May 16, 2020 - Health

Art by doctors: a glimpse of the front lines

First panel of Grace Farris' COVID-19 playlist cartoon
The first panel of "The COVID-19 Playlist" comic. Courtesy of Dr. Grace Farris.

Art made by health care workers offers a rare look — through very personal lenses — at how the fight against coronavirus is unfolding in hospitals.

Why it matters: These can be the best glimpses of what happens behind hospital doors because patient privacy issues make it difficult for journalists to capture what is happening on the front lines.

What they're saying: Dr. Grace Farris is a hospitalist at Mount Sinai, and she's also a cartoonist. One of her recent cartoons, which ran on NPR's site, shows how hospitals around New York are using songs like U2's "Beautiful Day" to "sing patients home" when they were discharged.

  • "I have gotten a lot of messages from people saying that they loved this idea that they're playing songs," Dr. Farris tells Axios.
  • Dr. Shirlene Obuobi, a second year internal medicine resident in Chicago and a cartoonist, has been treating patients with coronavirus. She says, "I do have a viewpoint that is different and valuable right now and I want people to see this from a human perspective and not from a statistics perspective."
  • Dr. Sophie Chung is a surgery intern at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. She volunteered to work with COVID-19 patients and following her very first shift, she was moved to illustrate the protective gear she helped her colleague don, which she described as "a hood reminiscent of a medieval knight.”

Between the lines: Tensions between optimism and tragedy, and between dark humor and seriousness, run through many of these comics.

  • "I wanted to remember how it felt to have that [music] alternating with overhead announcements where you realize that someone's about to die," Dr. Farris says.

The bottom line: The images shared by doctors like Dr. Farris, Dr. Obuobi, Dr. Chung, and also Dr. Mike Natter, and Dr. Nathan Gray, help make visible the work they are doing.

  • I've been thinking a lot about how I want to reflect on [these experiences] and I don't want to forget them," Farris says. "So I think of these as mostly for reflection, and for bearing witness."
Cartoon by Grace Farris depicting pandemic fashions
Courtesy of Dr. Grace Farris
Sketch by Grace Farris showing a doctor and patient interacting.
Courtesy of Dr. Grace Farris
A cartoon from Shirlene Obuobi depicting two health care professionals in conversation
Courtesy of Dr. Shirlene Obuobi
A cartoon by Shirlene Obuobi depicting a doctor in conversation with an award figure
Courtesy of Dr. Shirlene Obuobi
A drawing by Sophie Chung showing a medical professional in PPE
Courtesy of Dr. Sophie Chung
Go deeper