The value of being present

I was at the hospital four times last week - none of which had anything do with my health. I was either accompanying someone for their appointments or visiting another.

As I walked down the corridor of one hospital, I experienced a barrage of emotions. I was brought back to eight years ago when my parents were very ill, when one or the other was admitted and we had to do "hospital duty". I actually had butterflies in my tummy as though there was some impending bad news.

It wasn't even the same hospitals and yet I had these vivid flashbacks. I actually faltered and had to take a deep breath before continuing my way. I was here to visit someone quite dear to me and I wasn't turning back. When I sat with the family members in the room, we talked about how long the days and nights of hospital duties can be, how the minutes have a way of dragging by, how cold the aircon in the room can be even though it is humid and stifling to the visitor and how hospital food, especially those sold at the cafeteria, can actually be healthier if they only understood the concept.

I remembered the years of doing this for my parents, how exhausting it was and how I do not miss this bit at all. But what I do miss is seeing either one of them there in the room. I was silently wishing that it was one of them there in bed instead of someone else. The flood of memories choked me. I steered the conversation to something more neutral. This was not the time to go to pieces.

The most striking thing about this visit was the unknown source of illness. It could be this or that. There was nothing definite as yet, and more tests need to be done. Not knowing is a terrible thing. As we talked, Auntie snuggled cosily under her duvet, oblivious to our whispered chatter. She had not been sleeping well for days before admission. Then she opened her eyes, swept at quick look around the room to register those present, smiled, said hello and promptly went back to sleep, somewhat comforted that there were people in the room.

I remember how my parents were like that too. They liked having people in the room. The whispered chatter comforted them. It was a sign that they were not alone, that if they ever had problems with anything, a family member was there. Always. And they could actually sleep through it all, just don't engage them in conversation unless they initiate it.

Meantime, Uncle was somewhere in the hospital too for his medical check-up. He too had not been well and just out of the hospital himself last month. That day, his grandson accompanied him and made sure he got where he was supposed to go for the series of appointments and tests.

This was yet another all too familiar scene. Uncle came back grumpy and irritated because he hated being poked and prodded with numerous needles and sticky pads. He hated to be kept waiting and not being given accurate information. He hated having dinner at home without his wife beside him. So he eats at the hospital with her. But it was not the same, he said, and he can't wait for her to be well enough to go home. That was so like my late father too. They were like two peas in a pod where one couldn't do without the other.

Because we were close, I told my friend that they should also keep an eye on Uncle, their dad. He was just as stressed, if not more, that his beloved wife was warded. Plus, he too had his own health issues. The family - children, grandchildren, relatives and friends - have been mobilised as caregivers. Each has come forward to volunteer, according to the time and resources they can afford. I didn't stay too long for this visit. My eyes felt hot and swollen with unshed tears. I know I had told my friend that I certainly did not miss these long, gruelling hours of hospital duty, those sleepless nights and how my heart skipped many beats whenever the phone rang in the middle of the night.

But if the truth be known, I would do it all again if I could. It would have meant that my parents would be still around. How I miss them so!

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