Texas Photographer Captures And Shares Photos Of The Shocking Reality Of COVID-19 At US Hospitals

by Elana

As the COVID-19 virus ran wild through the entire United States, in a manner unprecedented compared to other countries on similar time tables, a massive chunk of US citizens found themselves downplaying the harsh realities of the pandemic. From downright calling the highly contagious virus a hoax to comparing it to influenza, a disturbing amount of US citizens have felt more compelled to push back against social distancing guidelines than to take the pandemic seriously.

As the world begins to roll out a highly anticipated vaccine, concerns and fears seem to be rising even higher about what happens next. For one photographer, something had to give.

A little over a year ago, photojournalist Go Nakamura relocated to Texas. Nakamura has taken breathtaking photos of situations all over the world that made national and international headlines, including documenting the violent protests of Charlottesville in 2017, President Trump's Inaugural Weekend in Washington D.C., and the 2019-2020 Protests in Hong Kong.

This year, however, he has visited the United Memorial Medical Center more than 20 times since May to document the largely untold burden of COVID-19 on our strained healthcare system and it's dedicated, exhausted workers.

"Nov. 26. Dr Joseph Varon Comforts A Patient With Coronavirus Disease. I Am Grateful To Witness A Wonderful Moment And I Thank All The Medical Staffs For Their Hard Work Even During The Holiday Season"

"Members Of The Medical Staff Rest In The Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit At The United Memorial Medical Center On July 2 In Houston"

"A Medical Staff Member Rests In Front Of A Fan In The Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit On June 30 In Houston"

Go Nakamura said:

"In the COVID unit, they usually have 20 beds. The first time I visited, the beds were almost full, and then as I went back over the summer, they expanded the ward so that by now, it's about 30 beds."

"A Medical Staff Member Grabs A Hand Of A Patient To Reposition The Bed In The Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit On Oct. 31 In Houston"

In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Nakamura talked about his experiences and what it was like documenting the pandemic from the Texas hospital. He had never been in a hospital like this before.

"I have to be covered by all the PPE, and there are a few rules I have to follow in the COVID ward. I cannot take pictures of things that show the patient's name.

"Medical Staff Member Jaqoues Bistre Varon Flips A Patient In The Prone Position In The Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit On Dec. 7"

"When I go into the COVID ward with the doctor, he asks the patient for me if I can come in with him. Many of the patients are unconscious, but those who are conscious will say no or yes. Those who say no, I wait outside."

- Go Nakamura

"IV Pumps And Electrocardiogram Machines Are Seen In A Patient's Room In The Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit On Dec. 7 In Houston"

For those that say yes, I have been strictly instructed that I should not take a picture of the faces of the patients, so every time I take a picture I hide their faces behind the devices, IV pumps or electrocardiograms.
I think if I could just show the faces of the patients it would be a much stronger photo, and much easier for me to frame. So it is a challenge."

- Go Nakamura

Still, showing the world the reality of the pandemic is far from easy work. Nakamura says:

"When I am in the COVID ward, adrenaline is pumping, and I can hold it together and focus on shooting. When I get out of the hospital and look at the pictures on the computer screen, that's when it hits me so hard."

"Members Of The Medical Staff Treat A Patient Who Is Wearing A Helmet-Based Ventilator In The Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit On July 28 In Houston"

Coping through a pandemic is no small task, and Nakamura got to see the humanity of the medical staff up close and personal. He reflected:

"I have access to trauma resources through Getty, and the doctors and nurses themselves have been so helpful. The very first time I went into the nurses station at the hospital, Dr. [Joseph] Varon came to the door and invited me in, and started to introduce me.

"Medical Staff Member Gabriel Cervera Rodriguez Closes His Eyes While Taking A Short Break In The Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit On Dec. 2"

"The medical staff were talking and laughing with each other, and I thought this is a very good environment, a fun workplace, and five minutes later, the doctor turned to me, looked directly into my eyes with a very serious face, and said we try to laugh off everything, because otherwise you would go crazy."

- Go Nakamura

Many people want to know what led Nakamura to this intense project, and especially because some people doubt the sincerity and importance of his work, what he has to say about his reasoning and rational is very important:

"I’m a photojournalist, and I am doing this job because I want the people to know what is really going on inside the hospitals. It is very rough inside. I am not a medical specialist, so I am not used to seeing the harsh stuff.

"Medical Staff Members Treat A Patient In The Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit On Nov. 10 In Houston"

"Sometimes I want to cover my eyes, but I have to take the photo, and I want the people to know how others are struggling — of course the patients but also the medical workers. They are exhausted. Exhausted.
I think that Dr. Varon has been working for more than 260 days straight, and the nurses since the beginning of summer with no days off. They have been working so hard."

- Go Nakamura

"Medical Staff Wearing Full PPE Push A Stretcher With The Body Of A Patient Who Died Of The Coronavirus To A Car Outside Of The Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit On June 30 In Houston"

"If I can get the pictures out there, and I appreciate that many people can see these, I want to let them know what is happening inside, and what they can do to improve the situation. I want viewers to think about that."

- Go Nakamura