situation was very serious. Nurses who worked in the community and in the city hospitals said it was extremely serious. They were wearing multiple masks, multiple gowns and multiple gloves. They said that the masks were not good enough. They said that some nurses were infected by the virus. Exhausted nurses taking care of sick nurses. Nurses on life support. When was it going to stop? I imagined a nurse cradling a sick nurse who was cradling a very sick nurse who was cradling ….and on and on.

The news reported updates to the death toll and thousands were now quarantined with a new outbreak in Toronto. The streets of Chinatown were quiet. I went there to lend support and saw just a few kids walking along Dundas. One was wearing a New York Fire Department sweatshirt. I remembered the firefighters in New York. There were firefighters saving firefighters. So why are they different than our nurses?

- Exhausted New York firefighters were profiled with their sooty faces. Their faces showed their character. Exhausted nurses wearing multiple masks don't have visible faces.

- Photographers surrounded the exhausted firefighters. Photographers could not go into SARS units. Hospitals had closed their doors to all visitors including photographers.

- Citizens of New York offered free lunches to the overworked firefighters. Overworked nurses could not leave their SARS units for a lunch break without risking the spread of infection to the citizens of Toronto.

- Firefighters paused to take a drink of water. Nurses working in SARS units could not pause for a sip of water without removing their masks and possibly becoming infected.

- Firefighters took soot home with them and their families helped them wash all traces of it away. Nurses took the virus home and could not hug them for fear of infecting them. Some did infect their loved ones and their loved ones died.

- Firefighter's families were celebrated by their community. Nurse's families were quarantined and shunned.

- Firefighters were heroes. Nurses were nurses.

I wanted to see a nurse's face. I wanted to see an image of their strength. I wanted to honour their profession. I wanted to give tribute to our heroes. I wanted to thank them and so I decided to draw a portrait representing the nurses I know.

Firstly, it would be a portrait that shows the strength of a hospital nurse behind a mask. Despite the formidable protection of gloves, gown and mask, there is focused professional concern in her eyes and compassion in her touch. Secondly, it would be a portrait of nurses caring for the community. A community that is alive despite the darkness around it. Thirdly, it would be a portrait that recognizes the valuable contribution of the teaching nurses and professional nursing bodies by printing in the background part of the pledge of the International Council of Nurses representing the goals of the nurses around the world. Fourthly, these elements, namely the hospital nurse, the community, and the professional values would be unified in a single composition as recognition of the nurses working in administration whose job is to manage these three elements so that healthcare is delivered in a professional manner.

After completing my portrait of heroes, my nursing friends insist that I share it with others. I insist that it remain simply a tribute to our heroes without the distraction of including an advertising logo for some organization. So far I have sent a copy to all of Toronto's hospitals, nursing schools, Public Health Offices and have invited each of them to display this tribute. With some limited sales, I am able to provide wider distribution to some nurses who worked with SARS patients and fund a portion of a nursing scholarship. For me, I am pleased that there is now a portrait of Toronto's heroes who made me realize that I already live in a world class city!

The "I Promise" poster was designed following the SARS crisis in Toronto as a tribute to the nurses who valiantly saved the City from the spread of this virus.

This 15" by 20" poster is available for purchase by sending $35.00 (includes taxes, shipping and handling) to the artist, Don Mayne, 49 Gloucester Street, Toronto, Ontario, M4Y 1L8. 

Further information can be obtained by email to donmayne@gmail.com