When she told me about her ICU stay, I was surprised with her first phrase:
“That ICU, you know, was scary”.
Fear? I know that ICU and it´s not scary, it´s new and is quite well. She tells me that she was not treated badly at any time, but that ICU was very much scary for her. Her eyes are fogging.
She spent only a few days there, long enough for have been burned in her memories and one desire: “Never come back to that horrible place.”
She felt physical pain, but bearable with medication. But the other pain, that of loneliness… that was unbearable. She told the nurse, she did not want to be alone. The nurse calmed her with a smile: “The visiting hours soon will arrive and you will be able to see your family”. It was a total feeling of abandonment, she saw no one of the health workers near her and anxiety and despair came.. Her head was moving a mile a minute and she thought: “This is going to hurt more. And, who do I notice? What if I need something? Why do I have to be alone?.
It was an overwhelming feeling: not being able to move, not seeing anyone close to her, the constant sound of machines, not knowing what time it was, not being accompanied… She was lying unable to move and as she looked around her eyesight was unable to reach any member of the staff. Finally, a nurse appeared and could ask why there was no one there. Very kindly reassured her telling that even if she could not see anyone around them, they were seeing her all the time… What a comfort!
She tells me an anecdote. A nurse appears and orders her to drink a lot of water. She brings a small bottle with a straw, closes it to her lips and drinks a sip, then leaves it on a table next to her and goes away. She was thirsty and knew that she had to drink water, looked at her arms, tried to move them but they were full of tubes, catheters, cables and even though she tried with all her forces, her arms refused to move. “I couldn’t move my arms! How could I manage to drink water?”.
And when you think nothing can be worse, suddenly she saw a fly around her face. “A fly in an ICU? It can’t be real”, she thought she was dreaming, but no, there was the fly and with such bad luck that the fly got into the hole of the ventimask. She tells me she doesn’t know how much time it took, if it was an hour, two… But she had the fly inside the mask, and she struggled to get the fly out of there. She thought it was getting in her nose, through, mouth… Anguish, much anguish, she couldn´t move her bloody arms, even if the kind nurse had left there the bottle with the straw as a vase. There was no one with her, the nurses who allegedly watched her all the time did not see her anguish, her movements trying to warn please help me!. Her voice is breaking up and her eyes are fogging again…
She says, “I cried like a child when my relatives came to see me, and even more when I heard that visiting hours were over. I didn’t want to be alone, it was the worst experience of my life, forced against my will to remain alone”.
I closed my eyes and for the first time I felt and understood what Hector felt when he was left alone…. Her eyes are full of tears.
All this would not have happened if she had been accompanied by a relative, a person who would not drop her hand, who would occasionally give her a sip of water and would have seen that a fly had gotten into her oxygen mask.
Family is not the visit. Family cares and helps the recovery. How long? It hurts me to hear professionals say NO to open-door hospitals. We can all see each other someday on the other side. And I don’t want to be alone in those moments.
What about you?
We must strive to change the feeling of fear towards security, the pain towards hope. It’s sad that the memory of an ICU stay remains as this. I do not resign, we are not the crazy, we are the common sense: let´s fight to open ICU doors (#UCIAbiertas2020).
By Esther Peinado.