‘Thank you’ artwork for staff efforts during pandemic

A picture says a thousand words, or in this case, an artwork. The smiling faces behind layers of PPE depict a moment in time when St George Hospital ICU staff were caring for a large wave of COVID-19 patients, sick with the Delta variant of the virus.

But what isn’t said is how this artwork came to be chosen as St George Hospital’s staff appreciation art piece, proudly hanging in the Acute Services Building.

The hospital’s Director of Nursing and Midwifery, Lauren Sturgess, had been planning to create an appreciation wall or monument to recognise the staff who worked tirelessly caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the ever changing environment, Lauren hadn’t settled on a plan.

In a twist of fate, in March 2022, Lauren herself became so unwell with COVID-19 that she became a patient in the ICU, where she met artist, and registered nurse, Jennifer North.

“I stayed in ICU for five days. The first couple of days I couldn’t really talk because I was so sick and machines were helping me breathe,” Lauren said.

“My admission reinforced what I already knew about the staff of St George Hospital - they are so compassionate and caring. It can be an unexpected and confronting experience being on the other side of the fence. But there was one thing I knew for certain, that I was in very good hands,” Lauren said.

“I am very grateful for our skilled staff and now I can say that from a different and more personal perspective, I really was proud of them. Everyone has been through the wringer with COVID and in spite of knowing they are feeling that way, I still got their ‘everything’ with such capable, kind and supportive care,” Lauren said.

Jennifer cared for Lauren towards the end of her stay in ICU, when she was no longer struggling to breathe and could interact more.

“When I was able to talk more, I enjoyed the time I had with the ICU staff and had the chance to talk about some of their experiences throughout the pandemic. That’s when Jennifer and I got chatting about this amazing piece of art that she had drawn.”

Jennifer worked as a graphic designer before embarking on a second career in nursing and still creates beautiful artworks regularly. She describes her drawing as a representation of the teams supporting each other so they could be strong for their patients.

“It’s about everyone working together and having each other’s back, enabling us to offer the best possible care to our patients during an unprecedented time. In the COVID pod of the ICU we all worked as one team; there were doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, orderlies and cleaners and everyone came together as one,” Jennifer said.

“Working in that COVID environment was quite isolating and stressful for all. So knowing you had the full support from an entire team, both physically and emotionally, was comforting. I wanted to acknowledge everyone who worked tirelessly and show my appreciation through capturing the camaraderie I experienced. It’s such a huge honour to have my artwork displayed in the hospital, but it’s not about me, it’s about saying ‘thank you’ to all the staff for their hard work,” Jennifer said.

The artwork was recently unveiled by Tobi Wilson, Chief Executive, SESLHD, and Ange Karooz, General Manager, St George Hospital at a ceremony attended by staff.

Lauren said that while she went through a personal ordeal, the artwork for the hospital is something beautiful that has come out of it.

“This artwork will serve as a timely reminder, now and in years to come, of the teamwork, commitment and camaraderie that got us through one of the most challenging health crises in decades. All our staff should be proud of what they have achieved,” she said.

Lauren Sturgess and Jennifer North stand in front of a pencil drawing of hospital staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.