In the ICU

I visited the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a hospital a few weeks ago. It was my first time.

My aunt was diagnosed with cancer at its very late stages. An operation that was meant to combat her ailments only aggravated several organs and left her in a coma.

She lay in her bed attached to two towering apparatuses that sprouted tubes and pierced different parts of her body; which other than God, kept her alive. She gasped loudly while her head jerked the pillow every time she needed to catch her breath.

Her glasses – always sat on her plump and jubilant cheekbones – were not worn. She lost weight and the colour was disappearing from her face.

For the visitor, the ICU is an otherworldly dimension, a place where the fragility of life is at its most vulnerable. It’s only when I catch the flu for example that I start to appreciate the value of good health – when I get sick. As an observer at the ICU, I didn’t appreciate the real value of life until I was there.

I walked around the ward curiously observing the patients who were either asleep, unresponsive or frozen in thought, words and movement. What happened in their life that brought about the condition they are in?

My friends who have given birth are the sole reason I would frequently visit the hospital. In the maternity ward, the atmosphere is light and joyous in a space full of life…hope. In the ICU, it’s the opposite. Hope is depleting. The feeling of helplessness is in every step you turn. It hovers around the patients and their loved ones and without a moment’s notice it transmutes in the form of death.

I could sense certain patients who held onto life by the thinnest of threads were waiting for their beloved travelling from afar to make it just in time so they can say goodbye, and then they let go.

As bleak and intensely cheerless the ICU is, there was a defiant spirit in all of the patients that kept them going; a subtle but strong pulsation buried within them trying to grow stronger and stronger.

I believe it’s the patient’s hope and strength of will that keeps them alive – more than the machines or doctors and nurses. As long as there is breath, there is always hope no matter how grave the doctor’s prognosis is or how much suffering punishes their weary bodies.

For the fortunate ones, they go back home or are transferred to a rehabilitation facility. Unfortunately for my aunt, it was her time to meet her maker. But she didn’t say goodbye without waiting for her daughter coming in from interstate.