For these high-risk Michiganders, COVID-19 changed everything.
Seven months into the pandemic, I found myself in the dark, suddenly horizontal, unable to walk, see, or tolerate any light source. I spent the next several months in a basement, on my side to help with the nausea, an eye mask on to block what little light came through the tiny, darkened windows.
I’ve been a photographer for 18 years. For the last 12, I’ve battled a brain tumor.
My symptoms were familiar, heralding a recurrence of complications from the brain radiation I had undergone a year before. Now I found myself immobilized once again, this time in the midst of a pandemic. My isolation was multiplied; my compromised immune system kept me from inviting anyone to keep me company.
Tens of millions of people in the U.S. are high-risk for COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions. I’m one of them.
I came to Michigan in November of 2020 to begin photographing the high-risk community, but my body had other plans. That’s what health issues do: They disrupt. When multiplied by a pandemic, the disruption is exponentially greater.
That following spring, as soon as I was able to stand and begin to use my eyes, I started reaching out to organizations who work with high-risk populations. I wanted to see how these individuals were faring under the combined weight of pandemic isolation, increased risk, and existing health concerns.
Many of those whose photographs appear here have relied on their immediate family. For most of these individuals, the vaccine does not provide the same sense of security the healthy public wears as pandemic armor. One person’s choice can have a ripple effect on everyone they encounter, some of whom might not have the ability to fight the virus and survive.
There are lessons to be learned here: Nearly half of the population has a chronic health issue. Those health challenges will not disappear when the pandemic does. We are all interdependent, and there is a restructuring to be had. The neighbors we’ve delivered groceries to, the far-away friends we’ve texted to check on their health, the family members we’ve sent takeout to — all of the ways we’ve learned to show up, we can carry those practices into the future to reimagine a supportive community that remains in place long after COVID-19 fades.
Sometimes it takes a pandemic, or a sudden health crisis, to remind us what we all need to survive.