The Emergency Department team wearing their pride scrub caps. (Photo by Dr. Dawn Lim)
Advocacy for the LGTBQ2S community has always been a priority for Claire Heslop, an Emergency Physician at UHN, which makes Pride Month all the more important. Beyond the celebratory parades, parties and general spirit Pride is known for, it provides a sense of community.
For Claire, this month would usually mean marching in the Pride parade with medical students, residents and staff. In the Emergency Department, there would be decorations, colourful lanyards, and staff members bringing in baked goods to share and celebrate.
COVID-19 restrictions mean that a “normal” celebration was off the table: Pride would be a virtual-only event, and would somehow be celebrated while working on the frontlines of a pandemic, with diversity and self-expression buried under layers of PPE.
“It was becoming a joke in conversations that we needed bright lights or something just to say, ‘We’re here!’” says Claire.
The only place not covered in PPE was the tops of their heads. So, Claire got creative.
She was speaking with her colleague, Jason Dickson – an RN who is also on the LGBTQ2S committee – when she had the idea to make rainbow scrub caps. She pitched it to a group of colleagues, and the next day she received a message from an anonymous donor offering to fund the entire project, regardless of the cost.
The day of that offer was also June 12, the anniversary of the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“[It’s a] really heavy day for the queer community,” says Claire, “…a huge event was a marker of how far we still have to come.”
With the funding covered, the project was officially on the move.
The rainbow fabric used to create the scrub caps. (Photo by Dr. Dawn Lim)
Claire, along with ED physician Alia Dharamsi, sourced the caps and rainbow fabric for the scrub caps that weekend. Alia also suggested offering rainbow-patterned headbands, as an alternative for people who don’t need or want to wear scrub caps. Along with Alia, another full-time staff, nurse practitioner Victoria Woolner, immediately started sewing the rainbow pattern along the brow of the caps in between shifts. Claire also reached to her social network and members in the queer community for volunteers.
“We’re hoping that this brings folks, not just our patients but it also brings our team members an opportunity to connect and celebrate and even just add some whimsy and joy.”
After three months of exhausting shifts during COVID-19, it’s something anyone could use – especially members of the queer community.
“It’s hard to isolate and it’s especially hard if you’re already in an isolated group.”
The hardships that minorities such as LGTBQ2S groups are susceptible to during a pandemic has made this project that much more important for Claire and her colleagues. For many, especially students, the feeling of invisibility, especially when it’s coupled with financial challenges and being forced to move back into the family home, has brought back the trauma of “being back in the closet.” Additionally, with the social surveillance of distance, nontraditional couple groups have been scared to meet up in public spaces for fear of being fined for breaking social distancing rules.
In a medical emergency, having an easily identifiable ally with your healthcare provider is something that can provide immense comfort. Claire recently had a trans patient with abdominal pain, a very challenging space for trans. Identifiable objects like the rainbow cap can provide patients with the comfort of knowing they have a community member with them. When added on top of the equality and diversity training that UHN offers staff – it signals that this is a space for a compassionate patient experience.
So far, the project has been a huge success, something that wasn’t a surprise to Claire because of the existing sense of acceptance within UHN and the ED team as a whole. The initial prototypes Claire brought into work were snatched out of her hands from members across all departments, from nurses to porters.
“This [Emergency Department] is a family where people feel comfortable being out and comfortable being themselves and diversity is very much supported. So we didn’t want to lose that with the PPE layers and with the stress of the pandemic.”
Thanks to the efforts of a generous donor and all the volunteers, a little bit of joy has been brought back to the ED at UHN – something that, during these trying times, will last long beyond the end of the month.