Cattle Call

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Cheng Kung University Teaching Hospital has a strange ritual….

Twice a day, for half an hour each time, the SICU has open visiting hours. The entrance to the SICU is marked by a pair of sliding metal doors, at the end of a wide hallway. As visiting hour nears, a crowd gathers in the hallway, just outside the doors. At exactly 10:30 AM and 6:00 PM, the doors slide open automatically. At that point, it’s like a cattle call. Within seconds, the crowd migrates from right outside the sliding metal doors to right inside the sliding metal doors, where there is a wall of shoebox-sized lockers on the left. Each room in the SICU has its own locker, and each locker has two robes and a package of surgical masks. SICU rules dictate that all visitors must be robed and masked before they enter, and only two visitors are allowed at a time.

Since the lockers are stacked about eight high and 12 wide, people are literally reaching over each other to get their stuff. Little cliques form in this entrance area, as each group of visitors decides who gets to go in first, then helps the two chosen ones into theirs robe and masks. Once dressed, the chosen ones from each group walk further down the hall, past a second set of sliding doors, and into the SICU itself. And for the next half hour, the SICU is buzzing with people talking to their loved ones, shuttling back and forth between the entrance area and the rooms, talking to nurses and doctors….

Then, at 11:00 AM and 6:30 PM, everyone is herded out, and the sliding doors slide shut. Because my dad is such a big shot at the hospital, though, they usually let us stay well past closing time.

It’s eerie how quiet and calm the SICU gets in a span of less than a minute. The words of encouragement are gone… the clomping and stomping of visiting feet marching up and down the hallways have disappeared… now, it’s just back to the hospital staff. And the patients… still lying silently in their beds… some of them never having noticed the commotion over the last half hour.

In a way, SICU visitation reminds me shoppers waiting outside a store on Black Friday. I’m not actually sure which experience is less fun, though….

2 thoughts on “Cattle Call

  1. Your verbal picture of the intensive care procedures are so vivid, I feel a sadness for the participants. My prayers and concerns for you and the family are even more intense.

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