Photography of pandemic depicts exhaustion, tragedy inside Calgary’s Foothills hospital

CALGARY — A photography project is giving Albertans a rare glimpse of the profound effects of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since late 2020, Dr. Heather Patterson has been granted access to all areas of Foothills Medical Centre by Alberta Health Services, and has visually documented the experiences of both health-care workers and patients.

When not working as an emergency room physician, Patterson has collected a vast array of photographs depicting the pandemic inside the hospital.

Heather, Patterson, pandemic, photographer

Patterson said there has been a distinct change since she snapped her first pictures.

“The third wave feels very different,” Patterson said, as she scrolled through photographs on her camera.

“What I’m hearing and seeing is a sense of exhaustion. We’ve been at this for over a year now, and the cumulative effect of the trauma and tragedy that we’re witnessing is really taking its toll.” 

Many of the photographs Patterson has collected portray health-care workers looking worn and tired after performing multiple intubations at the tail end of extended shifts.

“I have the opportunity to move from the statistics to the individual story,” said Patterson.

In contrast with the early days of the pandemic, Patterson said hospital patients are more forthcoming about their experiences with the virus.

Dr. Heather Patterson

“Patients are very interested in sharing their stories; I think that speaks to the sense of importance that they are feeling to share what it feels like to be in the hospital with COVID: they are isolated, lonely, missing their families and often in pain,” said Patterson.

With the ability to access all areas of the hospital, Patterson has also ventured to places in non-clinical realms, such as the linens and pharmacy departments and food services. She said the collaboration undertaken by both clinical and non-clinical workers has played an essential role in the fight against  COVID-19.

“What I hope my images will do is take people from hearing numbers on the news to generating empathy and compassion to those suffering from COVID,” Patterson said.  “Then taking that empathy and compassion and moving towards caring for our community. What we’re able to accomplish together is so great, we can move forward with it in this pandemic and move towards normal life.”

Heather, Patterson, pandemic, Alberta

Patterson plans on continuing her photography project until the end of COVID-19, and shares her work on Instagram.

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