A photo blog without photos

December 9, 2011

By Desmond Boylan

Absolutely no choice. This photography blog post has no pictures. (Part 1)

I was recently driving towards Havana on a small, quiet country road in central Cuba. As I came onto a long stretch there was a truck moving slowly ahead of me in my lane, that suddenly stopped on the right side. I approached slowly knowing that in Cuba there are big potholes, very scarce and slow moving traffic, and cows, horses, hens and even children crossing the roads at any time, always without looking.

I put on the indicator to overtake the truck, but I noticed there was some unusual movement off to the right among some people beside some small country homes.

What happened next was an extremely intense situation.

I suddenly saw two women, one of whom was holding a newborn baby still attached to the other by the umbilical cord, and both were yelling for help. I will never forget the expression on their faces. They had tried to climb into the truck cabin but were unable to. They looked at me, screaming for help. Before I could stop the car completely, the three passengers in the back seat of my car had already jumped out and helped in the mother of the child, followed by the other woman holding the baby. The woman holding the baby turned out to be the other’s mother, so I now had three generations of a family in crisis in my backseat. Dangling between them was the umbilical cord with the baby turning purple. I am not a doctor but common sense told me that there was no time at all to lose. I put the car in first gear and before the doors were closed I accelerated down the road blowing the horn and flashing the headlights continuously. I reached 120 kilometers per hour in a few seconds, and kept it there.

I noticed cyclists, horse-drawn carts, and pedestrians on the country road, and then on the village street, all quickly jumped out of the way when they saw the car approaching. We reached the town of Marti after a mile and a half, and the woman holding the baby indicated to me the hospital building to the right.

I pulled up in front of the entrance to the hospital and braked at a man wearing a stethoscope. I said, “Quick, look in the backseat!” He looked and immediately yelled for pincers to cut the umbilical cord. In the meantime two nurses had put the new mother onto a stretcher. I noticed the faces of the people in the hospital entrance looking in horror and disbelief at the scene. The man with the stethoscope by then had the situation under control, and from the side of the stretcher he looked at me, smiled, and gave me the thumbs up.

I pulled away to pick up my passengers who had remained at the roadside a couple of miles back, but soon crossed paths with them riding atop a horse-drawn cart at top speed with a flustered man whipping the horse and yelling at the top of his lungs. It turned out that he was the woman’s husband, and he had just heard the news of his son’s birth.

The entire drama, from the moment of the first scene on the roadside until the woman was on a hospital stretcher, took only two or three minutes, but when I remember it now it seems like several hours had gone by. I remember every face, every expression, every sound, every sight, and every little detail. It is like an action movie that I now have recorded in my mind.

Looking back at the whole thing, as a photographer, I know what I saw was an amazing scene, very unusual, that would have made an amazing set of pictures. But there was no way to shoot it. There was no other driver, no other vehicle, no time to lose, no other choice. It all happened in the middle of nowhere, and it didn’t cross my mind to take pictures until later. By then, it was all over.

I was in the right place at the right time but not to take pictures. I became a momentary ambulance driver.

So instead of a set of really stunning pictures what I have now is an immense and indescribable feeling of pleasure and accomplishment for having contributed to saving the lives of that baby boy and his mother.

I learned later that the baby boy was taken by ambulance to a hospital in a nearby city, Cardenas, for extra care in an incubator and kept under observation for a day. A couple of days ago I was told the mother was seen breastfeeding her baby boy, peacefully sitting outside her home beside the road, in the same place she had suddenly given birth.


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Wonderful account of the events you encountered. In my opinion, it’s important to share our stories – how we deliver is not. Your words painted a wonderful picture AND delivered this story to myself and many others. Many thanks!

Posted by AmberHockeborne | Report as abusive

Bravo Des! well done!

Posted by enriqueshore | Report as abusive

I adore you Desmond Boylan.You have photographed the most beautiful event of your life that has touched the hearts of innumerable people across the world.The photographed may not be seen in any website, album or archive.But,any body who has read this story can paint a brand new photograph which may differ from one to another in view,yet will not differ in understanding.
The movie which may be imagined from your story depicts a dutiful doctor and a team of nurses.You along with the team of wonderful service providers represent a masterpiece of movie.
I wonder how I can express my respect to you.
Live for the great humane service.

Posted by Zainul | Report as abusive

That’s why i love Desmond!!

Posted by yannis60 | Report as abusive

Nice Desmond, well done, thanks for sharing.

Posted by Lamarque | Report as abusive

Es bueno para Cuba? jajajaja. Bravo Desmond!

Posted by SERMOR | Report as abusive

Great humane service Desmond……

Posted by jayantashaw | Report as abusive