Dear ICU,

It’s a very strange feeling to be somewhere so frightening, but feel lucky to be there. That was the first thought I had when I stepped in the door: so many others had not had the chance to see their family members there. I was so lucky that this was a time where the virus was under control, and visiting was allowed. The ICU has never had publicity like it has during the pandemic. It was a place that to me had become a sort of terrifying mystical land– the place you under no circumstances would want to end up. It became intwined with COVID, in such a way that I forgot there were other people there.

I had not imagined in any worst case scenario that I would ever visit this ward. Especially during the pandemic. I had been to many many other wards, but that was different. The ICU was darker, the shades in the room were drawn. It was simultaneously quieter and louder. Quieter because there was no human chatter but louder because there were many more machines in the small space. I hadn’t realized that if you’re not covid-positive, you’re not isolated in there. I was very surprised to see a room with four bed spaces. Privacy only provided by a cloth separator between them. It all didn’t look as scary as I had thought it would. The ventilator that I had heard discussed so many times in the news was there but it was a lot smaller than I had imagined. The most surreal part was watching someone breathe and at the same time being told they are no longer alive.

The other thing that struck me was the staff. My mind and body were overwhelmed just standing there for less than 10 minutes. I could not fathom how someone’s work day played out in there. That you could spend 12 hours among the sickest people, hovering between life and death and then drive home and cook dinner or pick up your children or watch TV. I thank God that there are people who are able to do that. I just have yet to understand how.

There was a small room for visitors. It had a coffee maker and a sink and a TV playing local news obnoxiously loudly. It’s strange to sit in there and wait. For what? As if the person in the coma knows you are sitting in the world’s most uncomfortable chair drinking cold coffee. Of course they don’t know that. But something in you makes you unable to leave. In a situation where you are hurting so much and in need of so much comfort, the discomfort of the hospital always shocks me. Why not play low soothing music instead of the news? Or provide a slightly comfier chair, knowing that these grieving families will often spend days at a time not moving from their seat.

There isn’t anything that can prepare you for seeing a loved one in a coma in the ICU. Now that I have seen it, it’s less of a mystery land. It’s a real place with real people. Some of them doing their best to save lives and the rest doing their best to survive.

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