On and off the frontline: Photos show colleagues’ alter egos

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Photography is a long-time passion of VGH anesthesiologist Dr. Cyrus McEachern. During the early days of the pandemic, he and colleague Dr. Andrea Brovender brainstormed the idea of exploring artistically how workplace stress was affecting their personal lives. The result is Behind the Mask—18 images of Dr. McEachern and his colleagues that are spliced to show them both at work and doing things they love away from the hospital. The photos depict things they often think about or miss because of COVID-19.

“Our work is traumatic and, when the pandemic emerged, it became a pressure cooker,” said Dr. McEachern. “We wear many layers of PPE, which is de-humanizing and makes it difficult to recognize each other. That increased my sense of isolation. Through taking these photos, I feel closer to my colleagues and it taught me that no one is alone in their fears and anxieties.”

Dr. McEachern hopes the photos will change the way physicians see themselves and recognize that it is okay to be stressed and to express vulnerability.

“Burnout, substance use, and suicide are very real issues in medicine,” he said. “We need to be able to talk about being overwhelmed instead of pretending to always be in control. Our culture is getting better, but it’s still not terribly open. The idea behind the photos is to show that we take stress home and that it affects our personal lives.”

The project has created a wave of optimism in VGH’s OR. In a time when the pandemic is always top of mind, taking time to remember and celebrate the aspects of our lives that bring us joy has been an invaluable boost in morale.

Dr. McEachern originally resisted but eventually included a self-portrait in the project. With his trademark humour, it is a parody of Joe Exotic from the Tiger King, another cultural legacy from the pandemic.

Dr. McEachern has worked on a handful of other medical-related photography projects including a poster for the film 65_RedRoses, which tells the story of his friend and double lung transplant recipient Eva Markvoort. He went on to photograph other transplant survivors for a BC Transplant Society publicity campaign. His work is inspired by Turkish artist Uğur Gallenkuş, who creates side-by-side portraits of people in different places and economic circumstances.

Vote for your favourite photos!
VPSA is working with the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation to display Dr. McEachern’s photos in the hallway between ICU and the pre-operative care centre at VGH. There is room for 10 of the 18 images.

Vote for your favourite photos here. The 10 photos to receive the most votes will be the ones chosen for display.

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