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Care in the Garden

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BmoreArt’s Picks: September 1-7

Around the start of stay-at-home orders in Maryland, photographer Jill Fannon trained her lens on the healthcare workers in her family, documenting them from a distance outdoors where it was safer to do so. She began with her aunt and cousin, both physician’s assistants, who expressed a need for adequate PPE, the protective gear necessary to shield them from viral transmission in a workplace full of danger.

Fannon’s aunt gave her a headband she had sewn, which had buttons on the sides for a paper face mask to loop onto, making it less irritating for the ears. A few days later, Fannon gave the headband to her friend Jaclyn, a speech pathologist at a Maryland hospital, when she photographed her out in a field.

Fannon has expanded her series one subject at a time, documenting first responders and healthcare workers that so many call heroes in their protective gear, to remind all of us that these individuals lead complex, multifaceted, and meaningful lives. They are our mothers, sisters, colleagues, and friends who deserve our gratitude and support.

 

“We have devoted an entire section of my unit to COVID patients. Some of the patients are young and some are old. Some are white and some are people of color. Some are men and some are women. Some probably have money and some probably don’t. We take care of them all the same. We work day and night to keep them alive.” – Maria, ICU Nurse

“This is a scary time for everyone. If someone was already struggling with underlying mental illness, this health pandemic has amplified those symptoms. Then add in increased isolation, potential unemployment, and stress at home—it creates a perfect storm of behavioral health adversity.” – Lexy, Emergency Room RN

“I sometimes feel that the news outlets deal in the hype and not necessarily just the facts. I think that everyone has a personal responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to sort through the hype and only source information that gives you just the facts, like the CDC and Hopkins websites. Knowledge is power, especially in these trying times.” – Stacie, Respiratory Therapist

“I not only made sure the doctors and nurses had their PPEs on properly, I was also able to keep their spirits high when they were feeling down and exhausted working the 12+ hour night shifts, going in and out of the units to care for the COVID-19 patients. Having a background in cheerleading, I really enjoyed motivating them and spreading some positivity during this undesirable situation.” – Danielle, OR Surgical Technologist

 

“For some folks, a positive COVID test can be associated with ‘not being careful enough’ or risky behavior, similar to HIV. There is an increased burden on folks that test positive to ‘prove’ that they aren’t what people think. I’ve also been thinking about what long-term effects folks that contract COVID-19 will experience and how insurance companies will determine coverage of long-term treatment.” – Jasmine, Director of Adolescent Health Programs

“The first thing I do is take off my ‘travel’ mask, turn it inside out, and place it into a paper bag and take a huge deep breath. It sounds cliche but it’s true. That deep breath of fresh air is revitalizing, rewarding, and so refreshing. The ‘travel’ mask is only worn from my car to my office, not anywhere else in the hospital. As soon as I get to my office I put on my ‘clinic’ mask, an N95 mask with a surgical mask over top, for the remainder of the day.” – Jaclyn, Speech Pathologist

“When I see people talk of opening back up and ‘liberating’ citizens, the first thing I think of is more work for me and my fellow nurses. I will have to care for those you consider an acceptable loss. I will have to fight to keep them alive and I will hold their hand, in a scary mask and PPE, while they die alone because they aren’t allowed visitors.” – Maria, ICU Nurse

 

Throughout all the portraits, the omnipresent fear of spreading germs during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially to a loved one, is palpable. For health care workers, the concern is even greater and many disrobe after each shift—placing all worn garments including shoes into plastic tubs before entering their car—then take showers immediately after getting home or attempt a mini-quarantine, before they touch or hug anyone.

For one shoot, Fannon met with two women during their first shift working together as medics near Patterson Park. “Both were EMT Firefighters,” she says. “So they were incapable of social distancing while effectively performing their jobs. On was an expectant mother and we talked about how she was feeling. They were called off by a concerned citizen over the radio and went back to work.”

In another session, Fannon hiked through the woods in the rain with an ICU nurse, who wore her ICU/COVID-19 hot-zone respirator. While they watched the water rush down the Jones Falls River, they talked about politics, anxiety, and the nature of portraiture behind a mask. Acknowledging the burden of the gaze made the photographic exchange feel normal in a distant way, says Fannon.

 

The photo series expanded to a NYC nurse named Susie that Fannon met over FaceTime. A RN in her seventh month at this particular job, Susie complained that “other countries get PPE’s and we get sheer, yellow, rippable gowns.” She described how she would sweat through her scrubs because she was encased in plastic. Fannon says that the ability to connect with her in this online format made her appreciate how Susie, and many others in similar positions, must use cell phones to call their patients’ families when they could not physically be present.

Fannon recalls a bright and unexpected moment, on the phone with Susie, when she noticed a bundle of dried bodega flowers, and the nurse admitted she had recently taken to flower arranging. “We made a once removed selfie of some sort, and I remember laughing,” Fannon recalls. “The relationships we have matter, even while the idea of closeness feels daunting.”

From these women Fannon learned about the importance of changing air patterns in the hospital, the proper way to wear the N-95, and the difference between hot- and warm-zoned contamination areas. Fannon photographed some in their home gardens, sometimes with children, other times without. She watched Sue, a nurse practitioner, climb a tree with ease and listened to her story of skydiving with a parachute that didn’t pop out. Aurora, a PA, sat in bunches of flowers, avoiding bees, as her mom cooked Sunday dinner.

 

In each case, Fannon found unexpected strength and beauty in the images of health care workers wearing protective gear, transformed by being out of doors in the wet spring air. Just as each individual offered a humble and inspiring story, Fannon was moved to capture the passion that each individual expressed, in the way that they professionally care for others, especially during the exceptionally scary, tragic, and trying time.

Despite their beauty, Fannon’s photos profoundly capture the fear that you could hurt someone, especially someone you love, a common fear shared by nearly everyone at this time. “I stay up late at night and I wonder how everyone is sleeping,” she admits.

Fannon’s Care in the Garden series recognizes just a few of the individuals who have risked their lives to care for others who need them, but lets us amplify our connect to them as complex human beings. Outside of hospitals and doctors offices, but still wearing their protective gear, the dignity and humanity of these professionals resonates. Whether they are lauded as heroes by government officials or neglected by for-profit hospital systems, we all owe our lives to health care workers.

 

Participants to date (not all are pictured): Nadia, Registered Nurse (Pediatrics); Kim, Registered Nurse; Jean, Physician Assistant; Katie, Physician Assistant; Aurora, Physician Assistant; Jaclyn, Speech Pathologist, and her daughter, Sue, Nurse Practitioner; Carol Ann, Registered Nurse; Marilyn, Registered Nurse; Jess, Registered Nurse; Claire, Registered Nurse; Cheyenne, EMT Firefighter; Danielle, Surgical Technician; Valerie, Forensic Nurse Examiner; Maria, ICU Nurse; Megan, EMT Firefighter; Lexy, Emergency Room RN; Suzy, NYU RN

 

An abbreviated version of this photo essay and text appears in BmoreArt's Issue 09: Craft

This story is from Issue 09: Craft,

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