Thursday, 23 April 2020

Television - Stories from an ICU waiting room

As I have described before, the first waiting hall led to the second one. And there was one wall-mounted television in each.
The choice of the channel was with the guard posted just outside the first waiting hall, next to the reception area. The receptionist had the remote in her 'custody'. 
It is funny--and tragic--how often there were arguments over which channel to pick. No entertainment channels were allowed. But within the news and educational ones, there were constant tussles. And don't get me started on what time the televisions would be switched off. There are sleep-with-sleep-timer on people and then there are pin-drop-silence-to-sleep people. And I realized that most people are I-don't-care-I-am-in-an-ICU-waiting-area-I-need-things-my-way people.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Sanctum - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

Faith is discussed often. Or at times, the lack of it. Or the decision to give up faith.
As one enters the first waiting hall, on the left, in the corner is an area of 6 ft., separated from the rest of the area with partitions about the same height as the other dimensions. The lower half of the partitions is wooden and the upper see-through glass.
You would find photos and smalls idols of almost every 'god' there. There are folded papers that have been put under some of these. I thought often of pulling them out and seeing what was written in those, but it seemed too much like inviting bad luck. Superstition? Maybe. I just couldn't.

People would go in, pray, and come out, especially just before the visiting hours. Surprisingly, I never saw anyone ever just sitting there.
I used to sit there a lot.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Relationship - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

It is surprising how much we care about what others think. Even those we hardly know. Virtual strangers. Ships passing one another at night. The ones in the waiting area of an ICU.

His father was in the hospital. He lived in Delhi, a medical student. The father was from Panipat, a few hours' drive from the capital city. 
She was there with him, day in and day out. They were both in their early twenties. She was a medical student too.
Even though they were very frank about their lack of knowledge about the actual practice of medicine, they always patiently answered any questions asked from them about various ailments, the cure, etc.
They were married. Or so we were told.
Oh, she's my fiance, he said a few days later.
We are in a live-in relationship, she told me, during a late-night chat, when he was sleeping and we were strolling outside.

Despite the 'official' version being that they were married, there was gossip. Gossip in an ICU waiting area - can you believe? 
Why the gossip? And why the need to answer questions about your relationship in a place like that? 

Monday, 20 April 2020

Quintessence - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

A lot happens in those waiting rooms, but the quintessence of the existence of each one there is the person in the ICU and the quintessence of the mood of each is the visiting time.

And when there is an announcement besides these times. The palpitations. The nervousness. It could be the doctor visiting and that is why you are called. If so, it could be the doctor taking routine rounds or it could something important... good or bad?

Except for the doctor's visit, it was almost always bad news.

Anyway, the visit.
The first glance sets the tone for the whole visit and for your emotions till the next visiting time.
Happy, hopeful? Exhausted, given up? Angry?

Trying to squeeze in the whole time spent lounging in those waiting room chairs in the few minutes allowed. Finding a place to touch among all the tubes and needle. Trying to convey that you are there always. 

How you wish you could be there always? How you try to convince yourself that the isolation in ICU is needed?

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Picnic - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

This memory is different from most others that I have written in this series. It is not strictly from the ICU waiting area. Usually, some relative would get packed lunch for me. Having food in the waiting area was not allowed, although that doesn't mean that everyone followed this rule. Anyway, there were a couple of small parks in the hospital premises outside the ICU building with benches. I'd usually have my food there.

This memory is from one of those.
A family of six - three females and three males, each about 35-40 years of age. I was standing leaning against a fence behind one of the benches. They sat on two benches facing each other and put three covered, plastic picnic baskets in front of them. Out came crockery and cutlery and tissue papers and bottles of water. 
There was Rajma Chawal, Paneer, Chapatis, and Salad. They ate and conversed as if they didn't have a care in the world.
I have seen and written about those who were clearly not there for love. But not one person have I known who is that unaffected by the environment there.

They were having dessert when a guy (I think their driver) came by to take the baskets. They asked him to wait so he retreated a few steps and stood gazing in another direction.

I left before their meal was done but it was a one of a kind experience. And as usual, I keep wondering what the story of them being there is.

Friday, 17 April 2020

One - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

Is disease a great leveller? This question has now gotten a drastically different depth and implication compared to when I had originally planned writing this post back at the beginning of March.

I had planned to write that all become one when sitting there, a few floors down from the ICU, in the waiting area, restless about even leaving the building, as if just by being there you were closer to the person in the ICU.

Even when I was there, I knew that it is an entitlement just to get the right medical care, to have a good place to be waiting, etc. But the fact is that when it really came down to it, while I was there, the feeling was that everyone is just a loved one of someone who is fighting for their life.

The disease is a great leveller, but still it is not. It may be able to affect anyone, but some are more susceptible than others. It can make (almost) everyone stay at home, but not everyone has a home.

Well, back then we were in one boat. Now, it feels that everyone is in the same boat of uncertainty and more.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Nights - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

The nights I have written about before. The makeshift beds that one made do with for days, weeks, and in some cases, months on end. The late-night new admittances to the ICU. 
There was a ritual before finally sleeping. That was to inform the reception where you were sleeping. As I have written before, hardly anyone slept in the one recliner chair allotted to them. And it was important for the hospital staff to know where you were sleeping in case you were needed at night.

It was her third day there. The evening visit to meet her husband in the ICU had her feeling restless because he had been talking about things that had made her wonder if he was all there. The doctor had mentioned that there may be a need for a ventilator because the husband had been having difficulty breathing. It was another one of those worst possibilities that are always being mentioned by the doctors, she thought.

There was an announcement with the bed number mentioned. She was sound asleep. The nurse came and gently shook her shoulder. She left with the nurse. 
Ventilator was a reality now.

Nights were scary because an announcement at night was always something bad. Once in a while, it was about an MRI slot being available, etc. but the possibility of these ones usually knew about before.
However, when informing about where one would be sleeping, you knew you were telling them where to find you in the worst-case scenario.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Makeup - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

Even normally I find being all made up all the time impossible. And I find the ones who are able to do it daunting. I will write another time about females who are always perfectly decked up, but suffice it to say here that I wonder how they manage it... always.

If there is one place where one would let up on this being always decked up habit, it would be an ICU waiting area. And I was correct in my assumption. But then exceptions are always there. 

The 'daunting' duo of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The patient was the mother-in-law's father-in-law.
The two were pretty friendly and talkative with everyone, but somehow they never talked much about what ailed the patient. And why the husbands never stayed the night or even through the day. They would come to visit, but it was this duo who was there throughout.

I wrote previously about how love is not always the motivation to be there. These two were a good example.
Their spirits were almost always high, at least high compared to most others there.
But it was their daily makeup regimen that was the biggest shock to me.

Every morning around 7:30, the two could be found in front of the mirrors of the washroom. It was a big mirror behind four washbasins with granite counter, the kind you find in shopping malls.
An unrelated thought - am I ever visiting a shopping mall again? And I am smiling at my thought that if not, I don't remember when I visited one again. Almost like, I don't remember our last kiss. Which movie/TV show is this from? Or is it from more than one?

So, back from the digression. The two had one pretty big (big from my point of view, at least) make up pouch that they shared and they worked perfectly in tandem.
The light wasn't great there, so they would ask each other about whether the lipstick and eyeliner were properly applied, etc. The whole process took about 20-25 minutes.
The mother-in-law, a little overweight in her perfectly-draped sari, and the daughter-in-law, perfect figure, in jeans and t-shirt, would leave the washroom at the end of that almost half hour and stand out among the others. Did they know that they were so different? Did they care?

All the posts in this series

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Love? - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

'L' had to be about 'love', right? That's why each one of us were there - because someone we love was in the ICU. 
Why the question mark after it then?
Well, had it been about love, it would have the story of almost everyone there. Or so I would have believed if I hadn't spent as much time there as I did.
Just as there are a lot of stories of the ones who were there for love, whatever the relationship may be, there were almost as many who were there for other reasons, duty being the primary one.

One such person was he, who came across the all-loving husband initially. Till one afternoon we really got talking. She met with an accident the day he had planned to ask for a divorce.
A very filmy story. Unbelievably so.
She did recover. They did go home. What happened next? Your guess is as good as mine.

But it is sadder still when the person there is not for love.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Karma - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

Can you even begin to imagine how much karma would be discussed at such a place? For those responsible for the waiting and those needing intensive care.

He, a ten-year-old, had the most interesting take on it.

Kids were not allowed in there. The mother had taken special permission for her two kids, 8 and 10. They were there for about three days, the time it took for some relatives to fly in and whisk them away.

It is heartening to see the tender hearts being unaffected by what is going on around them. He would talk a mile a minute, they would run around the waiting hall and get told off, and he would sleep soundly in one of the recliners. I imagine him understanding the gravity of his experiences with time. I wonder if he feels relieved that he didn't understand it then.
So a serious karma discussion was on among four of us. About why we are here, about fruits of good and bad deeds, reincarnation, etc. We didn't even notice him sitting behind us.

And then he said - 
Papa says there is no karma stuff for kids. It is only for grownups. And papa says we can choose to be a child at heart always.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Joy - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

Smiles were not as rare there as one would believe. There were smiles after a hopeful visit to the ICU. Then there were times someone would visit and a smile would light up the face of a person who had been sitting alone for hours. Of course, there were smiles of leaving the ICU with the patient feeling better. But the last ones were not seen much besides quick adieus to the bonds made sitting there, because of all the paperwork, etc. needed and then being busy in another part of the hospital.

His smile was different. She had been in and out of hospitals for almost two years.
There were times when the preparedness of certain individuals in that ICU waiting room would surprise you. He was one of those. The preparedness was sad after he told us how long it had taken him to be this prepared.
He knew the end was coming. Unlike most people there, he would rarely talk about what was wrong with her, what the doctor said that day, et al. He would talk about their shared good times. But his expression was always exhausted, defeated, and sad.

And then that day, a rare joyful expression. Just after all of us were back after the evening ICU visits.
She had recognized him after days. It was after a joyful goodbye. 

Friday, 10 April 2020

Idle - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

This is not about one person particularly. This is about everyone there.

Idle. Waiting. Busy doing nothing.
This was a recurring subject of conversation there. I am writing this in the midst of coronavirus lockdown. Can I compare the two experiences? This certainly involves everyone, whereas that obviously was focused to the ones there. Sitting there, you knew that life outside is going on as usual.

You, who usually didn't have time to even breathe, have all the time in the world now.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Hope against Hope - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

She would come during visiting time every single evening. 
She had a quiet dignity to her. I never saw her losing it as I had seen many others do, as I had myself done.

Her father, father-in-law, and brother took turns staying there.

A lecturer of History at Delhi University, mother of a four-year-old, and wife of the person in the ICU, she would visit the hospital on her way back from work. She looked rather young for her age.

Her husband had been in a road accident, underwent brain surgery, but never woke up. It had been over a month when I first saw her. It was another couple of weeks before he passed away.

The father-in-law would spend hours discussing his son's kundli (astrological birth chart) with astrologers on phone.
When the father was there, he would have long talks with other attendants, something that was a common pastime there.
The brother didn't talk to anyone either. Does this need to talk to others develop/increase with age? He was in his early twenties, had taken a semester off and spent most nights there.

I think of her often. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Going Back - Stories from an ICU waiting room #AtoZChallenge

All the 22 days that I was there, when I did not know when my time there would end and how, I would wonder at times if I would return there. Not as I was then, but just to visit. It may sound insane, but for those days, it was what my life was.

It was around five in the evening. Just before the rush and chaos of going up to the ICU for visiting hours. She was sitting alone. Looking around. Her gaze would, it seemed, inadvertently stop at a spot. The person next to her asked her who she was there for. This was usually how conversations started there.

No one, she said, almost whispering. I used to sit here for him. It's been a year today.

I never did go back though. Life takes over. 
But then, these stories that I am writing after over three years are proof that I keep going back all the time. 

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.