I didn’t know there were mixed hospital wards in Singapore until I was transferred to the High Dependency Ward after emerging from the Intensive Care Unit. It’s a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells―a place where real life dramas play out throughout the day and night.
Cardiothoracic High Dependency Ward
Foetal Man === Big Baby === Sensitive Dad
KL Gramps ===== Me ===== Nurses’ Station
There’s a Big Baby of a man across from me who’s demanding juice yet again—this time at 3am. “Apple juice, watermelon juice, any kind of juice!” I could almost sympathise with him, remembering my desperate battle with thirst in the ICU. But then he tries to leave the bed, yet again, and the nurse warns him that he risks injuring himself and would need to be restrained if he persisted, just like another patient in an adjourning ward. The next gem of a response from the same man came when he was asked for a sample—urine, probably, although I couldn’t hear the request clearly from across the room. His amusing and loud reply: “No! I’m not an animal! Leave me alone!” The next morning his wife comes in bright and early, and you guessed it—he asks her for juice! When told she’d need the approval of the nurses, he switched tack, and tried to coax her into buying him tea, followed by a demand for her phone so that he could watch movies!
KL Gramps on my left apparently came to Singapore for a holiday with younger relatives, a couple who looked like they were in their late twenties. I couldn’t help eavesdropping on the family as we were just centimetres apart. He’d had a heart attack, and his lady visitor asked the doctor if the hospital could let him stay until he was well enough to travel back to Kuala Lumpur. Speaking in Mandarin, she confided that she couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel for much longer. I couldn’t tell if she was his grand-daughter or a more distant relative, but she told Gramps that she and her companion had to return to the Malaysian capital soon. He clearly felt a sense of abandonment, and after a strong exchange of words in Cantonese, she stomped out. A young man came in next, but left within minutes. The woman returned again and gazed helplessly at the old man, then helped him to make a call to KL before leaving. I wasn’t able to witness the end of the saga as he was moved elsewhere.
Foetal Man chose mostly to curl into himself, retreating from the fervent entreaties of his relatives. One brought along an iPad filled with photographs, urging him to look at his loved ones, patiently naming each of them. Another reminded him of his favourite foods, promising him that the tasty dishes would be waiting for him as soon as he could be discharged. But he made it clear by his actions that he just wanted to sleep.
Sensitive Dad’s wife and daughter were with him the first afternoon that I was in the ward. The elderly woman told him she would visit again the next day if she felt well enough. The doctor left word later for his family members to be present the following afternoon so he could talk to them, but only the wife turned up. She told her husband in Hokkien, “She said she has to study for her exam and can’t come.” Was she referring to their daughter? Was her absence the reason why he ended up soiling himself twice in the early morning hours? Nurses are human, and exasperation can be tangibly felt even though they tried their best to be understanding and caring.
By the second night, I could almost tell time by the hospital routine. 4am is when the nurses go round cleaning each patient, freshening us up with wipes and gargles. Just after 6am is when those on night shift hand over to the day team. As my bed was situated right next to the Nurses’ Station, I could hear updates on every single patient in the two High Dependency wards that were occupied.
If you want to observe a microcosm of Singapore society, the High Dependency Ward would be a suitable place to station yourself. Displays of love or detachment by family members. Emotional highs and lows. Narrations of the events leading up to hospitalisation. Determination or resignation. Cooperation or resistance. A gloomy outlook or bright hopes for the future.
Still, the transition from a relatively isolated ICU room to a ward that rarely has a quiet moment can be pretty startling. Very fulfilling from a human interest point of view for a journalist like me, but in my capacity then as a patient who’d just survived a medical emergency, it was an overload of sensations and impressions. Perhaps it was due to the prolonged stretch of fitful sleep, but somehow, I started feeling a little disheartened by the second night. Nerves stretched thin. And when my doctors checked in on me bright and early in the morning, I just couldn’t find words to express how overwhelmed I felt, but my face probably revealed it, prompting one to quip, “Maybe we should have left you in the ICU!” I’m so thankful that they somehow realised the extent of my distress, and arranged to release me from a couple of attached lines and catheters so that I wouldn’t need round-the-clock monitoring.
The first thing that happened after I’d been moved to a private room was that I slept for 3 straight hours. Pure exhaustion, after a lot of intense living in the past week. I soaked in the silence and counted my blessings. Just before I left the hospital nearly a fortnight later, I noticed that my corner room came with a lot more space than the other single units. God is always good to me!
I’M THANKFUL FOR…
God’s loving, comforting and reassuring Presence
Caring doctors who take the time to explain and listen
Kind unjaded nurses who do more than their routine job
The love and support of family, friends and colleagues
Colourful blooms and healthy fruits sent to wish me well
Prayers of the brethren in Singapore, Australia, North America, Europe
I am blessed indeed!