Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Children at the ICU

           When I was in the state of medical induced coma, my nightmares were terrible and vivid. In my nightmares, I was being constantly tortured by nurses and doctors. Some nightmares even repeated themselves, like a bad movie.

Pain, anxiety, frustration and all of the negative emotions could be felt in my nightmares. Feeling confused and frightened, there was a desperation in me as I didn’t know where I was and wanted to go home or at least inform my parents that I will not be home so soon.  There were also silhouettes of dark figures outside the room, looking in, as if waiting for something to happen.  

         After regaining consciousness around 2 and a half months from the date of my accident, I remembered hearing and seeing children playing outside of my room in the ICU. In the middle of the night, usually after 9.00pm to nearly midnight. There was a particular boy, whom I suspected to be the leader of the group, a Chinese boy wearing glasses, who looks to be around 7 to 8 years old.

Occasionally, this boy will be peering inside my room with his friends and say in a loud voice, “I don’t like it here, it is so quiet”.

            What nerve! such a pesky boy, I thought to myself. I couldn’t understand why the doctors and the nurses would allow those kids to play and make noise outside of my room.

         When my sister visited me in the ICU, a few times I have complaint to her about those kids playing in the middle of the night. 

          My sister looked puzzled and said, “There are no children here”.

         I insisted there were, and that they are making so much noise in the middle of the night.

         Calmly, my sister replied, “Don’t be bothered by them”.

        Months later, when I was transferred to the Burn Ward, I still recalled those children playing and questioned my sister again.

         She then told me, “Sis, that ward is for adults only. The ICU for children is not located at the same place. It is elsewhere”.
         I insisted and told her that this can’t be true as there were children playing there.

        In a firm voice, my sister said, “Sis, from my observation at the ICU, most of the patients in there are immobile and critical. Nearly half of the patients entering ICU will not make it out alive!”

Suddenly a realisation hit upon me, I pondered upon this. Who were those children? Why were they there? I was still not feeling satisfied with the answer that I got.

One day, I decided to ask one of the friendlier nurses who was attending to me during dressing. I narrated to her the story about those children that I saw in the ICU.

The nurse had a surprising look on her face, she paused for a while and said, “The adult ICU used to be the ICU for children. Yes, children were there a long time ago”.

Finally, I had my answer. I wasn’t crazy or hallucinating. The nurse then continued, “Eileyn, if you see the children again, if they invite you to play with them, tell them NO”.

Giving her an incredulous look, I replied, “Of course not! Who wants to play with them?”.   

I wasn’t really frightened, just puzzled with what I saw. I did know that I was given morphine during my medically induced coma, but that was before I was conscious of my surroundings.

Strange happenings didn’t only happen in the ICU, but also at the Burn Ward, from what I was told. One day, my sister insisted that she saw a particular nurse at the Burn Ward, but turns out that she was not on duty on that day. And she denied being around the hospital on that day too.  It seems this doopleganger appearance doesn’t happen only once but a few times, witnessed by others working there.

However, having shared the above story, I don’t think one should worry about ghostly appearances at the hospital. Whatever your religious background, just pray for protection and for the beings to finally find peace and stop lurking around at the hospital.

The Day I came out from the ICU

              I’ve stayed in the ICU for a long time that I was excited yet a bit worried about being transferred out from the ICU into the burn ward.

              There were a few nurses in my room that morning, preparing me for the move. A male nurse said, “Eileyn, you are the Assistant Village Chief of the ICU”. I was staring at him in bewilderment, puzzled by his statement. 

            “Huh? What are you talking about?” I asked in my barely audible voice, unsure whether I had misheard him earlier.

He then explained that the longest staying patient at the ICU was more than 4 months whereas I was there for the duration of nearly 4 months only.  Therefore, that makes me the 2nd longest staying patient there. I honestly didn’t know how to react to this. Part of me felt amused by his statement but another part of me had the revelation that I am lucky to be alive.  For me, being in 2nd place was already far too long to be in the ICU.

           Later, another familiar nurse came in to bid me goodbye. She informed me that during the first few weeks when I was at the ICU struggling between life and death, her mother was involved in an accident and was also admitted at the hospital. After seeing me struggling to live, the nurse told me that I had given her hope not to give up easily on life.

“Did your mum survived?”, I asked with my barely audible voice.

She said, “No. Unfortunately, she died not long after the accident”. 

I felt so sad for her. I couldn’t contain my emotions, and neither could she. We both held hands and cried.  

It was afternoon by the time preparation was done to shift me to the burn ward. As they wheeled me out with the bed from my room to the general area of the ICU, I randomly waved farewell to the nurses and doctors. I was quite surprised to see all the doctors and nurses saying their goodbyes in a happy manner and waving back. Some faces were familiar but there were also some unfamiliar faces to me.

I could remember the warm air as they push me out from the ICU. It felt really good as it has been really cold in the ICU. I enjoyed the short journey. Finally, I am out from that room. 
            My place at the burn ward seemed to be brighter with more sunlight. There was a window next to my bed. The nurse station was just on the right side of my bed. I thought to myself, ok, this doesn’t look too bad.  I will be OK here for a while.

Unbeknownst to me, the burn ward would be my home for another year. I would be the longest staying patient there.  In other words, The Village Chief of the burn ward.


           The first few memories that I had when I was conscious was that when I open my mouth, no voice came out. I couldn’t speak and my throat hurts. I could feel thick phlegm stuck at my throat, restricting my breathing. They had to use a suction machine and tubes to help suck out the phlegm from my throat through a hole that they puncture in the middle of my neck.  

            I could hardly move.  Muscles had wasted away due to lack of movement. They call it muscle atrophy.  I was bandaged from head to toe.  

Once a while, a loud beeping sound could be heard from the left side of my room. I remembered my sister assuring me not to worry, and that the “beeping” means that the “medicine is finished”. Unbeknownst to me at that time, it was a multiple syringes pump dispenser for the different types of medications that were being administered to me through the right side of my neck. 
There was no emergency button at the ICU for the patient to press on, to buzz the nurses. One day, I had difficulty in breathing, was out of breath and no one was around. Feeling horrified with the realisation that I had survived the explosion, but would probably die of suffocation from my own phlegm, all I could do was to cough loudly to get the attention of the nurses. Even though I was struggling to breath, that was what I did. It felt like ages had passed before one of the nurses entered the room. That incident left a huge impact on me as I felt vulnerable and helpless. I was immobile and unable to communicate with anyone. It was indeed a frustrating time for me.   
Later, I learnt that I could only form a few words with my mouth to make the nurses understand what I wanted. The few words that I could use were “Cold”, “Hot” and “Water”. These few words were very important for me. 
I couldn’t drink water at that time. I was on drips. However, my mouth and throat were so dry that it felt so uncomfortable. It didn’t help that the air condition was so cold in the ICU.  The only thing that they could give me was some sort of thick liquid, just to wet my lips. I remember the first time they gave it to me, it felt so good. This liquid became my “Water” for a few weeks.
The person that gave me the most practical advice while at the ICU is my sister. I am lucky and grateful to have her. She would tell me to say and form only one or two words, as no one could understand what I was trying to say, and it end up frustrating me. As time goes by, my sister managed to read lip my words more than anyone else.
My sister informed me that I was lucky to be alive, that I sustained 80% burns. That 35% burns and above is considered critical. During the time in ICU, I had blood sepsis and nearly died a few times, after which my kidney failed and was on dialysis. Everyone was relieved that I managed to pull it through. The medical induced coma was around 2 and a half months.

Worried that I may be handicapped, I hesitatingly asked my sister, with my barely audible voice, “Did I lose any limb?”. 

“No, everything is intact”, my sister assured me. 

 “How about my face? I clearly remember the explosion happened in front of my face”, I asked, waiting to hear the bad news. 

 “Don’t worry sis, your face is fine, even though you sustained 80% burns to your body”, she assured me again.

Surprised by her answer, “Are you sure?” I questioned again. “Yes, don’t worry, your face is ok”, she had to reassure me.
I felt so grateful hearing this piece of information. For me, it is indeed unbelievable.
My house was another story, part of the wall collapsed due to the explosion, windows shattered, even the steel fence outside the house broke and fell on my car which was parked at the road side. The roof of my house had holes. Needless to say, the whole house had to be demolished and rebuilt again.  There were damages to my neighbours’ houses and even the windows of the house across the street were shattered.

The Dream

          A myriad of strange looking colourful patterns were above me. There were many beautiful colours that I was unfamiliar with. All this while, a light melodious song was being played in the background.  I have never beholden such a sight or hear such a tune before.  I was floating on air feeling free.

 Suddenly, a loud voice spoke to me, "Come on, come on, take your responsibility!".

Jolted out of my dreamy state, a sudden realisation hit me, " What am I doing? I need to find my bed", I told myself. 

Lowering myself slowly, I felt like a spider suspended above the ceiling swinging on a big web.  As I slide down the web, the music sounded heavier and louder, akin to heavy metal or hard rock. Faces and images of famous dead people, appeared to me, many of whom I couldn’t recognise.  However, there were two faces that somewhat resembled Napoleon Bonaparte and Beethoven. I felt fascinated yet annoyed as this slew of images appeared to be slowing down my journey.

                 I began to slide and swing even lower and saw an unoccupied bed in the middle of the room.  “That must be my bed, I need to get there”, I spoke to myself. 

          With much effort in hovering and positioning myself, finally, I was above my bed.   Slowly lowering myself, I could feel myself falling down.  A gentle "thud" was heard and felt as I lay down on the bed. The webs that were holding me, grew thinner and slowly left one by one disappearing into thin air.

          From that moment onwards, I became more conscious of my surroundings in the ICU. My body felt uncomfortably heavy and immobile. My throat felt dry and uncomfortable.

         Do you believe in God? At that moment, I really believed in His existence. I believed that the voice that I heard was the voice of God. Calling and reminding me to live my life.

At the Hospital

When the ambulance finally reached the hospital, I was rolled with a wheelchair to the emergency section. During admission, a lady at the registration asked some questions.
Having answered her questions, she then looked at me and said, “This hospital only accepts burn patients who are burnt 35% and below. Yours looks like 50% and above. I am sorry, we can’t accept you here”.
Surprised by her statement, I asked, “Then where should I go?”
She replied, “You can ask the ambulance to bring you to any hospital that you want. You can go to Lam Wah Ee Hospital or elsewhere”.
Despite the pain and shock, I was lucky that I still had some clarity of mind.
“If Penang General Hospital, the biggest hospital in Penang doesn’t want to accept me, which other private hospital would accept me?”, I asked her. 
“I still want to be admitted here”, I insisted. Somehow, I instinctively felt that time would be of the essence and that I needed to be admitted as soon as possible.
After my insistence, the lady finally relented and requested that I signed a few documents before admission.
As they brought me to the normal ward, a doctor attended to me. After he left, I remembered suddenly feeling very tired and closed my eyes as soon as I touched the bed. Then I blank out.
A familiar female voice called my name. Am I dreaming? Opening my eyes, I saw my friend Lay Choo standing at my bedside. The clock behind her showed nearly 7 a.m. I had passed out for nearly 4 hours.  How did she find out that I was admitted?  
“Your sister called me and send me over to see whether you are alright”, Lay Choo explained to me.
For a few seconds, I was confused, my sister was vacationing in Vietnam, I didn’t contact her when the accident happened. Lay Choo informed me that my neighbour’s daughter contacted my sister. At least my sister has been informed, I thought to myself. Having Lay Choo’s presence was reassuring.  
Half an hour later, I was pushed into the operating theatre. There were a few doctors around introducing themselves to me. At that time, I didn’t know that they were from the plastic team. The plastic doctors look concerned and told me that I will be given morphine after the first operation and would not be conscious for a few months.
“Why so long?” I asked.
“Because you would be in a lot of pain”, answered a bespectacled middle-aged male doctor.
Realising the seriousness of my condition, I signed whatever documents they needed and asked them to proceed.  Trying to reassure myself, I kept telling myself that I would be alright. As anaesthetic was being administered, I prayed and everything went dark.

The Gas Explosion

           That night I woke up groggily, awakened by the smell of gas. In my dazed and groggy state, somehow there was a realisation that the strong smell was coming from the kitchen. My room, located just above the kitchen.  Rushing down, I headed towards the kitchen and proceeded to the gas stove. 
          Trying to make sure that the knob on the stove was switched off; suddenly a spark ignited.  There was a loud deafening explosion. It happened in front of my face.

 “I am going to die!” that was the thought that crossed my mind.

As the horror of this realisation hits me, suddenly I felt something protecting me, some sort of a shield in front of me, especially on my face.

           I fell back from the impact of the explosion. Glass and plates shattered. Things around me were melting from the heat. It felt really hot. Some shreds of glass cut my legs and hands. My clothes were burnt to ashes. After the explosion, everything suddenly became eerily dark and silent, the first thing that came to my mind at that point of time, “I am still alive!”. I couldn’t believe that I survived.

 Despite the tremendous shock and pain, I struggled to get up and went upstairs to change my clothes. The loud blast woke up my parents who were sleeping upstairs. In fact, it woke up the whole neighbourhood.  Within minutes, the neighbours came swarming to my house. 

I remembered telling and repeating to people that I was hurt, that I urgently needed to go to the hospital.  Some were trying to calm me down. There was a teenage Indian boy telling people to give me space and that he was a first aider. Nosey strangers kept asking me questions, only much later did I realise that they were reporters. How did they get there so fast? I wished that they would just leave me alone.  

Time moved so slowly while waiting for the ambulance.  The ambulance arrived 1 hour later.  The ambulance driver and his assistant asked many questions before we finally left the place.  Entering into the ambulance alone, I told my parents not to worry.  A neighbour had actually offered to follow me to the hospital, but I declined thinking that it was troublesome for him. It was indeed foolish on my part for declining his help.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Conclusion: Taking and Orwellian Leap by Avantika

We have come to the end of this series of articles on ‘I Need to Tell My Story’. You now have all the tools that you need to tell a story. You know what you need to do before you write the first word. You understand the difference between a biography, an autobiography, a memoir and fiction. You are aware of how to plan your story so that it flows from start to end and has all the elements in place to make it fantastic. I have no doubt that you’re all set to go.

There is, however, one last part of the writing process I would like to share. It is a set of rules I learnt from an essay called ‘Politics and the English Language’ by George Orwell. I have summarised some of the most important points in his essay. Orwell starts with: ‘[Words like democracy] are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like … The Soviet press is the freest in the world … are almost always made with intent to deceive.’

Next, Orwell writes that a scrupulous writer will always ask himself the following questions:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
  5. Could I make it shorter?
  6. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

The next thing to remember is if you can get one person to read your story, you will certainly get many others to read it as well. That one person doesn’t need to be someone else. It should be you. Trust me, if you like reading your story, others will as well.

All this will, of course, take effort. You need to practice this skill. For some of you, it’ll come fast; for others it will take time. However long you take, go now and start telling your story and make me proud.

Wait! Before you go, I would love to know how you think Sara is going to exact her revenge. Please share those details in the box below.

Also, feel free to share the stories that you plan to write. If you have any queries or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Good luck and I look forward to reading your tales.

Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language. []


Aneeta Sundararaj tells the stories of a diverse group of people from cardiologists and Ayurveda practitioners to independent financial advisors. ‘Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time’ is included in a collection of stories that she is working on. Subscribe to the free newsletter on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (