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"We Need To Give These People A Break, Because - Eventually, They’re Going To Break" - Intimate Portraits Of A Hospital COVID Unit From A Photojournalist-Turned-Nurse

Published Monday, January 10, 2022
by Victoria Hansen/National Public Radio

Alan Hawes pulls up images on his computer that are raw and intimate, like the anguished eyes of a 72-year-old man in a hospital bed, trapped behind a mask.

"He was extremely scared and I think that comes across in the photo," says Hawes.  "He's just kind of looking into the lens like, 'Help me.' "

A Photojournalist for nearly two decades, Hawes, 52, is used to taking pictures of people when they're most vulnerable.

Hawes now works as a Registered Nurse (RN) at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and documents daily life for patients and Hospital Workers in the Intensive Care Unit.

The man in the picture was a patient.

Hawes said, "He told me, 'I don't ever want anyone to have to go through this.'"

Neither does Hawes.

That's why he got the idea to start photographing his daily experiences with Health Care Workers and COVID-19 patients in the Critical Care Unit.

"If the public was more educated and could see what was going on and feel some of those emotions that I hope my photos show, I felt like it would make a bigger difference," says Hawes, whose photographs have been published by The Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and The Associated Press.

Hawes especially hopes the images can change the minds of the unvaccinated.

To the frustration of Health Care Workers, most new patients turning up at his hospital's emergency room have not been vaccinated, he says.

And as the Nation braces for another deadly wave, this time due to the Omicron Variant, he expects the number of people seriously ill with COVID-19 to go up.

With the permission of hospital officials, Health Care Workers and COVID-19 patients, Hawes began taking photos on his own time.

Many of the images are showcased on the hospital's Facebook page and have been featured in local news.

Those images include a Respiratory Therapist peering through the blinds from inside a patient's window.

She’s trying to get another Health Care Worker's attention.

She needs help to care for the patient but can't leave the room because she is in full protective gear.

Hawes says he took this shot because "it just kind of shows how isolated we are when we're in those rooms."

Another is a close-up of a prayer cloth sealed in a plastic bag marked "do not throw away," attached to an IV pole.

The cloth was made by a family member to provide comfort and spiritual strength to their mother, a COVID-19 patient.

The woman died in October.

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