A BROWNIE HAWKEYE AND A WHOLE ROLL OF FILM
|Carefully crafted shots from my first roll of film.|
1966 Memphis State
Chris Hillman-David Crosby-Mike Clarke-Roger McGuinn
It was 1971 when I began my journey as a paid cinematographer working for Southwestern Medical School. Mike Lorfing, head of the Medical Arts Department, hired me to photograph training films ordered up by the school staff, which I shot in the emergency room of Parkland Hospital. If someone requested a film about, say, intubation or chest tube insertion, I waited in the ER with my 16mm Arriflex until the procedure happened. I did what I could to improve the odds of getting the shot by planning my strategy. For the general public, Friday was payday, and if Friday hit on the 1st or the 15th it usually meant a shorter wait, if it was raining, shorter still. More accidents meant more procedures. But, despite the best of plans, I spent many hours there waiting in the emergency room, receiving an unexpected education in human psychology. On my first night, I watched as a man was rolled into Trauma Room 2 and swarmed over by the ER team. It seemed he was barely conscious but an ambulance crew member with a clipboard hounded the man for information. “What’s your name?” “Where do you live?" he shouted over and over. It seemed cruel. I later learned they wanted the patient to be alert as possible and this, gathering of information, was actually part of the evaluation. They say the quiet ones lay there and die. I had lots of time to read the police reports and, early on, saw the benefits of wearing a seat belt, at that time not standard equipment in a new car. To me, it was as clear as day. Seat belts saved lives and reduced injuries. It began a habit that would, years later, save my own life. I saw the best and the worst of people while shooting my movies. A newborn on one night; a man with an ax imbedded in his forehead on another; the incredible heroics of the ER personal, all just part of the humdrum on a rainy Texas night; lots of people under lots of pressure, living their lives, doing their jobs. It was fascinating to be so close to it and, not just be allowed to watch, but expected to watch. It was a requirement for the job. It was exciting. I don’t think I ever got tired of it. Trauma Room 1 sat mostly unused just across the hall. I was standing in it, mostly to get out of the way and take a short break, when one of the staff mentioned it was the room where President Kennedy was pronounced dead. I didn’t see any markers then, nothing to commemorate that grim day. I guess the blood from the 1963 assassination was still too fresh in Texas to publicly point out such a place. I would have never known it was this room where he died. It gave me chills just like the time I first heard of Kennedy’s shooting on that November 22nd over my high school’s PA system as we rehearsed the Hallelujah Chorus for the approaching Christmas concert. I still get chills, having nothing to do with the holidays, every time I hear it.
I also worked for Dr. Charles Baxter who pioneered new treatment for burn injuries using pigskin. In the 1970s Parkland Hospital was one of the largest burn centers in the country. I was almost late for my new assignment. There was no time to lose. I was there to shoot a skin graft, already in progress. I quickly changed into scrubs and hurried into the OR to set up my camera. This was my first operation and it really took me by surprise. With a deep breath, I absorbed the bloodiest scene I had ever witnessed. It looked, for the entire world, like a medieval torture chamber. The patient was face down; his arms and legs spread out, with several people attending him. Burns, covering his back, arms and hands, were being “roughed up” with brushes to make the new skin attach better; the freshly scrubbed wounds now enlarging into one great bloody mass. The medical team, working on his unburned legs, were shaving and lifting away, long patches of very thin skin leaving pale, but quickly oozing red, trails behind.
I kept that turtle in a comfortable landscaped aquarium for 10 years until a visiting little boy convinced me Pema and the aquarium would be happier with him. Seemed like a win, win for everybody.
Not all stories finish with a happy ending but it’s nice that some of them do.