Alberta physician offers rare glimpse inside COVID-19 wards with pandemic photography
HALIFAX -- An Alberta-based physician is giving the public a rare glimpse of the chaos and struggle behind hospital doors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Heather Patterson, an emergency room doctor and photographer, is documenting the pandemic through photography in the hopes of giving Canadians a better understanding of the reality inside hospitals ravaged by COVID-19.
“I am experiencing those moments of humanity as they unfold. Sometimes they can be significant to watch and very emotional,” Patterson told CTV News Channel on Saturday.
She was presented with an opportunity to take photos of hospital staff, patients and their families at five hospitals in Calgary, including the Foothills Hospital and the Alberta Children's Hospital where she primarily works. She has been documenting since November 2020, and she took sabbatical shortly after to shoot photos full-time.
Patterson has since returned to work in clinical care, but has continued the project.
“I feel this huge responsibility to tell stories and get these images out there and shift the patients from being a statistic to telling people the real story behind the numbers,” she said.
Patterson said she obtains consent before taking any photos of patients and their families, and Alberta Health Services has also given her project approval for full hospital access.
She says being a doctor has only been an asset to her photography project because she understands what is being documenting, in addition to where and when to be for the perfect photo. All of her work is published on Instagram.
Not only is Patterson showcasing the work of her colleagues, but she is still on the frontlines, taking care of patients in the ICU.
“It’s been a privilege to be able to document these moments, but also I feel a great responsibility to honour the integrity and trust that people place with us,” Patterson said.
“I am surprised sometimes what people allow me to photograph, and it speaks to the sense of importance and urgency that the patients feel about sharing these stories,” she added.
Patterson says the photography project comes with a certain responsibility to carry on the memories COVID-19 patients. All of her photos are taken using a Canon DSLR and shot in black and white to capture the emotion of the moment, she says.
“These stories carry though and they live with me, these are people I won’t forget,” Patterson said.
Patterson said she documents all areas of the hospital including non-clinical realms, such as food services, linens and housekeeping to capture the full scope of hospital operations. Other clinical areas she shoots are maternity wards, mental health wards and chemotherapy clinics.
She said the collaboration by both clinical and non-clinical workers has played an essential role in the fight against COVID-19.
“All these people have a critical role and are contributing a unique skill set,” she said.
Despite the images being sometimes difficult to look at, Patterson says they offer families closure by representing loved ones in a fight to survive.
The response from the project has been “overwhelmingly” positive, she said. Patterson added that she plans to continue the project until the end of the pandemic.
“All staff have been responsive and patients as well, have been keen to share experiences. It speaks to the urgency of this crisis and it is hard if you haven’t been in the environment to imagine what goes on behind closed doors,” Patterson said.