The Ghosts in my ICU

by - March 16, 2021



Willowy wisps of white unnatural beings gliding across the roam, whispering words in a warped voice that strikes fear into the heart though one knows not why, 
through a faceless face, for surely that is no normal profile as a human has ever seen in daytime, featureless but for two dark glistening pits whose glassy stare speaks of an inevitable fate. 

     
I used to mock the traditional image of the ghost. 

You know the one I am talking about. No, not the silly Ramsay brothers 'pizza on the face' Bollywood ghost. I am referring to the Scooby-Doo 'white bedsheet' ghost. 

While I used to think that I have had a few shares of paranormal encounters over the decades, the longer I live, the more I realize how silly my imagination was back then as a child. Of course, I still cringe while watching a good horror movie and love reading horror stories. But when it comes to believing, I just cannot anymore. When people talk of their experiences and how untimely deaths can result in ghosts and haunted buildings, I point out the basic fallacy of how hospitals then would be the most haunted places on Earth.

After all, we see death all the time. Yes, most are inevitable but there are many we see where the Reaper's icy fingers have touched upon a soul too soon - the young man from the road traffic accident, the child who fell from the roof while playing, the pregnant woman who died of third degree burns.  These are souls that had so much to offer yet in life... so much taken away from them in a mere moment.

If they - these thousands of now non-living entities - are not haunting the wards of the hospitals where they passed away, how could any other normal building be haunted?

Yes, I don't believe in ghosts. 
At least, I didn't. 


The last year has been chock-full of duties for us doctors in the ICU. In addition to men and women suffering from the normal ailments that would find them landing at these doors, you had the talons of COVID19 too, affecting all but digging into the unfortunate two in hundred infected and sending them down a dark path from which few recovered unscathed. 

Our duties as doctors in the ICU often comprised of us calming the tensed, pre-empting the disease's next step of progression, trying to undo the damage already done and when all else fails, sedating, intubating and taking over the lungs and hearts of our patients. It is not an easy journey. In spite of our best efforts often taking weeks, we have still lost too many, some who even entered with a smile upon their face.  

As I wrote the death certificate recently for another gentleman who passed away too soon due to COVID19 complications, I got to thinking about things from the perspective of all the ones who passed away of this disease in an ICU this year across the globe.

Their deaths may be a mere statewide statistic to you ("Yay. 'Only' 15 dead in Kerala, today. Things are getting better.") but these were men and women who had lives, who had families... who had a lifetime left.

  
Like you and me, they too had some fond memories of school. They had a first crush. Probably copied from their bench-mate in the odd exam. Bunked classes. Got married. Had family trips. Prayed to their God every single day. Worked their butts off to raise their kids. Got their first vehicle home. Cheered India winning the Cricket World Cup in 2011. Had a favourite movie and song. Had plans for the next year. The next decade.

And it was all taken away from them in an instant by a single breath that got past their lowered mask. 

In their last few weeks, the only people they saw as their bodies failed them in that unfamiliar COVID19 ICU bed was us doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, all dressed in these PPE suits that we used to only see in disaster or science fiction movies while growing up. They were isolated from everyone they spent their entire lives with and for.

It may have been reassuring to have us tend to them on day 1 but as the days ticked by and the need for supplemental oxygen and then a ventilation machine became more essential, the sight of us approaching in our PPE suits would have been terrifying. 

And in their final moments before they died, as the carbon dioxide levels in their lungs rose with a failing lung, making their minds play tricks on them, what would we doctors in our unique PPE suits have looked like in their eyes as we surrounded them?

a doctor wearing a mask

Willowy wisps of white unnatural beings gliding across the roam, whispering words in a warped voice that strikes fear into the heart though one knows not why, 
through a faceless face, for surely that is no normal profile as a human has ever seen in daytime, featureless but for two dark glistening pits whose glassy stare speaks of an inevitable fate. 


That description. That hellish, haunting, horrible, inhuman description. It should fit no being alive in this world. There should be no creature from another realm who can claim it describes them. And yet, is it not me I see in those very words?

Do I believe in ghosts? No, I still don't. But it hurts that my patients may be seeing ghosts in the ICU. 

And it breaks my heart that the ghost they are seeing who haunts them in the moments  before they die may be me. 

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20 comments

  1. Such a moving post, doc. These difficult times have changed us forever, and I can only imagine after reading this about how dreadful it must have been for the ones in the ICU and the healthcare workers serving them to see every moment of these lives slip away without their loved ones around.

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  2. Dr. Roshan, this post truly have the expression that many tend to miss. As a Doctor serving the patients and then knowing the facts that now nothing can be done yet trying hard to make it possible so that patient sees the ray of light again.You have very well expressed the emotions in the post.

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  3. My eyes welled up reading this. I am shocked how people still dont see this illness as life threatening and lonely as it is.

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  4. Such a heartfelt writeup doc. Times have been unkind to these human lives. You described your journey so well. Lots of respect and more power to you. 🙏😊

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  5. Such a heartfelt writeup doc. Times have been unkind to these human lives. You described your journey so well. Lots of respect and more power to you. 🙏😊

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  6. Such a heartfelt writeup doc. Times have been unkind to these human lives. You described your journey so well. Lots of respect and more power to you. 🙏😊

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  7. This post touched a nerve, probably because of the uncertain times that we live in? Maybe because it's happening too close than it should be, for comfort? Maybe, because of realization dawning that our time may run out sooner than expected? This one struck a chord.

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  8. Hope you got my comment.

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  9. It's a very moving post dr. Roshan. As you said deaths are a mere statistics for most people like us. But we have never thought about it from a doctor's point of view. How a doctor sees his patient and how a doctor feels when there is no hope left. I pray for the departed souls and wish no one has to see the doctor ghosts in the prime of their life.

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  10. It's a very moving post dr. Roshan. As you said deaths are a mere statistics for most people like us. But we have never thought about it from a doctor's point of view. How a doctor sees his patient and how a doctor feels when there is no hope left. I pray for the departed souls and wish no one has to see the doctor ghosts in the prime of their life.

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  11. I know a friend's father in law who passed away from covid related issues, far away from his family. He rang up his daughter in law and wife, who were in a covid centre, enquired about their health and told that he was feeling better than the last night. He tried reaching out to his son, who was away from his phone in another care centre. And an hour later he passed away. His was a life lost too soon. When reading your post I was reminded of him and the family he left behind.

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  12. I remembered about a lot of people who passed away in the pandemic. A few others who had other issues during the pandemic, but managed to survive it. To hear a death news still haunts me. That early morning call moment is scariest. Your post just made me feel about so many others worldwide who lost their lives during this pandemic, Roshan. COVID has changed a lot of personal moments and thoughts about life.

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  13. Dr Rose MaryMarch 18, 2021

    "And it was all taken away from them in an instant by a single breath that got past their lowered mask"
    Roshan sir.. Beautiful writeup from one of those who have been in the epicentre of the pandemic's havoc. You know, sir, how disheartening it is , even at times, i feel insulting, to listen to the general public including family members carelessly commenting.."oh, its nothing, just a fever... much ado about nothing". Ignorance is bliss indeed... Sigh..

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  14. Death is a tough subject to handle and here is a narrative that penetrates into the soul of the reader with the gentleness of a wisp of snow.

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  15. This is heartbreaking! No words can offer comfort to the healthcare workers witnessing the loss of lives day after day. Thank you for penning this down, Roshan.

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  16. I don't know what to say. Having been in and out of hospitals last year for a ailing family family with COVID cases around and docs in PPE, I relived every word of what you said in the post, Roshan.
    Heartbreaking!

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  17. This breaks my heart, Roshan </3

    I've spent my fair share of time at hospitals as a caregiver and I know how exhausting it can get for the doctors and the patients as well as the caregivers. I've always wondered how the doctors go on day after day, watching people try to stay alive, giving them hope and dealing with the relatives of the patients! It definitely is not easy. Current times have only made it worse.

    Hopefully when this passes, people shall remember that it is the doctors and not God who saved us.

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  18. Roshan, chilling to the bone.
    The ghosts they saw are the ones that God chose to help them - save them - in the best possible way.

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  19. Very moving, Roshan. I guess the saddest thing about this illness is the fact that patients are cut off from contact with their loved ones.

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  20. Felt the pain and the anguish in very word that you so beautifully expressed in this post, Doc!

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