Virgen del Rocío: septiembre
On September 1st I was assigned to a COVID-19 ward in the infectious diseases department of one of the local hospitals, Virgen del Rocío. While the paint was still drying in some of the rooms on the 6ª Sur, and caudalímetros (oxygen flow-meters) to supply oxygen to patients were being installed, I began to work in ciclos (paired shifts) of 12-hour day, 24-hour rest, 12-hour night, 3 days-rest, another ciclo, four days-rest, rinse, repeat. By the end of October, I had witnessed more deaths than I had imagined possible in such a short time. The experience has profoundly affected me and is something that I will always carry with me.
Virgen del Rocío: Septiembre is an exercise in processing these experiences through photographic meditation, text, and repetition, an exercise in therapeutical photography. At times I have no words so I make photographs.
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The images, and accompanying handmade books are an attempt for me to process major life changes thrust upon myself, my family, and everyone else on the planet by an uncontrollable universe, the daily witnessing of traumatic events and the miseries inflicted not just on the population at large, but upon healthcare workers in direct contact with the virus in their day to day labors. Daily meditations through photographic explorations of the environment that surrounds me have been uploaded to Instagram and catalogued by location, date, time and circumstances, and then reflected upon in an attempt to purge the artist of the horrors experienced in such a short period of time.
Each book is named after the month worked and is limited to 50 copies, consisting of 20 pages of laser-printed images and reflections upon the events at the time, with the back side being copies of nurses notes from the time period, reflecting the working conditions with wrinkled edges caused by sweating under plastic PPE. The pages are printed on the same paper used in the hospitals, Xerox recycled 80g/m2 A4 stock and each one is handfolded, pressed, and stuffed into Zelatun cane A6 envelopes also used in the hospital, hand marked.
Prototype book of Virgen del Rocío: Septiembre
The images are first published on Instagram at the @onlyensevilla account (link), along with date, time, location and a comment made at the time, often times cryptic, evolving over the life of the project, and littered with English/Spanish as I work primarily in Spanish and process the events in my native English. Later on data is collected and processed in a database for analysis and later reflection, and uploaded to Google maps whenever I get the chance (link to maps) as part of the Points of little to no interest series.
c/ Almirante Tenorio. Reference image. 2021.02.10. 13.52 CET. (37.3922068, -5.9842769)
Signo de vida, we perform one when patients arrive and to confirm their passing
I had spent my last day shift, the 6th of February, with only one patient. At times this may be a luxury, but at this point of wave 3 more often than not it just meant that patient was going to be a lot of work, and that’s how it went as this patient had already lost a lung and was suffering from the effects of that, plus covid, plus a nosocomial infection that had been picked up at some point in the month or so long stay with us. In the URPA, the temporary ICU, a 40-something father of two required 2 hours of direct attention from the attending physicians and myself and two other nurses. Towards the end of the shift, in the clean ICU, family members are allowed to visit with their loved ones fro anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on when they get let in, the workload and condition of their loved ones. The patients father was let in and after talking with the attending, put on his protective gown and gloves to avoid carrying the infection out of the ward. The patient worked for the fire department, one of the local ones, and had a tattoo just like this on their left arm, which helped me to recognise them from the dirty ICUs as one’s appearance changes after an extended stay. Strong, young, healthy, but unfortunately, diabetic.
c/ Jorge de Montemayor, 36. Reference image. 2021.02.13. 11.46 CET. (37.4051385, -5.9818686)
El talado. How do you resumir the saddest stories. Me faltan palabras. Otra desgracia
The day before this image I found out through an extended game of telephone, as you do in the ICU where one partner tells another who tells another, that the firefighter hadn’t made it. So that last visit, with the unconscious patient and an anxious father, with plastic between them, was one of the last. It’s hard to express the impact that witnessing such events on such a constant basis can have on an individual. On my way to wherever, I happened by a tree that had been singled out for destruction next to the local police station. The sudden disappearance and gaping hole left in the ground reminded me of what I’d seen. It all brings such strange thoughts to one’s mind. I have a son, too, and don’t want to imagine what it would be like to be in that father’s shoes, but I can’t help it. I would tear off every piece of plastic and rubber I’ve been forced to wrap myself in to feel his touch, skin to skin, for him to feel my touch.
Plz. Virgen del Pilar. Reference image. 2021.04.01. 18.04 CET. (37.4061564, -5.9803263)
Cosas que no quiero escuchar mas: No he visto mi familia en 6 meses. I haven’t been to the beach since summer. I deserve a day off. I follow the rules, it’s just this once. ¿Vamos a quedar todos juntos? Ya está bien con las restricciones. ¿Y mis derechos? I don’t meet up with most anyone these days in fear of what they might say.
On the downswing of the 3rd wave, and before the 4th one really started kicking off, and now even, it’s common to hear about individual suffering/inconvenience. I cancelled summer for my family last summer to be responsible, I haven’t seen my parents and nor has my wife in two years, I don’t meet with individuals without my mask on, I don’t go to parties, I don’t even let my kids hang out with other kids, not at this point, besides school. Maybe I’m just overreacting, I think, but then the cases begin to go up again, vaccinations are still only in older age groups and we’re beginning to hear horror stories of the virus’ toll in south east Asia. This day is Jueves Santo, normally one of the most important days in Seville, tomorrow I’ll spend Viernes Santo in the ICU with the like-minded, but this day I am reminded why I don’t necessarily mind not interacting with people outside of work. At least my co-workers’ complaints are relatable, and not infuriating.
c/ Conde de Galvez. Reference image. 2021.04.11. 07.49 CEST. (37.3623539, -5.9813328)
Signs of the times, an infectious disease doctor I worked with in the wards, al encontrarlo esta mañana saliendo de una noche sinfín, dice estar cansado, con las mismas ojeras que yo, and my colleagues.
On my way out after a shift I ran into one of the first and most attentive doctors I’d shared time with in the wards who had continued there, an unenviable position where multiple dozens of patients can cycle through the different floors depending on the overload at the time. The bags under his eyes rivalled any I’d seen in the previous few months and the conviction in his voice, here at the beginning of the 4th wave was impactful.
c/ Jorge de Montemayor, 36. Reference image. 2021.04.23. 11.02 CEST. (37.4051385, -5.9818686)
El hueco se llena aunque the stump persists. A wave of emociones, ansiedad, enfado, desprecio al uno mismo, the lingering doubt that one even really has these feelings, todo esto no se puede llenar, sino apaciguar. It becomes easier to go forward, though siempre notarás, notaré, el cambio. A quien y con quien puede uno comunicar estas sensaciones antes tan ajenas. Do I deserve to feel them at all? — In reference to ‘Testigo’ from 2021.02.13, the breaking point of the 3ª ola, another time, a different mindset, yet the same person.
Towards the end of my tenure in the wards I even began to question my experiences, and their effect on me. From comments outside of the workplace, I’m convinced that the disconnect between what me and my compis have gone through and the rest of society is quite large. So large that I even question the feelings of anxiety, the sudden bouts of anger, moments of faltering self-confidence and others of self-pity. Then I remember that I didn’t use to wake up in cold sweats every night, heart racing. I used to dream, or at least have nightmares, of situations outside of work. This image is the hole from the tree next to the police station cut down back in February, poorly filled with loose orange clay-dirt in a fitting metaphor for how we’ve all had enough and are now moving on, whether you like it or not.