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Calgary ER doctor takes sabbatical to photograph colleagues on COVID-19 front lines

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WATCH: A visual documentation of what it's like on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic is getting some attention.A Calgary physician is taking a temporary leave from the ER to photograph her colleagues, capturing their heart, humanity and hard work. Jill Croteau has more – Jan 18, 2021

It is one-of-kind photographic documentation of the chaos and the quiet of the emergency room.

The COVID-19 pandemic was such an extraordinary event for Dr. Heather Patterson and her Calgary colleagues that she recognized another opportunity beyond saving lives. She decided to trade her scrubs for a camera.

Dr. Heather Patterson with her camera gear outside South Calgary hospital. Jill Croteau/Global News
“There [are] two people in a photograph: the photographer and the viewer. I thought if I can tell a story through my eyes, maybe it’s different because I’m part of the team,” Patterson said.
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She created an Instagram for her photos and feels this is more than just a photographic pursuit — it’s personal.

Self-portrait. Credit: Heather Patterson

“I wanted to offer my team the opportunity to see what I see when I look through my lens and see compassion and care they provide,” Patterson said.

“My goal is to represent them with accuracy and authenticity.”

AHS worker holding hand of patient. Credit: Heather Patterson

She is taking a temporary leave and knows her job will be waiting for her when she is ready to return.

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Photo inside the ER. Credit: Heather Patterson

“It’s always hard to step away from the things you’re passionate about but I’m looking to capture humanity, and it allows me to step back and appreciate those things without yearning to be in the thick of things,” Patterson said.

Team discussions. Credit: Heather Patterson

She is grateful to have the chance to showcase her colleagues and wants to give a voice and visibility to the work they do. ER physician Dr. Cathy Dorrington is featured in some of the photos.

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Dr. Cathy Dorrington. Credit: Heather Patterson

“I’ve done this job for 22 years and never encountered anything like this. It’s been incredibly difficult on many levels, and I think our journey as a team — it’s important Heather is documenting that,” Dorrington said.

“She’s able to fade in the background because she knows where to stand, and we are comfortable with her presence. We’re not concentrating on what she’s looking at or what’s she’s thinking about us.

“We trust her with our emotions and to be present for those intimate personal and difficult times.”

Dr. Dorrington speaking with colleagues. Credit: Heather Patterson

Dorrington is humbled at the photos and cherishes them.

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“You’re looking at people around you, you’re focused on your patient and aware of the team at the bedside and you don’t have a sense of yourself in that moment. It’s a very unique and a bit strange experience to see yourself in those moments,” Dorrington said.

AHS worker sanitizing facilities. Credit: Heather Patterson

“I recognize the facial expressions and furrowed brows and moments of decision making in my face that I see in my colleagues,” Dorrington said.

Patterson hopes her photos will be published in a book or presented in a gallery.