Thursday, October 06, 2011

I see you !

There are ICU's. And then there are the people...

Not so much those inside, but those outside, waiting and hoping.

And there is so much to observe.

The last time I attended someone in an ICU, was 11 years ago.  The ICCU of one of Mumbai's biggest public teaching hospitals. Typically with the finest dedicated doctors working with  limited resources, huge dedication, and a greatly supportive staff.  They don't allow anyone inside; if at all, only one person is allowed inside , per patient.  And you stay put outside, for all 24 hours, since  the doctor  can ask for you anytime.

With hardly any infrastructure created for caretakers of patients and families, there was a huge square lobby outside the main door of the ICCU. About 8-9 chairs lined up on one side, and the remaining space had nothing. When they were occupied, we sat on the floor, waiting. Evenings saw droves of visitors coming in to inquire about the ICCU patient. Carrying, food, pillows, bedsheets and all kinds of stuff for the caretakers.

I had rushed there subsequent to a cardiac emergency, and all I had was my purse. Nights were spent on the cold floor, purse pillowed under the head, and the dupatta wrapped around giving a false sense of comfort. There was an elderly Sikh gentleman admitted inside, and his entire community  would come in the evenings. Young ladies, old matrons, pillars of society, strapping lads and so on. Much greeting each other in traditional ways, and wishing each other and touching of the elder's feet by the young ones.  And when they left, the waiting area would resemble a room with mattresses, pillows, covers, packed meals and so on.

An elderly Sikh lady got talking to me. (I blogged about that in a post titled "Touches of Class"  earlier.)  Asked after me, and who was the patient inside.  Shared fruit with me . And since she didn't think a young girl should be lying down solitarily in a corner by herself under the circumstances, took it upon herself, to arrange stuff so it looked like I was part of their group. Morning saw me covered with a bed sheet.   When some other caretaker of some other patient looked apprehensive and worried, everyone would go comfort him or her. No one cribbed about material comforts. You needed to go 3 floors down and then cross over somewhere for a cup of coffee. There was one public coin operated telephone, and it was always in use.

When it was time for us to go, we were sadly, one person short. At 2 am at night, after breaking the news to us, the doctor sat with us, talking about his experience of the patient, and how heart rending some cases were.

Cut to a recent experience with another ICCU.   Once again I was alone.   
One of Mumbai's leading superior accredited hospitals.  Centrally air conditioned. Every thing computerised.  They actually had a waiting area room for relatives of people in the ICCU.  They had folding pull-out sofa-beds, and sets of chairs (like you see at airports). A water cooler supplied clean drinking water.  A decent bathroom dedicated to the room. Electrical points, a television, and several charging points for cell phones, courtesy some cell phone companies.  There was a cafeteria two floors down served by numerous elevators.

People came in carrying several bags,  carrying lunches delivered by relatives, snacks, changes of clothes. Some guys sat with laptops ,  cell phones stuck to their ears. There was a lot of talk within families,  but almost none between the various patient caretakers.  People would get calls galore, and everyone would speak fairly loudly ( as they always do anyway) , and the rest would get a complete lowdown on who is admitted, why and since when. Sometimes, even the prognosis.  On the third morning, three gents in suits came by with papers, called out names, and presented us papers outlining our bills and estimated expenses, till that morning, so we could  think about mobilizing resources. It was all very practical and businesslike.

Life was compartmentalized.  So, it seems , were emotions.

Or so I thought.

  My last night in the room (things were improving, and the patient would leave the ICU for a ordinary room the next day),  and a cheerful young lady asked if the place next to mine was occupied by someone. She organized her bedsheets and stuff there , and asked after me and our patient. Her mother-in-law was in the ICU. She and her husband were taking turns . She taught school, and so left early in the morning to teach at her school, and came here after school was let out in the afternoon. The husband had taken leave for his Mom, and came during the day. Sometimes her own mother filled in for them, whenever it looked like schedules were getting messed up. She actually lived fairly close to where I did.

Both of us lay on our sides, chitchatting and talking about our families, how good the doctor was,  what we did for a living, and so on. Long after some security person had come in to shut off the TV, and put off the lights, we whispered into the night, careful not to disturb the others.

ICU's are very impersonal spaces.  A patient need not communicate anything, his machine readings communicate everything.   Sliding curtains ensure privacy,  Sometimes though, doctors have an excellent bedside manner, and have encouraging chats with the patient.  If at all the patient is awake. 

Over the years, the individual size of machines attached to a patient has grown smaller, but the total number of machines and wires attached to you , is possibly more.  All impersonal, the soft footfalls of the nurses and attendants , the beeps and the numbers telling the whole story. 

People too , outside,  have changed.  Rules decide who and how many can visit the patient.  A busy life means everyone waiting in the caretakers room, is quietly getting on, doing some work, some on a laptop, some reading, some just lying down, blankly looking at the ceiling.

Yet, meeting the lady on my last night there, and the fellowship that developed over that short time,  gives me hope, that  at least in the patient-caretakers area,  somewhere,  the possibility exists, that the ICU will actually mean "I see you !


  1. An excellent story. People do need to be seen, to be able to communicate, even in today's busy laptop-computerized world.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  2. I enjoyed this post to the cores

    have you ever thought of writing book??

  3. It is not uncommon for the middle class to warm up to fellow human beings even in the current times. But their numbers are dwindling and that is worrying. I remember forgetting to bring a shawl while traveling to Mumbai alone and tried to cover myself with my saree pallu as well as I could. I must have drifted off to sleep and when I woke up a fellow passenger had covered me with the extra bed sheet that he had. He probably saw me shivering and decided to loan me his sheet. However, that was 23 years back and I was traveling by sleeper class.. I don't know if such acts of kindness take place now.

  4. Interesting story. Perhaps, someday, I will write a post about the ICU my husband's sister died in.

  5. ICU's are an experience I dread. And yes they have changed over the years. It does resemble an airport waiting area... so cold and no soul. It does help if you have that someone to talk to you and a stranger can be perhaps be ideal to pour out your emotions at a stressful time.

  6. I love your insights. I want to be you, gappa, as I mature.

    I've not had this particular experience just yet. The ICU sits, like so many other possibilities, just outside of the present. When it comes, I hope to have the grace necessary...


    p.s. Bought my first neti pot today. My head is splitting, and perhaps it is sinuses? Wish me luck!

  7. was like watching a documentary!

  8. Such a warming story of human fellowship in the midst of all our busy-ness.

    And thank you so very much for that wonderful poem you left in my comments. You are truly gifted!

  9. Touching and from the heart!Loved the post.

  10. Beautifully written.

    I have been to the ICU two years ago when a close friend was there following a serious accident. He stayed there for 3 weeks and those days were hardest for all of us.

  11. Interesting.
    Last year and this year, I have gone through this ICU experience.
    But mine was not the experience you described.
    I was the pampered patient unlike my family members who had to rough it out outside the ICU and be on call all the time.

    Lying in bed for three whole days, fully conscious,
    simply staring at the ceiling, and wired up from head to toe can be a terribly boring experience indeed.

    This year too I was admitted once again , but the monotony was alleviated to a large extent as I was allowed to keep my newly acquired Ipad2 tablet with me.

    But my family still had to brave the inconveniences.

    Am hale and hearty now.
    Sorry for this late comment.
    Just catching up on some of your recent old posts.