Looking through a camera shows more truth than anything else in the world. I flip my right thumb across the lever to prepare for the next photo I’m going to take. The pressure as I pull it back and the spring action as it moves back into position. Zoom. Puruse the people coming into the er. Sirens from time to time. A mother swaddling a baby with a fever. Click. The stench of urine and antiseptic fills my nostrils. There’s a homeless man standing under the tv that’s mounted on the wall, I don’t know how they always have soap operas on, how do they find them? The man’s torn clothes and beanie are worn and stretched. Click.
I feel a yawn coming on, bite it back, look at my watch. 3:27am with the blinking red colon. I could go home, but the best time to catch the world this raw and fresh is over night. Everyone else around is so tired, the whole place sounds like nothing but static, except the soap where someone is a jaded lover and someone is up to some scheming, possibly the same person. I look over the people that are remaining in the er. It’s starting to clear out a bit, but I’m sure there will be more action.
I started taking pictures here after I had been sitting in the park far too much, finding old men feeding birds, children learning to ride bikes, birds flying and chirping. The beauty of it was getting dull. The hardships that were there were so minuscule. I wanted to see real life, the gorier parts as well as the small beauties. I want either dark or false light, the park doesn’t work for the look I’m working on. National Geographic would be ideal, however, financially, I can’t make it to any third world countries and take pictures of old women with sad expressions, bloated children with flies on their faces or anything that would be even remotely close to anything like that. I wanted something fresh, anyway. I started shooting cemeteries, too dead, excuse the pun, even though dark and beautiful. Cafes, interesting, motion, more serious.
I was sitting in Cafe Diem one day when I found what excited me, what my camera could grasp like nothing else when a man fell and cracked his head open. The beauty of the paramedics working, the vibrant red of the blood, especially against the white of the uniforms, the man’s wife in tears being held back by the manager of the restaurant. The struggle, the fear, the expressions, eyes all focused. The images from that day shot chills down my spine, I wanted to capture every inch, keep it, submerge myself in it. It seems morbid, but, it was so enthralling.
Every night after that, I’ve been spending my time at the emergency room. I get some looks, I try to stay out of the way, I’m merely an observer. What fits in my viewfinder is what my world consists of.
3:57am. That colon is going to drive me nuts, I need a new watch, but I love digital, less time to figure it out is nice. I hear the sirens pull up to the back door and stand up to see what’s on it’s way. I’m glad I’ve made friends with the doctors, nurses and security. If you schmooze enough people, you can make your way into almost anywhere. I stay out of everyone’s way and do what I can to not be a bother. I know everyone’s looks that show them wanting me to stop, and I do.
The nurse, Drusara, who’s putting herself through med school working reception over nights, gives me a wink as some of her coworkers rush out for the ambulance. She’s one of those girls that likes to act like she hates having her picture taken, but has such a look to her, the camera is drawn to her, and I can tell she really loves it. She looks back down at her paperwork and nibbles on the end of her pen. Even though I can’t see it, I know she has a text book in her lap she’s paying more attention to than filling out reports.
There’s a rush of voices as the ambulance is being emptied in the back. Sounds like there may be two as I hear stats being read off. Oh, a fire, man and woman, both in mid to late 20’s, hope they’ll be alright. I know I can’t get into the back when there’s something so serious. Besides, I like to capture the waiting room from time to time as well. The expressions on the faces as they wait, and hear of the fate of their loved ones. I yawn and stretch, my arms up in the air, back arching over the back of the chair till the backs of my hands hit the wall. One thing I learned, the perfect place to sit where you can see all the action in the room is in the corner at the wall. The seat has perminant indents of my ass engraved into the hard cushion under the forest green vinyl, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable.
A little cough comes from the baby being swaddled by the mother, who I can tell is getting more and more irritated, after all, they’ve been here for 20 minutes, look at my watch, 4:02am, 26 minutes. I twist my body each way in order to hopefully crack out the kink in my spine.
Thinking over the roll of pictures I took earlier from the bike accident where the kid broke his arm and the woman who “fell down the stairs” I start considering going home . I’ve gotten pictures of that woman who is enough of a “klutz” that she’s going to kill herself one day and that son of a bitch of a husband of hers will learn what it is to be a bitch. I’ve discussed her with some of the personnel, they’ve tried to get her to file reports, but, she sticks to the story, no matter how unrealistic. Burned hands spiraled down her palms in the appearance of an electric burner from trying to “clean the stove and not realizing it was still hot”. I sometimes think she’s trying to ask for my help by letting me take pictures of each and every injury.
The lights are making my sinuses ache, maybe I will get going home. I look around one more time, the people that have been waiting for someone starting to doze, a woman with a child lying with his head in her lap sleeping as she strokes his blonde hair with her hand, the baby sniffling as the mother holds it close and rocks, tears in her eyes.
In the harsh lighting, the image looks like such an interesting juxtaposition I pull my camera up to my face and look through the viewfinder, I’m focusing on the woman with the little boy, her head slumping, hear the er door open click. I look over to see what appears to be a woman in her 50’s followed by a man carrying a little girl about 2 years old, her blonde hair dusty, her face pushed into her grandfather’s chest with her plump arms wrapped as far as she can get them around his neck. The grandmother looks like she’s been crying, but is now on a mission, sees Drusara and doesn’t take her out of her site as she makes an A-line to the counter followed by her dwindling husband and the little one, a startled and confused look on his face.
The woman and Drusara talk for a bit, the little girl starts to squirm, the grandfather places her on the floor, grabbing her little hand. She has a round little face with transparent eyebrows and smudges all over, her grey eyes large and curious, wandering to see what’s around. I redirect my camera Click. Must be the burn victims kid.
I hear another ambulance sirin pulling up in the back. My ears perk as there’s another mad dash of doctors, nurses and everyone around for the back door. Sounds like one of the fire fighters, inhalation. I look to the door and at my watch. 4:27am, wait for it… wait for it… 4:28am, wait…. BOOM, the door flies open and in rushes 4 firefighters, still covered in soot and ash, one still wearing his boots, his yellow pants and suspenders, all wearing their standard issue t-shirts, the other three in jeans. Three rush up to Drusara’s desk which has been vacated. The grandmother is pacing, the grandfather is sitting next to the little girl who is standing in front of her chair. The last firefighter falls into a chair by the door of the waiting room, dropping his head in his hands, elbows on his knees, Click.
The grandfather stands up and hugs his wife, leaving the little girl standing, looking up at them. She looks around and sees the firefighter sitting by the door. Her head cocks to the side a bit, the look of true curiosity, where her eyebrows are too blonde to see, they furrow, possible recognition. I watch closely, it’s what I do. She turns and looks back at her grandparents hugging and talking, turns and walks to the firefighter, raises her pudgy hand and places it on his arm. He looks up at her, he’s so young, early 20’s at most, the tension in his face, dark eyes swimming, dark hair a mess, his eyes meet hers and he gives a little smile of recognition. His face relaxes a bit, and he starts to cry. The little hand moves from his arm to his cheek, she lifts her other arm and tries to hug him. He puts his large arms around her, I lift my camera, put it back down. This is the most beautiful moment I’ve ever seen, but it’s not mine to behold, not mine to keep.
I look for another moment, the grandmother noticing she’s gone, the grandfather’s bewilderment. I place my lens cap back on, place my camera in its bag, zip it up, stand, walk to the door, and leave.