This morning we started nice and early. At 8:30, we met in the classroom and got into things right away! We had a local doctor come in during our morning class and talk about both traditional medicine and modern medicine used by the people of Bhutan.
Then, our two groups split up, with Wendy and Arthur taking their group to a modern hospital while Fred, Sarah, and Thomas led their groups over to the traditional medicine treatment center and a satellite health care unit. In the modern hospital, the students photographed the typical sights and events in a hospital, like the radiology lab, the birthing center and a couple of general physicians. The students latched onto the newborn unit right away and produced some amazing photos of new mothers and their babies.
The traditional medicine groups went to the other side of town and saw a whole other side of medicine. They explored both the making of traditional medicines and the use of customary techniques like acupuncture, golden needling (where a thick golden needle is heated and then used in a similar fashion to acupuncture) and steam treatments. They were invited to explore all areas of the facilities and learned quite a bit about the methods and genesis of some of the practices of old Bhutanese medicine.
In the afternoon, the hospital invited our groups back to photograph in the ER unit. We had an escort of a military doctor working in the unit and were able to interact with patients and photograph their stories. Here, the students excelled creating incredibly sensitive and compelling imagery while genuinely connecting with patients in their difficult moments. One of our students was taking photos in a room full of patients when a man recovering from severe burns over a large part of his body asked her to photograph him. She did so with grace, and the difficult but powerful imagery that they produced empowered him to begin to come to terms with his recent accident.
Obviously, the ER is a challenging place to be, and most often the visitors here are not enduring the happiest times in their lives. We pushed the students hard to be brave, but more importantly, to be sensitive to the people we were interacting with and in all but one occasion, our interactions were met with honesty, openness, and a vulnerability that evoked only the strongest empathy from our kids. They were amazing.
We did have one occasion where the students were on the receiving end of one grieving patient’s emotions. A man who was with a patient in dire circumstances let loose his emotions on our students (as well as one of our instructors) when he saw our students photographing patients in the hospital. At first demanding to know if we had permission (which of course we had obtained, from both the hospital AND each patient), he continued to vent his emotion regardless of the assurances of the instructors and even some patients. The exchange lasted only a minute or two, but it had a profound effect on the students. When they returned, the story was retold to the class, and we all had a discussion on the difficulties of photographing truly sensitive stories.
Our students did wonderfully today and we are very proud of their sensitivity and effort. It was a long one but we can’t wait for critique tomorrow!