In the last few weeks, we here at Pan Pals have been amazed to receive beautiful submissions of images from friends of the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics both in Texas and around the world.
Physician and CMHE alum Chris Yan shares an image of the breakfast his father leaves outside his door each morning before Dr. Yan’s shift on the COVID unit of his Massachusetts hospital. Libby Goff shares an image from Uganda, in which children touching remind us of the human touch we are missing, and all we hope to maintain and regain. Yolanda Crous and Peg Seger share images from our new “mediated” closeness, Marin Albers (sister of medical student Nathanael Franks) shows how human ingenuity and surgical skill can help monarch butterflies, and Maureen Miller finds inspiration and power to continue her work as a physician from a supportive moose. See all these images here.
Some narratives were too long to share in full on our “Images of Meaning” page, and we had to make cuts. We are sorry! Here is one of the full, uncut narratives, from surgeon and nature photographer Dr. Ronny Stewart. His story, and the images of our beautiful Native Texas flowers and cacti blooming in the spring of the pandemic, remind us that the heart of the world is here, and with us, even now.
Bluebonnet Photography, by Ronny Stewart
The local onset of the COVID-19 pandemic emerged simultaneously with wildflower season in South Texas. A favorite wildflower of many south Texans (and mine) is the Bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis.
I grew up in West Texas where there were no bluebonnets, at least that I can remember. I love these little flowers because they are so beautiful, yet also so durable and tough. Harbingers of spring, they are beautiful in confluent fields, but I prefer to lay on the ground and frame them at the level of the flower, with a soft, gentle light (bringing my own, or using the early morning sun or overcast sky). This can lead to a passing driver mistaking you as a “found-down” patient on the side of the road, which is another story entirely.
A bow hunting surgeon once told me that, over the years, they didn’t really care as much about hunting deer, as they did about watching the deer and the forest from the perspective of a tree, but if they climbed up in a tree without a bow, people would fancy them as more than a little crazy. So it is with ground level flower photography.
I think of bluebonnet photography as a visual analogy to the profession of medicine. It even provides visual proof to me that to see the beauty requires the right perspective and context, and a soft, gentle light makes all the difference. If I don’t view it from the “right” perspective and miss the context, or view it through a harsh light, I may miss something amazingly beautiful.
Sometimes the beauty of the bluebonnet is obvious in showy fields, but more often than not, at least in cities and suburbs, these giant fields are not very common. The flowers most commonly exist in small patches, often in harsh conditions in rocky soil. The Texas bluebonnet grows beside the road, in vacant lots—in places where beauty may be missed. Often to see the beauty requires a conscious search. And many times, the best place to see and feel the beauty is at ground level, under a consciously chosen, soft, gentle light.
I see and feel the pain, the fear and the suffering of the pandemic, yet I also clearly see the true beauty of the profession through the efforts of my front line colleagues and friends who worthily and diligently work to relieve pain, suffering and reduce the harm of the pandemic. For this, I am very grateful.