Monday the 22nd of May 2017 is a date that I will never forget, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb he was carrying at the Manchester arena. The bomb had been filled with screws, nuts and bolts intended to act as shrapnel and cause as much physical harm as possible. The device killed 22 adults and children and injured 119, 23 of those critically. I was just getting ready for bed that evening when the news broke; I sat watching the 24 hour news channel in shock trying to process what was happening. How could somebody do this? And in my own city?! Why target innocent children? I watched the stream of ambulances arrive at the scene and became acutely aware that some of the casualties would be taken to the hospital I work at and that I would be required to document their injuries.
This was a unique situation for me as ordinarily I am not aware of the cause of a patient’s injuries before I photograph them. I also consciously avoid, wherever possible, finding out afterwards what caused them. I think, in some respects, this is a coping strategy I have developed, It ensures that I don’t become upset by the trauma I photograph, or get emotionally involved. This detachment makes it easier to document traumatic injuries on a daily basis. I think the camera also separates me from the patient, I only see what I observe through the viewfinder, I see the wound in great detail, but not the patient.
The Manchester terror attack turned my coping strategy on its head; I knew what had happened before I went to work. I knew who I would be photographing and the types of injuries they would have sustained. I was also already emotionally involved and affected by what had happened. It was my city and I was upset and grieving for all the innocent people who had lost their lives or were caught up in this madness. Despite this I was determined to go to work, be professional and get the job done.
That week at work was a blur; we were extremely busy which helped as I didn’t have time to reflect on what I was photographing. Everybody went above and beyond what was expected of them, working extra hours, staying late and going without lunch and tea breaks. It didn’t matter whether they were a surgeon, a doctor, a nurse, a porter or a cleaner everybody had an equally important job to do and they did it well! That weekend I went to pay my respects and lay flowers at St Anne’s Square in Manchester and I finally allowed myself to grieve for the victims and my city and reflect on what I’d photographed.
So what have I learned from this terrible incident? I’ve learned that its okay to adopt coping mechanisms as it helps me be a medical photographer long term; I have also discovered that I can still do my job effectively when forced to work without them. Most importantly, I now have even more admiration and respect for my colleagues and all the NHS staff in Manchester and London who have performed their duties diligently and with such dedication and professionalism in the face of such difficult and sad circumstances.