Outside the ICU Walls

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Being a Critical Care physician, there is still another side of the hospital critical care unit that I am not very familiar with. It is an area where a distressed family waits in limbo. It is the ICU’s family waiting lounge.

In our hospital, this lounge is quite big. It has 2 floors. There are lots of couches, recliners, and few sofa-beds. There are also several tables with chairs. There’s television, computer, books and magazines, toys, board games, and several jig-saw puzzles available for anyone who wants to kill time. There is even a microwave oven, a coffee maker, and a small refrigerator. It also has its own restrooms and shower rooms.

Despite the several amenities the waiting lounge has to offer, the atmosphere in this area is far from comfortable. Not because of the condition of the lounge, but due to the physical and emotional suffering that the people who hang out here, are going through. In truth, it is more like a purgatory, where several different families tarry and await if their loved ones who are languishing inside the ICU, will continue to fight for their life and linger longer, or will end their battle and go home. And I mean, eternal home.

Some families are from out-of-town and will camp out here for a few days. Some for weeks. And some, even for months. Some will find comfort with a few good news from the nurses and physicians, though this can be far in between. Some will find comfort from the chaplains and social workers, or by going to the room annexed to the lounge, which is a small chapel. Some will find comfort from the other families who, like them, share the same predicament. And yet some will not find comfort at all.

For almost a year now, our small group in church had a monthly project for the ICU families. Church members will prepare food, bring it to the hospital, and serve it to the families at the waiting lounge. Last Thanksgiving weekend was one of those times.

I will say that I cannot find a more grateful people whom we served. These are people whom, because of other more pressing concerns, getting food is not a priority, at least for the moment. And getting free lunch is one of the best news they had for a while. They were really appreciative not mainly for the free food, but the thought that some complete strangers care for their plight. I had the chance to hear their sad stories not as a physician, but as a “friend” who has time to listen and dine with them, and in some way share with their hopes, even how slim it may be.

Somehow, this gave me a different perspective of what I do. It gave me some insight of what is happening at the other side of the ICU. It made me more aware of the anguish and despair outside the ICU walls.

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