May 11, 2009 § 2 Comments


I read this interesting article by an American surgeon on getting used to cutting people, and it got me thinking of one of the most common reactions I get from non-medical colleagues and friends when talking about or showing my work: Don’t you get nauseated?

My office is the office closest to a door used by all the smokers in my department. I usually work with my door open, so whenever I’m editing and someone’s on their way to a smoke, there’s a lot of OMGs and yucks to be heard. A few are intrigued and stops for a while, but most rush past, making sure not to watch the computer screens. They cannot understand how I can stand working with this stuff.

Last week I attended a course held by the Norwegian Institutional Photographer’s Association. Most of the other attendants worked at museums and when I started talking about my work, they too found this kind of photography a bit bizarre. They could of course understand the use for it and the technical challenges, but they didn’t want too much details.

So, do I get nauseated? 99% of the time I do not. Neither while filming or editing surgical video or photos. First I think it’s a case of professional distance. I have my job to focus on in  the OR. I have a lens to look through and a lot of controls to tweek to get the best picture. I’ve even talked to surgeons that say they get nauseated if they’re just in an OR to observe.

But what about that last percent? I can recall 3 instances were I felt very uneasy while working. The first time I think it was a matter of being unprepared. I was called for to take some pictures of a pelvic exenteration. I knew this was a major operation that involved removing all the organs from a persons pelvic cavity, but I was not prepared for the what I saw as I entered the OR after this was done and before reconstruction had started. Had I been there from the start it would have been OK, but now I just got something completely out of context.

The two other times were both while editing, and both very minor treatments. One was a video of photodynamic therapy (PDT) for skin cancer, the other was a transanal endoscopic microsurgery (TEM) to remove polyps in the rectum. My smoking colleagues would probably think that the big abdominal operations would be worst, but this was what got me nauseous. I think it was easier for me to relate to a skin disease and a 4 cm wide rectoscope, than abdominal organs. I don’t get to see my liver everyday, but my skin is all over me.

Of course it’s a question of getting used to spending time with both blood and guts, but for me it’s also about seeing life, death and surgery through a lens and try to avoid seeing myself through that lens too much.

(image credit)

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§ 2 Responses to Nauseated

  • David says:

    I stumbled onto your site and read this article. I have to say I am a bit worried about my next shoot in a couple of weeks. I have filmed in the OR a number of times and can eat a tuna sandwich while editing spinal surgery. But this next shoot is filming a surgical technique in a cadaver lab.
    I’ve edited cadaver footage, and it is a bit different. I haven’t experienced, in person, the subtle details of working with a cadaver, especially the smell.
    Have you any words of wisdom?

    • Øystein says:

      Thanks for reading my blog, David!

      I actually don’t have any experience with filming in cadaver labs during procedures. Is it an autopsy or is it a procedure on a prepared (embalmed) cadaver? In the latter case, smell is not an issue, but if it’s an autopsy it certainly can be. I have heard of people putting some tiger balm or menthol-based ointment under their nose to take off the edge.

      Good luck with the shoot!

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