The patient is 85 years old. He is scared. He’s in pain. He needs surgery if he’s to live. A situation this volatile could easily turn frantic. It could, in the wrong hands, be terrifying.
This photograph feels not only calm, but somehow beatific. Everything about the man carrying the patient — the expression on his face, his evident strength, the competence of his grasp — says, Here is a person familiar with crisis; here is someone who will not panic.
He is, in fact, a general practitioner named Dr. Ernest Ceriani. In 1948, he was the subject of a groundbreaking photo essay in LIFE magazine, “Country Doctor,” by the great photojournalist W. Eugene Smith.
Smith spent three weeks in Kremmling, Colo., chronicling the day-to-day challenges faced by the indefatigable Ceriani. But no picture in the entire essay — one of the greatest photo essays ever to appear in the pages of LIFE — captured the doctor’s commitment, his compassion, his kindness, quite like this photograph does.