Gown, gloves, goggles and masks, a faceless gang of three.
Gang, yes, a fitting image indeed, storming into the bay, “guns a-blazing”. A kidnapping maybe, or extrication perhaps, it’s difficult to tell. After all, it’s been a fortnight of symptoms, my body and mind are exhausted.
“Hello, my name is Dr Lee,” one of you says, “Intensive Care.”
Ah, I realise my predicament.
Chugging away, consciousness clouded, I conjure carriages approaching on the rails of the bed where I’m laid, eagerly awaiting a saviour. Batman or Ironman seem fitting, but so does Vader or Bane. After all, villains also wear masks. Masked Marvel, Masked Marauder, the resemblance is… uncanny, yes, strange and unsettling.
“We have to put you to sleep to help your breathing.”
The rest is mostly garbled, muffled by those masks. Your tone is sympathetic, but so is the tone of my nervous system. Pupils dilated, perspiring, I hear my heart in my ears, further reducing all semblance of meaningful communication as you give me no choice but to trust you, man with a mask. Distant, obscure and synthetic are your voice, gloves and gown. I catch your eyes as you lean over me. Pupils dilated, just like mine. A glimpse perhaps, of nervousness hidden behind.
The ceiling lights dim…
“You will not fear the terror of night…nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness…” - Psalm 91: 5-6
Light of the world.
Light out of darkness.
Lightly waking up.
I feel a tube in my throat, prying my vocal cords ajar, no plea escapes my mouth. My arms, still heavy, barely rise as I reach for something to grasp. A hand, no, two. No comfort of skin, but under gloves, the unmistakable heat of life. Then a sense of deja vu as I awaken to see…
Gown, gloves, goggles and masks, a faceless team of three.
Team, yes, a fitting image indeed, since you’ve all been caring for me. A familiar feeling, subconscious memories from my time spent ill and asleep.
A clinical collaboration, coordinating my convalescence in critical care. What a different perception now. Surrounded by masked figures, yet I fear not the crowd. No longer unsure of your superhero identities, the resemblance is…unequivocal, yes, sure and certain.
“Hello, my name is Laura, your nurse,” you say, “you are in intensive care. You’ve been with us for almost two weeks, but you’re getting better now. We are going to take this tube out of your mouth.”
Precious breath, returned to me. Precious life, how undeservedly.
Still I fail to tell you apart, but I can see clearly, the love in your hearts. Still I fail to hear all your words, but the call rings loudly to “get up and walk”. Still I fail to feel your skin, but the warmth beneath is the comfort you bring. As I catch your eyes I hope you perceive the gratitude which lies within. Gratitude indeed which must not be hidden, but shouted from the rooftops and mountains.
I notice each patient in the rest of the bay. All stricken by the same disease. All dependent on ventilators. All as helpless and vulnerable as I was. Then I read the names above their beds: Mr Doran, Mrs Patel, and… Dr Lee.
I begin to cry. Yes, I have now seen the face of my friend…
“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” - John 15:13
In memory of all the healthcare workers who have died caring for patients with COVID19.
Mark ZY Tan is an anaesthetics and intensive care doctor. As a Christian, he aims to provide compassionate and loving care to his patients. He hails from Singapore, but now lives with his wife and daughter in Manchester and enjoys playing music and tending the garden.