Tuesday, 7 April 2020

First impressions - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

The entrance to the inner hall, as I have mentioned before, was at the farthest end of the first hall. When I first looked around from this doorless entrance, I saw the rows and rows of recliner chairs on my right, facing the wall on my left. But right in front of me was one recliner facing the others. Like the teacher's chair in front of a class. Beyond this differently-placed seat, where two walls met, was a mattress on the floor and next to it were a few duffle bags of different sizes.

This set-up on the floor, I later got to know, belonged to a family from Gwalior. A guy in his late 30s and his mother. The mother, an overweight lady, was always in a sari - day and night. 
The guy was usually found sitting on the 'special' recliner placed at the front of the room. In all probability, he had been the one to place it there.

I think it was on my second day there. Some time in the afternoon. None of the recliners in the first few rows were vacant and so, I sat on the one in front. This guy came a few minutes later and asked me to vacate it. I asked him the reason that the seat belonged to him exclusively. He gave me a blank stare lasting a few seconds and went to sit with his mother on the mattress.
I got up, maybe an hour later for hardly five minutes. When I came back, he was back sitting on his 'favourite' seat.

His father was admitted in the ICU. His mother was the one who started the conversation with me the next day and soon he joined in. 
The father had first been taken to a hospital in Gwalior (their hometown and a city about 5 hours drive from Delhi) for some tests because he had been feeling lethargic and occasionally dizzy since the last few months. The doctor there recommended getting admitted for a couple of days. Two months later, now in the third hospital, he had now not woken up in almost 15 days.

The guy was clearly a pretty warm person. However, he was a seasoned ICU attendant, and usually had a rather exhausted, no-nonsense attitude towards most people there. 

They had decided to take the patient back to Gwalior to spend his last days at a hospital there. 

Well, I left a couple of days before they were to leave. We had exchanged numbers. He messaged me once. His father had passed away about a month after going back to Gwalior, without having opened his eyes again.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Ego - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

She recognized my aunt, who greeted her politely (too politely. I know. Well, because she's my aunt. I know her normal politeness), turned towards me, rolled her eyes, looked back at her with the same polite look, introduced us, told her about why we were there, asked her why she was there, agreed that it was a good idea for her to keep me company, said bye to her with a quick smile, and as soon as she was out of earshot, told me, 'Stay away from her'.

Of course, I couldn't. Not all the time. We were both there in the waiting room. More often than not, day and night.

The conviction of knowing that one is right, always right. She had it. Oh, the confidence she exuded.

Her husband was the one in the ICU, hospitalized for the second time within a couple of months. 

She would either be praying or talking. 
She talked about how she had single-handedly nursed her husband back to health the last time. I felt like raising my hand to get her to pause her monologue and ask her why he was sick again since she believed she was that good. Well, for sake of your own sanity, you don't ask questions from the ones who already are speaking too much and to whom any kind of argument and/or discussion is futile.
She said that the last time she had told God, 'I am not leaving the hospital without taking my husband along'.

Her husband didn't make it. But maybe that's because she did go home once during the time that he was hospitalized.

What place does ego have in a place like this?
Well, there was the 'cold stare guy', the one who never talked to anyone. Who sat in the one chair allocated to him at a place where no one cared about this rule. Was it ego? I think not.

But then when someone boasts about how their loved one recovered from an illness because of their care or prayers or stubbornness with God. Ego.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Demonetization - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

November 8, 2016. A normal evening at the ICU waiting area. As normal as it ever is. A lot of visitors, most in their office clothes, who would meet the attendants staying there and leave. The evening visiting time had ended and there were discussions over every word the doctor said, and everything the patient did, if anything. Many patients just wouldn't open their eyes for days on end. Was it better to see a sleeping (that's the word most would use - sleeping) loved one, or one in pain? Not all fit either of these two possibilities, but most did.

It was Prime Minister Modi's first 8 pm appearance. No one was hyperventilating worried about what announcement would be made. The five hundred and one thousand rupee notes would not be valid currency from that midnight. There were two televisions, one in each hall. Everyone was glued to these. Is it a joke? Does it mean something different from what I am interpreting it as? Worried, panic-stricken looks were being exchanged.

The visitors scampered away. I know of one person in particular who had come to Delhi for at least a week from his home about 7 hours drive away. His first stop had been the hospital even before checking into a hotel. He immediately left to go back home.

Phones started ringing. It was a happening night, that is for sure. 

The canteen (there was only one outside this ICU waiting area) was the only reasonably-priced eatery in the whole hospital. It stopped accepting the said currency notes immediately. Some people who had been in the canteen were shocked to know the money they held in their hand was worthless. Some didn't even have money for their dinner that night.

Or tea next morning, and so on and so forth.

The rules kept changing and the information would trickle in. The government hospitals would accept old currency notes. This one was not a government hospital.

Then the other hospitals would too.

Well, many came back exasperated after arguing with the cashier who would refuse to accept these old notes still.

I am from the same city. My home was an hour's drive from that hospital. I have family here.
There were people there who had been parked there at the hospital for weeks. Some had taken a hotel for the first week or so and then given up on it. The cheapest of the hotels they found nearby was still too expensive.

Everyone has their democratization story. Where they were when they got the news? What they did? How many ATM queues they stood in? How they used up the cash they had?

My story is different. It would be another 16 days before I left that place. My stories revolve around the people there. My story is about my caring family and the fact that I never queued up in front of any ATM. My story is about finding old currency notes in some long-forgotten wallet or a pair of jeans long after they could be exchanged, because I never searched my house during those days. I had a different temporary home then - the ICU waiting room.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Cold Stare - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

It was usually past midnight when everyone finally settled in, when the main lights were switched off, when the visitors (who had come post-working hours to mark their attendance as the caring family and friends) all finally left. It was this when the attendants were in their beds, i.e., the recliner chairs, the aluminum three-seaters, or the floor.

It was around 2 am. Almost everyone was sleeping. A few were staring into screens of their phones or just staring into space. There were quite a few snores of varying decibels. The loudest one was sleeping in the rear end of the recliner hall - either he was aware of his snoring issue or someone here had ensured he knew.

And then, there was a commotion. Clearly, a new patient had been admitted and there was a new entrant. When this happened during the day, and the waiting halls were crowded with visitors, one didn't stand out. One had the whole day to blend in. At this hour all eyes would turn to the person coming in. Curious eyes wondering what their 'story' is, which of their loved ones has just found their way to an ICU.

He came in dressed in a brown-coloured bandhgala and a fur cap of similar shade (google tells me that this cap is called kohlapuri fur topi). He was conspicuous because of his formal attire, not just because it was unlike what the others there were wearing, but also because it was 2 am at night. Who is dressed like that at that hour?

The security guard showed him to the recliner chair which bore the number corresponding to the bed of his 'patient'. Someone else was sleeping there. The new guy made a huge issue of needing to sit in 'his seat'. The female already occupying the recliner told him to sit somewhere else. Everyone does so, she insisted. He wouldn't budge. Finally, with obvious indignation, he relented when the guard told him to sit somewhere else and take 'possession' of his seat in the morning.

His wife was in the ICU. That is all we got to know about him. He was dressed in the same clothes, day and night, for almost a week that I was there. I left before he did. He would sometimes get a couple of visitors during the day - always male, always rather formally dressed.

He never avoided eye contact. He always looked straight into the eyes of people with a cold stare. He stood out among this community of ICU attendants, some of whom stayed for months, others for just days. There were minor issues of who'd sleep where, who gets to charge their phone at a total of six sockets available, etc. But there was a warmth, an unsaid empathy, a system of sharing knowledge.

He, however, never made small talk with anyone. He never asked anyone who they were there for. He never shared his reason for sitting there, usually alone during the day, always alone at night.

He just stared coldly, almost defiantly, seemingly daring anyone to talk to him. No one did. I do wonder though if he was aching to talk to someone, but just couldn't.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Beds of All Kinds - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

For just about 3-4 hours at night was there an eerie silence in the ICU waiting hall, when almost everyone was sleeping there.

Past the grand glass doors of the entrance was the huge reception desk and past that the waiting hall. 
Rows of 3-seater aluminum chairs ran the whole length of the huge hall. Two rows with their backs to the walls on right and left with a row facing each of these rows. Each of the latter rows had its back against another row. 
A total of eight rows - two facing each other and then two with their backs against the other.

A long hall. Why did I never count how many chairs there were? I spent hours sitting there doing nothing. You see, you don't observe, I am thinking now, imagining that Sherlock is saying it to me. I think there were about 8-10 three-seater chairs in each row. And at the end of the hall, one row perpendicular to these.

On the right at the extreme end of this hall was a doorway with no door. It was not visible until one was almost there.
Inside was another hall - the same length, a little less wide. This one had recliner chairs - the comfortable kind.
They were supposed to be comfortable, that is, but overuse had made them less so.

These were the beds for the family of the ICU patients. Each chair had a number corresponding to a bed in the ICU. 
It was supposed to be one person for each patient, sleeping in the allocated recliner.
If only just one person would stay, if only the recliner was comfortable, if only people followed rules, if only the rules were practical.
No one really told the rules to the newcomers either. It was just a mouth. The veterans would dole out the to-do and not-to-do lists.

So, some slept on these recliners, others made beds on the aluminum 3-seaters, and a few slept on the floor, against the wall opposite the entrance in the recliner-hall. It wasn't allowed to sleep on the floor in the first hall. 

In the inner hall, there was just enough space between the last row of recliners and the wall for a person to be able to lie down, but then one had to leave space for others to walk by, so it was a tight uncomfortable squeeze.
Only the older people chose to sleep there because they needed to have their back straight while sleeping and the recliners would only recline halfway.

One night the guards chose to (or had to) insist on no one sleeping on the floor anywhere in those halls.

She was there with her daughter. Her daughter's husband was in the ICU.
She pleaded. She cried. She said she couldn't sleep on the sofa (recliner), her back hurt. She said she would sleep right against the wall. She said she didn't move through the night, see there was enough space for people to walk by.

The guard looked a little uncomfortable. He told her to sit on a recliner for a half-hour. He said the bosses were looking at the CCTV live footage. He told her that she could sleep on the floor after that.

Each night from then on, she would wait till everyone slept before moving to the floor and make it a point to be up before the crack of dawn.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Announcements at the Appointed Hour - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

The entrance is all glass with two doors. But only one is open. The other one is locked.

8:30 in the morning and 5:30 in the evening, this door has quite a queue. As if some event is about to start.

Well, 9 in the morning and 6 in the evening is when the friends and family can visit the patients in the ICU. One at a time, a total of two, for a total of half-hour.

There is an anticipation in the air, a certain nervousness, and hope (in some cases, against hope).

As you enter the pre-mentioned door, there is a cafe on the right and another eating joint (subway) on the left. And straight ahead is the reception desk, a big one, like one at hotels. There are four chairs behind this palatial desk and usually, only one or two are occupied.
At this hour, though, all four are occupied. 

As the minute hand inches closer to 9, most people from the hall with a seating of 50 plus behind the reception desk, are hovering around the entrance area. Some right in front of the reception desk, others more towards the back. Tells you a lot about the person which place they choose. Tells you a lot about the person and the condition of their loved one in the ICU by their posture and expression as they are waiting.

Numbers are announced. The bed numbers of the patient. A person wrestles through the now crowded front of the reception desk. Why can't people wait a little behind for their turn?
You get two laminated cards with the number on it. Different colours.

And then there is the rush towards the elevators behind subway. A few choose not to wait and start climbing the five flights of stairs.
The rush to make the most of the little time. 
The rush to visit.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Theme Reveal 2020 #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2020
Theme Reveal

Three and a half years ago, I spent a lot of time in an ICU waiting area. Days and Nights. 22 Days and Nights.

And so there are stories that have been lingering within me, a witness to a turning point of my life. Minor occurrences on the fringes of a major one. And yet they have stayed with me and deserve to be penned down or typed in.

Stories from an ICU waiting room
 - my theme for A to Z Blogging Challenge 2020.