Archive for June 5th, 2007

Inside out

ICU is a funny job. And clearly not ha ha funny, you’ve learnt that much by now. I’ve just finished a 9 day stretch in the unit. Generally I’m looking after 11 patients, that’s as many beds as we have. There has occasionally been 14, and then we run out of ventilators and we get a bit twitchy when we’re pulling the old iron lung out of storage.

But with all the patients in one place, in a small unit, I get to know them very well. I see them 10-15 times a day or more. Though I don’t usually get to know the patients personally, they’re generally very rude and never speak to me. Some say it’s the fact they’re unconscious, I just think they’re being ignorant, some people eh…?

I know them well in the medical sense. I can quote you the blood results of every patient for the past week, I can tell you dates they were admitted, when they had surgery, when they got the tubes in, when they got the tubes out. I know how every patient behaves, for example their blood pressure will disappear when turned one way that they’ll tend to punch the staff when their sedation wears off. I know which drugs work for them and which don’t. So when I say I know the patients inside out, there’s a certain degree of literal meaning to it.

Over the past week I’ve had the pleasure of looking after CB. CB’s 19 years old. He’s also 19 kg. I’ll let that sink in a bit.

He’s got pretty bad cerebral palsy (though I’ve seen worse), severe developmental delay (and then some) and epilepsy. Tough break.

He’s also got pneumonia, or rather has had pneumonia for about a month now. Not only has he got muck and infection in his lungs, he’s also got muck and infection round the lining of his left lung. In fact so much he’s only working off one lung.

When he came down, I put two tubes in his chest, his tiny ribs so close together I could barely get them into his chest. And for the past 4 days I’ve spent an hour each day injecting stuff into the tubes to break down all the muck and let it drain.

At least he’s not as rude as the others, he rolls his eyes and his head and splutters at my presence. Though he doesn’t seem to know I’m there till I blow on his face (a trick I learned from his mum).

I explained to his mum what we were doing and the principles behind it (in roughly the same terms as above) and she knelt forward and whispered in his ear ‘aww, you poor wee !@£$%^, they’re gonna blow the *&^% out of your lungs wee man’. She couldn’t have said this any more tenderly or lovingly. He seemed to understand, the love if not the words.

And so I’ve sat an hour a day fiddling with the tubes and singing old hymns to myself, blowing air in his face, and watching his eyes roll back and forth. He cries when the tubes catch his chest. A high pitched wail, his face contorted till the morphine kicks in. A simple, breathing, crying reminder of the way the world is. Of how I think I know what justice is, but have no idea. Of how I have no idea how lucky  I am. Of the sheltered, self-protective little world that I’ve made. Of how there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more suffering.

In my head are such questions. Without easy answers. I don’t think they’re meant to rest easy on my mind. On the verge of beginning to approach the edge of understanding, in the very smallest way possible, what he meant when he said, ‘behold I am making all things new’.

The wee %^$&*£.


June 2007