Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I spent six days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). My friends and family may have been going a bit crazy---sending frantic emails, exchanging phone calls and scraps of information, anxiously sitting around in the ICU waiting room, rescuing random people's cell phones from Zvi's clutches and the like---but not me. I was having a good ol' time with no worries at all.

One of the fun and under appreciated benefits of being in an intensive care unit is getting the golden, once-in-a-lifetime (presumably) opportunity to check out what it feels like to be on LSD without experiencing any of the nasty side effects normally associated with the use of illegal substances, such as social ostracism, and criminal charges. My time in the ICU provided me with that opportunity and not only did I find it wildly entertaining, I believe that those around me had a good time as well.

Drugs make you hallucinate. Independence Day celebrations complete with flags, stadium seats and speakers-right in the middle of the ICU. Small children. That the ICU is about the size of, and in fact strongly resembles, the gymnasium at my high school. An Orthodox man with a long beard and in Hasidic dress standing stooped over a prayer book, next to my bed. Someone more spiritual than I might suggest that some phantom ancestor came to pray on my behalf and my highly wired state simply made me more perceptive. I doubt it. In Jerusalem, unlike most other places, Hassids in traditional dress can be found everywhere. They are a perfectly normal thing to see. The bunnies and babies twisting around and cavorting inside the floors and walls…well, that is another story.

The drugs are good because they keep you entertained. Face it, the ICU is boring. There is nothing interesting to do. Everyone kept on telling me to sleep. But I had already slept. I was not tired. Time does not exist in the ICU, nor does real sleep. Instead, there is this endless day punctuated with incessant beeping and a sort of drifting in lieu of sleep. One moment you are there and the next minute you are flying along. The drugs provide the in-flight entertainment.

I traveled to Southeast Asia. At least I think I did. I found myself floating down paths lined with lush, verdant, exotic vegetation, snaking through narrow alleys in crowded markets crammed with vividly colored vegetables, spices and Asian wares, and approaching simple homes and enormous, calm Buddhas. My sister has spent a fair amount of time in Southeast Asia, and somehow it got into my mind that I was borrowing my sister’s memories and that I was seeing things that she had seen. Everything was so clear, so exuberantly colored and exquisite in its detail-right down to the round, shimmering gray stones on the path. I have never actually checked with her on this, but I have the strange feeling that if I ever do go to Southeast Asia, I am going to be in for a real disappointment. The only time I did get to Southeast Asia was when I was en route to Australia and I changed planes in Bangkok. From the sky, the area around the Bangkok airport looks suspiciously like Tel Aviv: white buildings, red roofs and not a benign Buddha in sight.

These trips provided another sort of consolation. As I was drifting along, marveling at the colors, the delicate flowers and the fine goods for sale, I believed that this is what it was like to be blind. The external colors are taken from you, but your mind’s Technicolor system is enhanced to make up for it. And so blindness would not be so bad, if, indeed, it came to that. I wondered at G-d’s goodness, that he could give such wonderful reparation for a world of darkness.

At the time I left the ICU and was moved up to the general ward, I was still very much in the hold of the drugs. Shortly after I was settled in, I needed to go to the bathroom. My catheter had finally been removed, and I was now permitted to use a toilet like a normal person. A nurse helped me walk to the bathroom where I was thrilled to see how my Hadassah contribution dollars had been spent. The bathroom was BEAAAUUUTIFUL! All white, and foamy with water gushing here and there. The actual fixtures had been cleverly disguised and so I could not locate or figure out how to sit down on or use the toilet. Fortunately, the nurse helped me with these technical details, but the entire time I was thinking to myself “Wow, Hadassah really did go all out! This has got to be like a five-star spa!”

By the next morning, the drugs had largely worn off. I cannot describe the disappointment I felt when I went to the bathroom again.


come running said...

You made me laugh when I read about the bathroom, and at least you didn't need an explanation about how to use the facilities, the next day.

I just found your blog and added you to my blogroll. Would you do the same?


Come Running

Unknown said...

Believe you me, those around you in the ICU (the staff I mean) are not having a good time.
As usual, a fascinating read. We always have discussions/arguments among us about how much the patients actually experience while under sedation. Some nurses talk to the sedated patients while nursing them, feeling that the conversation might help with recovery.
What has been proven, is that due to the drugs used in the ICU including steroids, and the fact that there is neither day nor night, some patients develop what is called "ICU psychosis" with some suffering long term psychological effects.
I'm glad to read you didn't develop this complication.

Anonymous said...

I've seen those bathrooms - you're not alone in your disappointment...

Emah S said...

I love it......thrilled about how your Hadassah contributions had been spent!

As always....a great post.......

seriously........you should think about putting all of this into a book.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Loved this post.

I always say: there are advantages to everything.

After my surgeries, I got narcotics (pain killers). My drugs were not nearly as fun. (no halucinogens) -- they just made me sleepy.

Ted said...

perhaps slightly off-topic -- but I found your blog yesterday, have read it through today and -- among its other fabulous qualities -- it motivated me to donate to Hadassah, an organization that I have to confess I previously thought of as belonging to a bygone era. But clearly that is totally wrong!

Gila said...

Ted: You, Sir, have made my day. :)

Walla--maybe now they will update the bathrooms and really make them all white and foamy. :)