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.


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