Part II | SKIMS: A Tale of Fresh Wounds and Salt

Night at the ICU

Wearing a sympathetic smile, a nursing assistant helped me lift my mother from her bed onto a stretcher that had one of its four wheels jammed. In his late thirties, the assistant, who was a charming fellow, used both his training and affable nature to make us feel as comfortable as he could. While he set the stretcher into motion, the jammed wheel made an awkward squeal besides restricting its movement. As if he was personally responsible for our ordeal, he offered an apology. The brief bumpy ride from the general ward to the surgical ICU was quite traumatic but hoping that my mother would get the best of treatment there calmed my nerves.

The assistant shifted my mother to a bed located in one of the cubicles in the ICU. He, while shifting her onto the bed, snapped a few chords from the monitor and it went blank. He switched it on and fastened the oximeter to the index finger of her right hand. The monitor came to life and it screened the oxygen level in my mother’s blood, her pulse, temperature and other readings. A stern warning, “No Attendants Allowed,” pasted on the wall hinted at “extreme” care the patients enjoyed while being treated in the ICU. I was happy that at least ICUs were spared of the casual attitude that the doctors and the nurses showed elsewhere. My joy was, however, short-lived.

“You can stay here all night long,” the assistant told me as he left the ICU.

A middle-aged nurse, who had put on a relatively cleaner uniform, manned the entire ICU comprising some ten patients. Her PPE was as usual scant. A seemingly burdensome job had stiffened her attitude and she was a replica of the other nurse in the ward. She too came up with a bottle and fastened the tubing to the connector device on the wrist of my mother. A fluid started flowing into my mother’s body.

“Turn this wheel all the way to the end when the fluid finishes,” the nurse before making off, instructed me.

I reclined on a chair nearby and waited for the fluid to finish. After half an hour or so, I turned the wheel on the regulator when the fluid in the bottle finished.

I noticed the readings on the LED monitor did not change even as I removed the oximeter from my mother’s finger. I tried it on my finger and even then the screen showed no response. I called the nurse who said she’d summon a technician. He never came.

At around 8 o’clock, a staffer with a food trolley appeared in the ICU and I took some soup in a bowl. A few spoonfuls sated her appetite. Still writhing in pain, her whining became noisier as the anaesthesia started wearing off.  The weight of salt bag on her wound was increasing her unease.

“Where have those doctors gone who would address the pain of their patients as if their own,” a long sigh escaped her lips as she slipped into the reveries of her last pacemaker implantation procedure performed by Dr Vikar Jan in 2008.

“Can you get in touch with him,” she said imploringly as I gently wiped off tears from her weary eyes. “I couldn’t thank him enough for the kindness with which he performed the operation.”

Her wish was my command.

Luckily, I found his number on my mobile phone and unhesitatingly I made a call. A soothing voice from the other end calmed my nerves and after introducing myself I requested him if he could talk to my mother who had been operated a few hours ago. He obliged. I put the phone on the speaker and brought it close to my mother’s lips.

“These butchers tore my flesh while I was still awake,” my mother narrated her ordeal to Dr Vikar. “I wish you were here right now and I would kiss your hands to thank you for your kind-heartedness.”

My mother found some comfort in talking to the doctor who, in turn, ensured that his words applied some balm on her wounds.

“Why has the doctor told us to place a five-kilogram bag on her wound,” I enquired from him.

“Usually such a wound requires a pressure bandage to control bleeding, minimize swelling and encourage blood clotting without constricting normal blood circulation,” Dr Vikar said while dismissing the unhygienic practice of placing a bag on the wound.

He wished her quick recovery and I hung up.

The atmosphere in the ICU was no different from that of an ordinary ward as no one bothered to visit my mother even as the ICUs, as I have learnt, are distinguished from general wards by a higher staff-to-patient ratio and access to advanced medical resources and equipment that is not routinely available in the wards.

At around 11.00, the nurse appeared from seemingly nowhere and after administering the prescribed antibiotics into my mother’s vein switched off all the lights. The darkness brightened the glow on the LED screens attached to each bed immersing the entire ICU in a faint white light. The intermittent beeps from the LED monitors filled the ICU with a strange fear. Howling in his sleep, an elderly man presented a scene right out of a horror movie.

I spent the entire night comforting my mother, wiping tears off from her eyes and kissing her old wrinkled cheeks.

I might have slept a wink but a strange feline sound right beneath my chair woke me up. A cat had given the guards a slip and barged into the ICU. I chased it away all the way to the corridor. Annoyed at my indifference perhaps, it stayed on its back legs and pooped right in the middle of the corridor. It walked away nonchalantly, gazed up at me with a mock stern look.

The clock struck 11 and as usual a team of doctors headed by a senior one appeared in the ICU. An ECG of my mother showed the newly implanted gadget was working fine. Much to her relief, the catheter too was removed and she had a successful washroom visit as well.

“She’s good to go,” the senior doctor informed us. “We’ll prepare the discharge after her wound is dressed.”

Our joy knew no bounds. For the first time I found a little smile flashing across my mother’s face. The torturous night had finally ended. Hiccups though were bound to occur. The night nurse was replaced by a more unsympathetic one who would charge at the attendants more ferociously than the feline visitor a few hours ago.

“When is the person to dress my mother’s wound coming,” I asked her.

“They have jobs to do elsewhere also,” She replied rudely. “Sit back and relax.”

My mother wanted to go home as soon as possible and we could hardly wait patiently. Finally, at around 2.00 in the afternoon, a man came with a dressing trolley. The stern nurse accompanied him. The man began removing the old bandage hastily.

“Please go slow,” my mother implored him.

The man wouldn’t listen. The adhesive tape broke off from her flesh with a sharp crackling sound, and my mother groaned in pain. I felt like slapping the man but I held on to my nerves. He applied fresh dressing and advised us to come on alternate days for further dressings.

Within another half an hour, the discharge certificate of my mother was in my hands. I made her sit on a wheelchair and drove her off from the ICU room. Outside, the cat poop was still there, some of it crushed under the wheels of passing stretchers. Nobody had bothered to clean it up.

I asked a stranger if he could stay with my mother until I got my car. He obliged. I brought my car. The stranger helped me get my mother into the car and we quickly drove off.

My mother didn’t visit SKIMS for her further dressings. A local compounder, who treats my mother as his own, would come home every time she summoned him and dress her wounds.