I watched the hospital room in its trickling display of lights—infusions, a ventilator and a monitor with its unrelenting beeping noises. This is what I had come to know of the intensive care unit. As doctors, we are told that we must live and work detached from our patients because emotions can cloud our judgement. But it is difficult to separate emotions when a patient who lies in a bed could be someone’s mother, someone’s wife or someone’s daughter.
I expected the ICU to be a miraculous saving zone. Perhaps it was my naïveté, or perhaps it was the past few weeks I had spent immersed in episodes of medical television shows. “People can be saved,” I thought optimistically.
Then it happened suddenly. Admission after admission, death became the status quo. There was no saving here, only prolonging the inevitable. “People come to floor six and seven to go to heaven” became a common phrase echoed daily by the housing staff. I scoffed at their words the first few days. Then as the days passed by, I was surprised at the almost obvious revelation.
Not every person in the ICU came to die. Some came to fight with vengeance. But then the natural took over. I remember the sassy spirit of Mrs. C. She came in for one issue, and suddenly her course became a slippery slope. She was eventually intubated, grew sicker and went into septic shock. I was in denial about her prognosis, even though the physicians all said she was going to die. Mrs. C’s daughter had tears in her eyes, knowing that it was time. But I held on to hope.
It was only six months ago I sat at the bedside of my gravely ill mother. She survived. I was hoping Mrs. C would be the same. But a day before my rotation ended, Mrs. C passed away. I thought I would cry. I thought that this would be it for me, but instead I just felt the pit of my stomach ache momentarily. After four weeks, I had become immune to death. And in all truthfulness, that saddened me. I reminded myself of the sassy spirit of Mrs. C and her humorous outlook on life in spite of her dire circumstances. She gave me a sense of perspective. Even though we cannot save everyone, we try our hardest, we do the best we can, and the rest is out of our hands.