Photojournalist-nurse captures intimate moments of COVID patients


The most severe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have mainly occurred behind closed doors – in private homes and hospitals, where more than 800,000 Americans have died and many more have become ill.

CBS News and David Begnaud, chief national correspondents for “CBS Mornings,” have covered COVID-19 extensively across the country since the pandemic began. Always wherever they went, a nurse or doctor said to Begnaud, “If only the public could see what we’ve seen.”

Photographer Alan Hawes has been trying to document the impact of COVID-19 with his photos. When he came to work at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, he brought with him a unique ability to care for the sickest COVID patients: he took pictures many would never see.

Hawes became a nurse 11 years ago. Previously, he spent 23 years as a press photographer, and that gave him the ability to tell the stories of several patients.

In one photo, hospital patient Ryan Simpson is admitted to the hospital’s cardiac ICU after he was rushed there due to his heart palpitations for several days.

“How fast?” Begnaud asked.

Hawes said: “135 to 165.

A photo shows the first moment Ryan’s wife, Sarah, saw her husband.

“I think [she was] Hawes said.

Hawes observes what caregivers and frontline workers often see. His photos capture the squeeze of COVID as it squeezes.

Courtesy of Alan Hawes

In one photo, Hawes shows a prayer towel one woman’s family brought her and asks for it to be with her always. Hawes said the woman later died.

In another case, a man was seen texting people on his cell phone to tell them what was going on.

Hawes said he took the photo because he felt like “he knew where he was going”.

What Hawes believed came true – the man was intubated

Hawes said: “Two days later, I walked in and there he was.

The man ended up surviving and unvaccinated.

“I’ve had quite a few times with an unvaccinated patient, and I would think to myself, ‘You did this to yourself,’ he said. “And I was like, ‘I can’t invest any emotion in you. “

Courtesy of Alan Hawes

“Part of being a good nurse is having empathy,” he says. “Once you hear the stories of some of our patients from their family members, you can become a fan of that person and you just know they made a bad decision.”

Hawes personifies them. But he said he was having a hard time because the nurses were currently having an emotional breakdown. He feels the same way.

Courtesy of Alan Hawes

The patient and family allowed him to take pictures of them.

“I think people have a message that they want to get out there,” he said.

It took a year and a half to get permission to do the project. “I think the moment I was approved to do the project, I named my email ‘public service project’ and I think that’s what made the difference,” says Hawes.

Among the photos Hawes has taken is a mother holding a picture of her newborn baby, which she cannot touch. Also in the photo is a girlfriend who always keeps a bed diary.

The diary reads: “Steve James Lavender, you know that I love you with all my heart and soul. You’d better never leave me.”

“Every night I say to all my patients, all my family members: This is a roller coaster ride. This is two steps forward, one step back,” Hawes said.

In one photo, Hawes’ colleague, a nurse who received three shots of the vaccine, is a lifelong asthma patient. He was seen struggling to breathe.

Hawes said he doesn’t take pictures of his patients.

Keam is an exception. In her photo, she writes “I feel miserable” on the whiteboard.

Courtesy of Alan Hawes

Day by day, she was getting sicker and had to be sedated. The next day, her nurses hoped music therapy would help.

Hawes said he thinks Keam will make it.

“I think so, just because she has such a vitality, I can’t imagine it. If she has anything to do with it,” he said.

Joel David Croxton was 72 years old when he died. Hawes recalls what it meant to him to go to the hospital.

“I think he had the confidants of almost every nurse in our unit, when he was there,” he said.

Courtesy of Alan Hawes

In one image, a nurse is seen breaking down after calling Croxton’s wife to say it was time to say goodbye. Another photo shows his wife, Sandy, coming to hold his hand. A nurse is seen using an iPad to Facetime with a chaplain.

A photo of Croxton worries Hawes. Is it too painful for your wife to see it?

Hawes usually never sees his family again, but in this case, Hawes did see Sandy Croxton again – this time they hugged, no pictures needed, just thanking each other.

Hawes is having a hard time. He said there was a time when frontline workers were very worried about COVID, but now they really don’t worry about it anymore.

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