Outside ICU – part two

Continuation of outside ICU – part one. Did I mention this was supposed to be a short stopover on the way to our honeymoon?

Ward rounds

Little quacklings scurry around with their white coats and masks. I guess the big quacks are too old to scurry. There’s a squinty-eyed one with a bow-tie above her ponytail that swishes behind as she walks. Another girl (young male doctors are scarce) talks slowly and dreamily, as if she will drift into the clouds any minute. I don’t learn the medical jargon from them.

All visitors talk about 指标 but under my aunt’s command, our ward rounds are more sophisticated. We slip the friendly PCA a bottle of whisky to report the obs in real-time, at least twice a day. I’m told he’s better than the short female PCA who blatantly demands big bribes every few days because she’s looking after your relative, but doesn’t deliver.

One uncle takes his daily walk down to the doctor’s room. He’s friendly, slick and smooth – a professional middleman, or a senior consultant, as he likes to call himself. Settling confidently into a chair, he finds an obliging young doctor to log him in. Thanking them, he proceeds to navigate the electronic medical records himself, taking photos of all relevant pathology and radiology reports for the day, forwarding the 数据 into our family chat group. My aunt nods approvingly, telling us this uncle is diligent in completing assigned tasks. She turns to her own husband and says he’s good too; slow but steady. Then she points to her younger brother, my dad, and shakes her head.

Each person reviews the numbers on their phone and we huddle to discuss today’s progress – 今天的度血样饱和度,血样分压,白细胞计数,肾功能,纳,钾。。。The family is non-medical but have worked out things that I didn’t know after 6 years of medical school, such as the basics of BiPAP settings or the effect of steroids on WCC.

Visiting hour

Visiting hours start at 3:30pm but no one is allowed into ICU. The first sliding glass door opens but the second opaque door remains closed. Peering behind staff entering in and out, all that’s visible is a small waiting area with gowns and masks, which don’t seem to be used very often. Beside the door is a small square window.

Arms clamber over one another to be the first to get their mobile phones in through this window. The PCAs takes them to the patient’s bed and the video calls start. In a few minutes the two TV screens on the wall flicker on, each screen split into four quadrant. There’s a camera, similar to a CCTV camera, above each bed. You can briefly zoom into a quadrant for a better view, until another relative steps forward to click back into their quadrant. It’s like a zoo in this narrow corridor, with movement, voices and echoes growing increasingly loud.

None of the patients say much – some have tracheostomies, others are barely conscious. Initially grandpa nods and gestures to us but can’t talk with the BiPAP mask. When his numbers looked slightly better, my uncle passes a portable radio through the square window. We gather around to watch the screen – what will he do? He fiddles with it but his hands are oedematous and weak. Hands that, just a few weeks back, were nimble and clever in reviving watches, fixing zips and capturing waterlily shots. He gives up on the new toy because it’s new and unfamiliar. And because he’s tired. By this time we stopped video chats and could only send in short audio recordings or brief written notes.

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