A night in the waiting lounge of the I.C.U.

10 anxious relatives. Waiting. Some for the last several days. Some are new-joiners tonight (like myself). But the mood is already set. The night is going to be long. Really long.

Each time the door opens & a “bed number” is called out, all 10 of us tune in to the announcement. With eager ears trying hard to discern the meaning of that number. Is that our relative on that bed? Oh dear lord…. what could have happened?

The first such announcement is for the relative perched on a couch next to me. His wife (in her late 70’s) is admitted for acute breathlessness. The poor husband seems more restless than a first-time-father pacing up & down outside the maternity room. The doctor calls him over. Hurriedly, the old man pushes off the couch & into a quick dash towards the doctor. What follows next are a few tense moments of conversation. From the distance, I can see clearly that the doctor is trying to re-assure the husband. After a night in the ICU, she is going to be shifted to the general ward. Nothing to worry at all.

A wry & tired smile breaks on the man’s face. With creases accentuating it, gently hinting of his age, the feeling behind it is beyond my humble means to describe.

Now then, there are 9 others in the room. The routine kicks in. Each hoping, praying, literally beholden to God that their bed number hasn’t been called out yet. But, the night is still long.

There is an eerie silence in the lounge. It’s been over an hour since the last announcement from the I.C.U. Apart from the occasional humming of a generator in the distance, there is no other sound.

I shoot a quick glance at my clock. Its 2 am. There is a lady on the couch opposite mine. She has been in this lounge each night past entire week. Her father-in-law is in the ICU. She is reading a book. I can’t clearly make out which one. But I am sure, this is one book she is not going to remember all that well. Her mind & thoughts lie elsewhere.

2:20 am. The nurse re-appears. “Bed no. 410″ it is this time around. As is the unspoken protocol now, all heads turn towards the nurse. Albeit  this late in the night, the speed of comprehension slows down. Little surprise of course, given that we all have come here from a long & tiring day. It then occurs to me. That’s MY sister on Bed no. 410! Why on earth is my sister asking for me at 2:20 am in the night? My heart sinks.

With a lump in my throat, I limp out of my couch and take a few big strides towards the nurse. My mind is running in infinite different directions. Speculating. Analyzing. Hoping for the best. Fearful of the worst. Those few strides have just caused a whirlpool of emotions within. None which help to soothe my over-stressed nerves.

As I reach within the nurse’s earshot, all my senses are only tuned in to her. It’s almost as if the rest of the world has just faded out. I ask her if my sister is ok. She says: Oh yes. nothing to worry. I called for you as your sister is asking for her toothpaste & face wash when she wakes up in the morning”.

What????? For a few seconds, my mind refuses to accept what my ears have just heard. It can’t be. Can it? Well, my sister is known to have such crazy demands at totally inappropriate times! But right now? While in the ICU? At 2:20 am? Unbelievable!

But everything said & done, I am surely glad that she is doing fine. The doctor in shift has assured me that she will be shifted to the general ward in the morning. But, being the skeptic that I am, I want evidence. So I go up to the monitor next to my sister’s bed & stare at it intently. Trying to make sense of the curve floating across like a wave. The occasional beep is reassuring. But i still track the wire coming out from the back of the monitor all the way to my sister. There is so much corruption in India nowadays, you just can’t trust anybody or anything!

After spending a few anxious minutes trying to pacify myself, I return back to the lounge. Convinced that, come tomorrow morning, I will not have to come back for another night at the lounge. Weird as it does sound, I kinda hate this place. Not because of the constant vigil you need to put up for your loved one, but also to grapple with a constant, although feeble, fear of losing them.

It’s 4 am now. My tired eyes are telling me to stop worrying & get some rest. In a matter of few hours, dawn will be upon us. And I shall have no further reason to be here. In that hope, I put my mind at ease and finally call it a night.

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