High Dependency. Snapshots from ICU.

Danny’s face appears next to my bed in the middle of the night.
“I need to turn you over.”
He watches me, concerned, for a few seconds. I look back at him, half asleep. I don’t want to be turned over.
“I’m comfy.”
For another few seconds he looks into my eyes and I am silently begging him to leave me alone. His compassion wins out. He massages the area of my bum which has been taking the pressure of my weight and leaves me alone. For now.

She is in her early teens, dressed in her best, and she walks through the ward alone, straight backed, staring straight ahead. She knows where her dad’s bed is and if she avoids looking sideways she will not see something horrible before she gets to it.

He is a member of the house staff and his work is clearly being done somewhere else but every time he walks past he has the kind of rhythm and confidence that comes from knowing what he does is important. Just watching him sashay past my bed makes me feel better.

A nurse has just given me a lethal injection in the middle of the night. I don’t know how I know that it is lethal but I do. When I realise that it has already happened and there is nothing that I can do about it I wake up in a panic. There is nobody by my bed.

The middle aged woman carrying a chair towards her husband’s bed is wearing a smart suit and shiny shoes. Her hair is immaculate. Her fixed smile does not reach her eyes. It is a defence against a world that has let her down. It shows anyone who sees it that she is all right, they are both all right, really they are. They will get through this. If she makes sure that everything that she can control is exactly as it should be everything will be fine.

I am having a bad night. There is a large mask sending hot oxygen across my face and droplets of warm water are running down the inside of the plastic surface. I am burning up. Behind the closed screen there are the random sounds of someone whose life is being fought for. I catch a glimpse of a grey, still face. There is no panic, no rush, just focused, intense activity. Then nothing. The lights are snapped off, the intensity evaporates and for a short while there is silence before quiet, secluded conversations and gentle encouragement. Louise comes to do my observations. I wonder how she is.
“You have all been working very hard.”
It’s a stupid thing to say but it’s all that I can think of. She says nothing- just brings a fan to cool me down. Death is not mentioned.

I am being washed all over by someone who has only just told me their name.

Something is very wrong. I have no memory of what has happened but I know that returning to consciousness to find a semi circle of cardiologists and nurses talking about you is never a good thing. Especially when the last- or is it first?- thing that you remember is a doctor’s voice saying “Oh shit”. I catch fragments of conversation. A pacing machine, heart rhythm, the number 200. Slowly it makes sense. My heart had stopped. For two minutes. That seems like a very long time. Is it long enough to count as being dead I wonder?
I am asked by one of the cardiologists how I am feeling.
This is not quite true. I know I should be scared and that is why I say it but it’s all a bit too much like a Saturday night TV drama to take seriously. I am trying to work out what has happened and why- so are the doctors. There is no space in my head for fear.
“My dad has a heart rhythm problem” I tell them.
One of the team explains that they think the cause was the pacing machine picking up on the wrong part of my heart rhythm. I am grateful that he has listened and taken me seriously and- bizarrely- I am quite proud that my heart wanted to beat in its own way and not be dictated to by a machine.
The next day I tell one of the nurses who wasn’t there about it and he sticks his chin out and gives me a quietly impressed nod. When the nurse who was in charge of the ward is back on duty she tells me cheerfully, “we didn’t have to do much to bring you back.”
No…….. not much.

Rana looks at me anxiously. “Drink! Drink! Drink!” They keep telling me to drink more. How did that get to be so hard?

The lady who makes the toast has long dark hair and a bright smile. She puts real butter on the bread and marmalade, spreads it carefully and brings it to me cut in half with a napkin over it to keep it warm. It is the best part of my day. There are no small jobs here.

I am fascinated by the fact that my entire bedding can be changed and I can be given a bath without me ever having to get out of bed. The sheer number of people who are taking an interest in my well being is overwhelming. I always have my own special nurse- a rotating day and night team of them who seem to have arrived from all over the world just for my benefit and groups of doctors who come and talk about me.

Jiao is new. She has been looking after me and she is standing at the end of my bed being praised after carefully watching my side drain being put in.. The nurse in charge is telling one of the consultants that she is doing very well. She stands listening shyly, trying not to look too full of herself but she is very happy. This is not an easy place to get used to and there is a lot to remember. I add my two pennyworth- not that anyone is that bothered..
“Jiao is lovely.”

I have no idea what is being put into my system through the lines in my neck and hand. Blood yes, and fluids. Potassium- I know that because one time they bring it to me to drink orally and it tastes strange and horrible. There are tablets too, diuretics, painkillers, warfarin, I’m not sure what else. I am carefully told what they are each time,but I forget immediately. It doesn’t seem to be any of my business.

The cheerful physiotherapist comes and stands by my bed. He wants me to wriggle my swollen feet and raise my hands. Soon I am standing up, holding onto a frame and gently marching on the spot. He smiles happily.
“You’ll be racing Usain Bolt soon.”
I look at him grimly.
“I think he might win.”
We both laugh.

I have a rash. I look like an illustration from a nineteenth century medical textbook. Everybody is fascinated by this and comes to look at it and talk about it. Ideas are bandied about. It seems like an allergy. What have I been given? (Don’t ask me) What have I not had before? I struggle to remember- I seem to have been down here in ICU/high dependency for a lifetime. Finally one of the ICU doctors declares, “Well it is as it is- we can’t mobilise you down here.” They will have to sort it out upstairs.

Ayuub is glad that I have come round from the anaesthetic after my fluid drainage. It has taken too long. He has been watching me all day. Now that my breathing tube has been taken out he wants to know about me. Am I married? Do I have children? What do I like to eat? What is my profession? When I tell him that I have no children he is sorry but consoles himself with the fact that I must be a rich woman. His children have done well and he is proud of them but they have given him grey hairs. He is excited because his sister is visiting from far away and he is going to cook her chicken, fish and prawns.

This is a nice dinner. Roasted vegetables, cauliflower cheese, roast potatoes and rhubarb crumble. Someone is encouraging me.
“You’re enjoying that aren’t you.”
“Did you not want the meat?”
It is my second stay in ICU and the first time that I have thought food was a good thing since my surgery. My plate is clean.

Danny reassures me.
“You will go home. It may take a few more days but you WILL go home.”
I believe him.


Quiet eyes watch.
Gentle hands reach out
in the half light,
searching for need.

When you are far away from yourself
someone waits for you to come home.
A stranger whose sole purpose
is centred on you.

A stranger who understands
your smallest want,
sees your greatest danger,
without being told.

You may rest in their thoughts.

The Windsock.

You swing lightly in the darkness,
trying out possibilities.
sliding your hips,
floating an arm,
sidestepping the currents,
vaulting the air.

A casual elegance,
born from grubby canvas
and grey, urban air.
You shake yourself down,
side-flip, shimmy,
Pleasing yourself, hanging loose.

My lightness and strength
have slipped out across the night sky,
into your hands.
I watch as you dance them into the wind,
keeping them burning
under your beacon light.

A Haunted Object.

Carrying the weight of years,
you have held your place,
defying the odds.
A silent witness
to joy and sorrow,
and many long days
where nothing much happened
as time crept by.

Bought new,
carried home with pride,
treasured, cleaned,
stroked, shown, discussed,
chipped, discarded, forgotten,
found, sold, wondered over.
Holding secrets,
telling nothing.

Inside the cool surface
of your worn skin
the past lies hidden.
Blind eyes look out quietly.
Two tiny dots,
placed with care by a forgotten hand
to bring you to life.
They have seen so much.

You have a life,
a past, a present and a future.
A meaning granted by those
who fashioned you from soft warm clay,
those who picked you out,
held you in trust,
and let you lie,neglected,
through the decades.

They are long gone.
Your quiet determination
has outlived them all.
You are still here, still standing.
One day you will move on.
When I am forgotten
someone else will hold you
and wonder.

I shall look out at them, unseen,
through your eyes.

It’s a Girl!

Festooned in frills,
cocooned in layers of froth,
a perfect, pink princess
is introduced to a waiting world,
kicking her legs
and smiling out
at a sea of admiration.
Our new princess.
“Isn’t she lovely?”
“Look at her little toes.”
“She’s going to be a heartbreaker.”
“How pretty does she look?”
“I could just eat her up.”
“My little Tinkerbelle.”

“You are so lucky.”
“I know. You can buy such pretty things
for a girl.”
“Ooooops. Couldn’t resist.”
“Girl shopping is the best!”
“It’s seriously expensive though, having a girl.”
“Try the charity shops-
I don’t know why but they always have
loads of girl clothes.”
“The Little Birds range is good-
girly and playful without being pink.”
“I love having a little girl to dress.”
“I know!”
“Never let your baby have a blue dummy-
seriously, someone thought my Lucy was a boy!”
“No way!”

“Here she is in her new outfit nanna!
We’ve had so many comments.
She loves it.”

“I just want her to be happy.”

What could possibly be wrong with that?

We’re not Familiar with Trains.

It takes some time for the older couple to get the huge suitcase up onto the luggage rack. She leaves him to finish shoving it into place and comes down the aisle looking for a seat. She is wearing a tartan hat and a scarf with zebras marching across it and she is smiling round at everybody.
“Is this someone’s seat?”
The young lad opposite looks up from his screen and points at the ticket sticking up above the seat.
“It’s reserved.”
She isn’t sure what to do. He reassures her.
It’s all right though- it’s only reserved from York.”
“We’re going to Liverpool.”
This is a big problem. She wants to sit near her husband and that means two seats. She turns to the young girl sitting on the seat across the aisle.
“Do you mind if I sit there?”
The young girl moves cheerfully and they settle in to their seats on either side of the aisle.
“Sit there Bill.”
“My bags are in that seat.”
“It’s all right. It’s only reserved from York.”
“Is that seat next to you reserved?”
“Yes. From York.”
“When are they getting on?”
She nods and looks at the ticket slip above my seat.
“Did you order your seat?”
I explain what happens when you book a train ticket on line. She listens carefully.
“Thanks for your help. We’re not familiar with trains.”
She looks around the carriage, taking stock.
“It’s empty now but I don’t want to sit there. I can’t travel backwards.”
She looks at the two quiet, well wrapped up ladies, sitting in the corner.
“Are you all right sitting there?”
They smile.
They nod. She looks as though she would like to tuck them up in bed.
She plonks a pile of rail leaflets down in front of her husband.
“Here, read these.”
“Look at your phone Margie.”
Margie gets out her iphone- big, spotless, silvery new one- and starts to tap, announcing what she is finding out. There is a whole world in there.
“Amazon are wrapping Christmas parcels.”
“How do you get rid of adverts on here. You can’t can you? It’s gone on subscribers now- do they take notice of that? I’m sick of it.”
“They’re telling us how much gas and electric we’re using. Compare your tariff.”
“They’ve reduced it by £100.”
Bill looks straight ahead with his eyelids half closed, his hat heading downwards over his face. She is settled. He can relax. But not for long. She sets off for the toilet- in the wrong direction.
He raises an eyebrow.
“You’ve to go that way.”
She turns back.
“No. That lady told me to go this way.”
Margie disappears into the first class carriage.
The young girl looks at Bill.
“You’re not going to leave her alone in Liverpool are you?”
He grins.
“I’d love to.”
We all laugh. He points at the case on the rack.
“See that case? There’s bedding in there, cutlery, the lot. We’re only going for two nights to see our granddaughter. I lost her in Chicago airport once. She wandered off and had to be brought back- by security.”
When Margie returns from the first class compartment she is excited.
“Oh it’s another experience down there. You’ve to lock yourself in. There’s one man sitting there helping you and another man helping him.”
She settles back into her seat and gets back on her phone- watching a video clip this time. Their son has sent it.
“Here Bill.”
He puts the phone to his ear.
“No, Bill- look at it! Look at it!”
She smiles round proudly.
“He sent it to us first and then a lot of other people.”
The train rattles on. Holidays are talked about. Ones taken and ones to come. Destinations, prices, savings.
“Is there a trolley?”
There is and it comes. Two teas and a kit-kat are ordered.
“Are they the original ones? They’ve brought out a few. I don’t want one of them orange ones.”
They can no longer see each other, separated by the grey metal bulk of the trolley. This makes Margie anxious as she can’t see what is happening while Bill pays up for two teas and a kit-kat.
“We are together. We’re just sitting apart.”
The trolley moves on. She is happy with what she has heard.
“That wasn’t bad.”
“It wasn’t bad, cos I paid for it.”
He looks at me wickedly.
“I give her £7 a week housekeeping but I don’t know what she does with it.”
The trolley moves on and there is no sugar on the table. Consternation. Some sugar appears.
“Did you get that out of your bag?”
The two well wrapped up, shy ladies nod quickly and are thanked. She turns back to Bill.
“I thought you had a kit-kat as well.”
“Oh, well that was expensive then. I thought it was cheap.”
They touch polystyrene tea cartons together across the aisle.