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When I photographed people in Covid-19 intensive care units earlier this year, I was protected by four plastic sets: glasses, safety glasses, face shield and viewfinder. But there is no protection for the pain that you take.
I recently took pictures for a Times article about Covid treatment as a last resort called ECMO that documented coronavirus patients and the health professionals who care for them at the Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, California. The families have allowed me to share the darkest moments of their lives.
I felt privileged to be let into these sacred spaces. As a journalist, I see it as my responsibility to have the emotional bandwidth to be with people in moments that most of society cannot deal with. Despite safety guidelines that discouraged long periods of time in the intensive care unit, I would spend hours with each patient and linger for extended periods of time to get a feel for the person and bring out an emotional spectrum of moments.
The verbal interaction helps me connect with those I photograph. During this task, some people were either awake or unable to speak, and the strongest connection was often silent.
I stood next to Alfred Sablan’s bed, 25, imagining the sound of his voice and trying to feel the gentle way his mother had described. I leaned over Dr. David Gutierrez, 62, a doctor who had become a patient himself, and reminded him of who I was. He looked back, unable to answer with words, but I felt our connection through classic rock playing on his iPad.
From time to time a member of staff would come in to look for Mr. Sablan or Dr. See Gutierrez. “Are you all right?” asked a nurse when she opened the door from Dr. Gutierrez’s room opened. He nodded “yes”.
In the midst of all the pain, there were memories of grace.