Covering a Night in a Trauma Center

A member of the medical team's shoe is covered with blood from a patient with multiple gunshots wounds. Photo by Melissa Golden

By Sabrina Burse

That night at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Melissa Golden faced a dilemma while on assignment for the Wall Street Journal. She had to balance her instinct to comfort against her duty as a photojournalist.

“That evening, it was a 12-hour shift,” Golden said. “Over the course of that shift we certainly saw a number of gunshot victims, stabbed victims, and people who had been assaulted.”

The world can affect both what is in front of the camera and the person behind it. Golden covered the events of that one night at the trauma center that encapsulated some of the harm those victims felt.

“Witnessing so much literal pain and suffering made me have to have what I call ‘cognitive dissonance management’,” Golden said.

Since the time when she was a student at the University of Georgia, photojournalism has been Golden’s passion. Currently based in Atlanta, she has done work ranging from magazines to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times and others. She believes that being a photojournalist is one more way to tell a story.

“It is one of the most essential parts of the functioning of democracy. It’s really, for me, a civic duty,” Golden said.

Helicopter transport at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Photo by Melissa Golden

The Wall Street Journal arranged access for Golden to cover that night at the trauma center. Growing up watching surgery and hospital shows made it easier to disconnect from what was happening.

“Different types of traumas affect photojournalists in different ways, and it’s not the most obvious ones,” Golden said.

Golden said that she respected that that the law requires a hospital escort who made sure she didn’t violate patient privacy by taking photographs that revealed who the victims were.

“I have never fought against what I have considered to be very reasonable HIPAA requests that I have encountered over the years,” Golden said.

Golden said that when she covered the trauma center in Baltimore, she posted a photograph of a victim who the hospital had concerns about.

“They asked me to change the caption to make the victim less identifiable because they felt that between the caption and the tattoo, friends and family could identify the victim. I felt that was a very reasonable request, and I complied,” Golden said.

It wasn’t until she witnessed a large number of car accident victims over the course of the 12-hour-shift that the pain hit closer to home. She thought she could be involved in an accident just like the victims.

“I had to manage my emotions and instinct for the duty I was there to perform. It was also a reminder that I shouldn’t text while driving,” said Golden.