Since the coronavirus catastrophe started, I have seen countless photos of medical workers in ICU’s. I have also seen photos of them outside their hospitals advocating for excruciatingly necessary equipment and protective gear. Sometimes they carry signs. Other times they stand as witnesses holding up pictures of colleagues who have died. In some instances, they calmly or silently meet raging anti-lockdown protesters. Out of all that imagery, however, I have not seen a photo like this. It’s astonishing in its complexity, the mixture of feelings, and the necessary distance between the face and the sign.⠀
On top of the extraordinary grief and trauma they are absorbing as healers, even required by the shortages of equipment to decide who will live and who will die, what’s most bankrupt about the situation is that these workers cannot air anger or resist. Morally and professionally, they are forced to own the diminished circumstances and risk their lives. ⠀
This woman’s face alone says so much. You can see her exhaustion, her burden, her anguish. And through the demand of the gaze, she delivers profound dismay. But combined with, and through its distance, the piece of paper allows her to vent–to articulate the deep outrage these agents of mercy are suffering but cannot afford to express. Essentially, it’s a call to action. But, at the same time, the sign is saying (hence the asterisk?) that if they do die, it’s on the government’s incompetence and over-the-top adoration. Because they are not heroes as much as sacrificial lambs. (–Michael Shaw)
Photo: Mark Peterson/Redux Caption: RN Nurses and medical workers protesting lack of medical safety protective gear at Mount Sinai hospital in New York City, April 2020.