“A CITY NURSE: Healing in the I.C.U. during COVID-19.”

Cady Chaplin is an intensive-care nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital. She just turned thirty. Her closest friend at work is Karen Cunningham, who is twenty years older and made a mid-career turn from photography to nursing. When they met, five years ago, Chaplin and Cunningham hit it off immediately. They live in the same neighborhood—South Park Slope, in Brooklyn—and often take the subway together to the hospital, which is on East Seventy-seventh Street, in Manhattan. Along the way, the two I.C.U. nurses talk about everything from the latest Tilda Swinton movie to the intricate and dangerous procedure of intubation.

A doctor holds a patient’s hand. Because visitors aren’t allowed in the I.C.U., such forms of “therapeutic touch” are among the only contact patients receive.

A team of intensive-care nurses gather for their morning briefing.

These days, the days of COVID-19, Chaplin and Cunningham inhabit a twilight world that is celebrated by their fellow New Yorkers but only faintly seen. Cunningham, an admirer of the “Country Doctor” photographs that W. Eugene Smith took for Life, in 1948, wanted to document what was going on in the intensive-care units and got permission from the hospital to bring her camera to work. She photographed her friend over two long shifts in mid-April…

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Unable to drink while wearing P.P.E., Chaplin takes a water break.

Chaplin claps during the seven-o’clock tribute to health-care professionals and other workers. “I think it’s cathartic for people to let it all out for two minutes,” she says.

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Photographs by Karen Cunningham

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