Photographers' Blog

Inside the iSurgery operation

Hamburg, Germany

By Fabian Bimmer

When my boss, Joachim Herrmann, told me that I had to cover liver surgery using an iPad, I had no idea how an iPad could be helpful during an operation. I knew that iPhones, iPads and tablets were becoming more important in being useful in all sorts of activities in our daily life – but for surgeries?

We use these new toys in different ways: GPS for cars, during sporting activities, music, mail and for other ways to communicate. Some of my colleagues use tablet computers to present their portfolios and to operate their cameras. Swiss camera maker Alpa uses an iPhone as a viewfinder for their tilt and shift cameras. But I couldn’t imagine how an iPad would be helpful during an operation to remove two tumors from a liver.

Also, I knew nothing at all about livers or any surgery before this assignment.

To get a feel for the atmosphere, the hospital, light conditions and the team, I went to meet Professor Karl Oldhafer, chief physician of general and visceral surgery at the Asklepios Clinique in Hamburg-Barmbek, two days before I had to go through with my project. Actually being present at a surgical procedure I felt slightly uncomfortable. As I arrived at the hospital, I was confronted with an invitation by Professor Oldhafer to participate in a surgery there immediately.

Never having seen this amount of blood, massive cuts and all the different instruments being used, I was a little bit frightened. Would I faint? Would I be horrified when they cut open the stomach with a long knife? The “test run” went well, I survived and I had an idea what to expect in two days.

Capturing souls

From the very first photograph I took of the Kayapo tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, I knew it would be a difficult nine days. They were nine days during which doctors and nurses from the humanitarian Health Expeditions carried out more than one thousand medical exams and dozens of operations on a people known for their qualities as warriors, strong and suspicious of outsiders. Few of the Kayapos understood that they were receiving aid in their benefit, for which nobody would charge them.

The field hospital was in a school annexed to the village, and on my first stroll toward their houses a mother asked for a gift in exchange for the photo I had just taken of her son. As she spoke to me in her language, translated by a man who happened to be walking past. Later I learned that even the native women who do speak Portuguese will not use that foreign tongue if their husbands are not with them.

Absolutely decided not to negotiate or “buy” their permission to photograph, I just shrugged off her demand saying that I understood. I continued on my way, only to run into her again in a short time. During the first hours there I found it impossible to recognize anyone who I had already met earlier, and suddenly I found the same woman confronting me with a “bill” for each picture I took of her, her son or any of her other children. She was aggressive and I had no resource other than to show her my ignorance of the language, even though she repeated in Portuguese, “Money, must pay.”

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