This is one in a series of reports from hospitals responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
When he arrived at the bedside, the emergency physician found a problem he could only half-solve. He could check the patient’s oxygen level and listen to her breathing. He could evaluate whether she needed to be put on a ventilator. But he couldn’t bring back the family member she’d just lost to Covid-19, nor could he promise she would be fine now that her own coronavirus symptoms were worsening.
During that same shift in mid-April, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital doctor saw two patients in that situation: Both grieving for a loved one, both worried they would die of the same disease. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Boston hospital has been full of such stories. As hospitals go, it isn’t the hardest hit. Its leaders prepared to ration ventilators and ICU beds if they needed to, but even while accepting other hospital’s intubated patients, it hasn’t run out of equipment or space.
Even so, the scenes inside have been wrenching. At the entrance, family members of elderly patients have been told, “No visitors.” Fearing shortages of protective gear, leaders have kept masks and gowns under lock and key, sparking worries among nurses that they wouldn’t get what they need. When a coronavirus patient gets well enough to leave, the workers’ cheers are so loud you can hear them through walls.
Craig Walker’s photos perfectly capture those moments of tension and relief. Whether portraying an assistant working in her winter coat at the drive-by testing site, or a respiratory therapist having a conversation through a door so she doesn’t have to suit up and go into an infected patient’s room, the images allow you to enter their worlds, if only for an instant — and to better understand the new one we’ve all found ourselves inhabiting.