There is a ward in the hospital (of Dubai, United Arab Emirates) that I visit everyday that is calm and quiet. No patient who is talking to his neighbour, or calling the nurse to bring him something to drink, or a patient asking for assistance to get up. In this particular ward, every single day is a chilling quietness, a silence that is broken sometimes by the wheezing noise of difficult breathing through a tracheostomy tube.
The first time that I’d stepped into the ward and I absorbed in the surroundings, I immediately realised it was different than the other wards I’d been to. There was an absence of medical staff vigilance that is ever so present in the other wards. I understood too that this has to be the saddest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
All of the patients in this room are suffering from varying degrees of brain injuries or stroke. They live in a vegetative state. They cannot move or communicate in any way. Why do I visit this ward? I have someone precious and close to me who has been living here the past 7 months. My grief is still too fresh so I will have to name the person X. I don’t think I can talk much about X as yet.
I know the case histories of most of the patients thanks to the chatty nurses. Due to the inability of the patients to speak, one never knows what are their thoughts, if any that goes through their minds. How much do they understand of what’s happened to them? Do they feel pain? If so where and how can we help? Everyday I look probingly into the eyes of X, struggling to ask ‘ Tell me if I am hurting you when I give you your physiotherapy exercises? What can I do to make you feel better?’. I try not to feel hopeless.
There is one Chinese patient and I know his condition has either improved or he’s not so far gone. He follows me with his eyes. Like the other patients he has difficulty breathing with his tracheo tube. There is no Chinese staff who can comfort him and talk to him. I feel so bad for him. Except for X and one more patient, the rest of the other patients have been abandoned by their families. There is one patient who used to be a successful banker and had his stroke at the age of 40. It’s been 2 years he’s in the hospital and I haven’t seen any of his family members coming in to see him. I know the reason to avoid the hospital has all to do with money. He has wonderful long lashes and sometimes I see him staring into space as though he is deep in thought.
Everyday that I enter this ward, I realise I cannot ever complain about anything in my life. Health is indeed the most important thing to a person. When I look at X and the other patients, I know they are suffering somehow, every single day, every single waking moment.