Perseverance

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Today was a rather sobering day, it was one of those days when you gain an acute realization as to just how fortunate you are, by witnessing the suffering of others. I started the day by photographing the x-ray conference, a meeting of doctors and nurses in the morning before they do rounds. This morning one of the medical staff displayed a series of x-rays and everyone discussed the patient’s disease and what course of treatment might be appropriate to bring this person back to health as quickly as possible.

The air-conditioning in the conference room wasn’t working again today and it was stiflingly hot. We had to close the door because of the noise in the hallway, this just added to the staleness and the heat, but no one seemed to complain. We were all sweating profusely but just down the hall people had real problems, like TB, Aids, Cholera…so no one seemed to pay attention to how uncomfortable it was. As I photographed the meeting my mind simultaneously calculated exposure compensation values in order to get the shot of the x-ray while at the same time I thought about the commitment and determination of the professionals that I was photographing.

Everyone in the conference room including Haitians and ex-pats could  probably choose to practice medicine just about anywhere they wanted to, but for some reason they’ve decided to come to Deschapelles to work at hospital Albert Schweitzer. It certainly wasn’t for glamour, creature comforts, or notoriety. They are here to practice medicine in a place where people desperately need it. They do it in the spirit of Larry Mellon and his wife Gwen, who in the 1950s built this hospital in the most unlikely of places, to help the poorest of the poor.

I continued photographing but started to recall a dinner I had one time  her in Deschapelles with Ian Rawson,  the director of the hospital and a contingent of world health organization professionals, including researchers, brilliant physicians, and philanthropists. I remember sitting at dinner that evening wondering if the Haitians who lived around the hospital had any idea of the brain power in that room and how it was all collectively being brought to bear upon their problems and how they might be solved.

I’m not sure that the folks that live around the hospital have the luxury to ponder such thoughts, they are so busy trying to feed themselves and take care of their families on a day-to-day basis. That dinner remains in my mind is one of the most inspiring evenings I have ever spent. Thinking of all those healthcare professionals in a place like Haiti, trying to figure out how to use their God-given talents to help people that they don’t even know.

Anyway, when the meeting finished I followed the doctors as they did rounds checking on patients evaluating them and discussing their care. The physicians stepped into a room that was so small that there wasn’t space for me to make any photographs, so I headed down the hall to check on the girl whose picture I talked about yesterday, the one about which I was saying “gone are the days when a shocking photograph is used by an NGO to try to raise funds”….. you know….the one I said I was going to go back and try to make a more positive and uplifting image.

When I got to her room she didn’t seem any better, in fact she seemed sicker. Now, how was I going to make a “happy” image, an image that showed progress or that she was getting well? Yes, she was sitting up in a wheelchair and somebody had moved her into the doorway about 6 feet away from where she would normally be, but she was so tired that all she could do was rest her head on the IV pole her heart racing and her boney rib cage going up and down as she struggled to breathe.

I started to take some photographs of her, I smiled, I gestured, I said good morning in my broken French, but she could barely even raise her eyes in recognition that I was there.  Again, I’ll say an image like this is rarely used by an NGO’s to raise funds, but I think it does serve a purpose, perhaps it is, to make you stop long enough to read this post, and think.

I’ve done something with the image of the girl…that’s something that I usually don’t do….to manipulate an image using Photoshop. But I did… I took the color out of it, added a little sepia tone to give it a more warm, human color and I increased the contrast… The idea was to make it feel a little more stark, less distracting and more impactful.

Tomorrow, my last day shooting here, I’m going to try to go back and photograph her again… I”m going to try for a smile if I can get one, but maybe that won’t happen. For me, viewing that image, and visiting this girl in her hospital room reminds me how fortunate I am to have my health. Maybe that’s how it makes you feel. But, I’ll tell you something else also, this image speaks to the persistence and determination of the human spirit. Here, a little girl terribly sick, struggles every day just to breathe… I think to myself, if I was in her position would I just give up?

Maybe it’s that kind of raw, realization about life that keeps people coming to hospital Albert Schweitzer to help… Maybe for those working here it’s not about being comfortable and it’s not about making lots of money… It’s about making an impact on other people’s lives… Helping those less fortunate than themselves.

I’ll be the 1st to tell you, I’ve got the world’s best job not because I get to travel all over the world and see so many places, but rather, it’s the best, most inspiring job, because I get hang out with  the most amazing people…people who work at hospital Albert Schweitzer and all the other NGOs around the world who are doing so much good.

So, yes, it was a sobering day, and one that I will unlikely forget. Starting the day by making a picture of a very sick child and culminating with a photo session in the operating room, documenting a below-the-knee amputation of a patient who despite the doctor’s best efforts to save his leg, was unsuccessful.

When I asked the surgeon about the procedure he said, “you know, in most countries when the doctor tells the patient and the family that they’re going to amputate a limb there is a huge uproar and everyone argues that the healthcare professionals must do everything possible to save that limb, while here in Haiti it’s just not possible in some cases, and the patient’s just except their fate” .

As I packed up my camera gear after surgery, I thought of what Ian Rawson had told me on Sunday night; that he wanted me to capture images of “perseverance” because that’s the one thing he says is so prominent here in Haiti at Hopital Albert Schweitzer. Everyone perseveres, the physicians, healthcare workers, the patients; and especially Rose, the little 13 year old abandoned girl in the lead picture, who continues to fight for each and every breath.

Hopital Albert Schweitzer is indeed, a very sobering and yet inspiring place.

For information about Hopital Albert Schweitzer, Haiti click here

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