‘Admitted’: The Photography Project That Changed My Life

‘Admitted’: The Photography Project That Changed My Life

Go behind the scenes and witness what it felt like to have a lung collapse through this striking and intimate photo series called "Admitted." The last week in March is one that I will never forget.

The Backstory

It was the week of my spring break. I was headed to Cincinnati, Ohio, to visit family and do some photo shoots. It was going to be an epic trip. My flight was booked for that Sunday morning at 9 a.m. That was until I was packing up my bags and editing some photos I took the previous week, when all the sudden I felt what I thought was a massive "cramp" that went from my back to my chest.

It felt like I had an elephant on my chest, and it was stopping me from breathing even a single deep breath. Trying to relive the pain, I took asthma medicine because I thought it was that. I took pain meds and a hot shower, but the pain still did not go away; it only got worse. After eight hours of agonizing pain, that is when I decided to call 911.

A few minutes later at 2 a.m., the paramedics arrived and took over my living room. My heart was pounding at 150 beats per minute. They were scared I was going to have a heart attack. I have never felt so scared in my life.

Half an hour later my mom and I rush to the hospital where I was instantly admitted. Over the course of the next two days, I would be attached to IVs, have blood tests taken in the middle of the night, X-rays and CAT scans of my lungs, and really bad food. After eight hours of tests the doctors came in with the diagnosis. It was a collapsed lung.

The hole in my lungs was sized at ten percent, and therefore healed on its own. I told the doctors that I had a flight to catch at 9 a.m., but by the time they had detected the tear, it was 7 a.m. I wasn't going anywhere.

After four days of painful IVs and sleepless nights, I was finally released. When I got home, I realized the miracle that had just happened. If I were to have gotten on that plane, I would have died. The entire experience was one of the scariest I have ever felt, and I am incredibly thankful to even be alive.

The Purpose

After being discharged two long days later, the thought hit me that I should be thankful for the little things, like a deep breath after a long day, or even a short one. I never thought about how much I appreciated it until it was taken away from me. That is when I took it upon myself to start a new photo story that documented my recovery process, but also the excruciating pain I went through just hours before being called in.

This project is a series of self portraits that reflect the pain and recovery process of having a collapsed lung and the process it takes to cope with the fear and suffering that came with it.

Lost and confused. Disoriented and dazed. When the pain hit, I didn't know what to do. My head was spinning and my heart was racing.

I tried sleeping off the pain, but was left tossing and turning, unable to catch a deep breath.

I didn't know what to think. I had no idea what was going on.

The pain was gripping and felt trapped between the chord from the ashtma machine and my chest.

I didn't know when my last breath would be, so I kept feeling my heartbeat. That reassured me that everything would be OK.

The calm and the storm. I was gasping for air with all my might. But when I was hidden behind the mask, my worries went away for a quick moment. When I was back, exposed to the real world, the anxiety kicked back in.

I was admitted to the hospital for four days. The left image is from the first day in the hospital. On the right is my arm, four days after countless IVs and scans. The scars were staining.

After 4 long days of being in the hospital, eating terrible food, and losing my appetite, the instant I got home I had my first real meal. Falafel and french fries.

Freedom. After the scariest days of my life, I was set free from my worries and fears. All that remained was a new outlook on life and an attitude of thanks.

What I Learned:

In spite of this scary and life-or-death situation, I walked away with a new perspective on my photography and outlook on life. Doing this project made me realize, as photographers, we have the ability to say things with our images that couldn't be possible with words. Photography since has become my strongest voice. If something is on your mind, shoot it!

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Gabrielle Colton's picture

This is absolutely incredible dude! You are so talented. Thank you for sharing these moments, the way you chose to display each is perfect. I love the textures and your attention to detail in the posing and framing of all of them. YESS

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

WOW! Thank you for the kind words and support! Appreciate the details in things :) I took these portraits the day after it happened. It was my therapy.

Ed Sanford's picture

Bravo my friend.... that took unbelievable courage!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thank you for seeing that! It sure was difficult!

That's terrible. Good thing you have done the best of the situation and used it creatively. Hopefully that lung heals fast and quickly becomes a thing of the past.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thank you! Yes it was terrible. I still have anxiety attacks before I get on planes. Scary stuff. Glad to be alive :)

Walid Azami's picture

I need to see more of this and less of people shooting their food and wealth! Congrats on this series, completely emotional, raw and haunting images and taking the viewer on part of the voyage with you. This is what our art is about.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks for support! Yes this is what I'm about. See more projects on my website: www.elidreyfuss.com
Feel free to share :) I'm in the same boat. This is why I love fstoppers. Gives me the ability to share my experiences as an artist. We have such strong voices, and the world is waiting to listen.

Ignace Maenhaut van Lemberge's picture

Wrong word, I know, but this is breathtaking..

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thank you for the support. Means a lot!

user-156818's picture

Very moving photo essay. Art is supposed to make the viewer feel and this surely does just that. I hope you never have to go through that pain and suffering again, but it certainly made for a powerful series of images.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Yes. Agreed. Art I supposed to make you feel. Good or bad. I've never held back my emotions or feelings in my art, especially in self portraits.

Hoorakhsh Pb's picture

Love the storytelling.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks!! My favorite part of any art.

Adam Sund's picture

The same thing happened to me. I thought i needed to see i chiropractor at first, but eventually decided to pay the emergency room a visit. Unfortunately, mine didn't heal by itself like yours did, so i ended up having a piece it my lung removed to prevent it from happening again.
What surprised me the most, was the anxiety that followed. Everytime i had back pains afterwards i would think it was a relapse. It took me a good 2 years to get rid of that fear of having to not be able to breathe properly.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Oh wow that sound terrible. I guess I was very lucky. Yes the anxiety attacks are the worst part. I've been to the hospital now 4 times after it happened because I thought it was that. It happen recently on a plane trip and I had an anxiety attack in the air. Had to land the plane early.

Great story and photographs, but please consider redacting the protected health info on your bracelet.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Good point! I'll try to fix fhay

No doubt anxiety producing event but I'd be more concerned that it took the staff 8 hours to diagnose a small uncomplicated pneumothorax. Nice, artistic expression and communication of your emotions through photos though, well done. Glad you're ok.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks! Somehow I feel most comfortable with myself when in front of my own camera. Especially when I'm shooting it. It was the first time something like that happens so I was just freaking out.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

It's incredible. I was heavily inspired to publish my personal work after seeing him

Peter Nord's picture

Guess everyone is different. This worse thing about mine was two docs levering my ribs apart with a stainless steel crow bar to insert a chest tube. Never occurred to me to photograph the experience. However as I lay recovering I called my wife to "bring a camera, there's a tree outside that looks just like Harry Truman." Unfortunately by the time she arrived, the light had changed and Harry was gone. Or maybe the morphine was wearing off.