Numb

Leon Poh ‘19,

Singapore

‘What is your greatest fear?’

Was an ice-breaker question I never quite had an answer to. For convenience

sake, I would always answer with

‘death’.

Pretty ironic, considering the fact that I ended up working in a hospital for a

year. The fast-paced medical environment places you in uncomfortable

situations where you find solace in indifference. When death came knocking

everyday, staring me dead in the eye, I was forced to extract any emotions to fufil

what I was there to do in the first place. To save lives.

The first body rushed in on the medical cot while the head nurse announced

Patient was unstable and had multiple fractures from a road traffic accident. His

hands sawed off at the wrist, leaving a pulsing red blood stream by the operating

table. With shallow breathing and a low heart rate of just 30 beats per minute,

the nurses surrounding him clipped his clothes off and begin injecting

Intravenous fluid into bot arms. In that moment, I had to subdue any emotions.

Every incident ran like clockwork; the doctor would give orders while we

assisted with secondary protocol of reducing blood loss.

Amongst the organised chaos within the operating theatre, there would be the

occasional hysterical cries from behind the door. We had to block them out to

focus on he task at hand. Outside the operating theatre, you had to prevent

yourself from acting you hear the hysterical cries from the victim;s relatives as

we accompany the doctor to deliver the news. As you deliver the news that their

own flesh and blood had not survived, you have to block your emotions from that

too.

He was someone’s father, someone’s son, someone’s husband

But to us, he was simply another body.

It had been about a month working in the hospital and the initial shock of the

environment soon faded. The blood splatters on my operating gown were like

ketchup stains on a bib at a restaurant. The crying of the family members from

outside the operating theatre became white noise.

When a patient got a diagnosis for a terminal illness, we register the impending

emotions and empathy towards them but only to a certain extent. We conceal

Contemplating a patient’s imminent death kept me up at night, wondering how

their families’ lives would be affected.

‘Am I going to die?’

A question that pops up all too often after a diagnosis.

‘Of course not’

We lied.

Countless times. The inner voice would tell me it’s to give them comfort and

hope. We conceal our true emotions for a clear conscience.

Having gained the ability to separate emotions from my job worked in my favour

since I was able to focus on what I was meant to do. I believed that no matter

what the outcome, I served to the best of my abilities.

The roles reversed when I got a call from mom that grandpa was in critical

condition at the hospital. I was finally amongst the ‘white noise’. This time, I

could not ignore it. The wait was about 2 hours, although anxiety made it feel like

an entire day. Then the doctor emerged with the nurses. I recognised the

bereaved expression on his face, the one I had to wear to deliver the news and

knew exactly what was about to come. When everyone broke out in tears, I stood

there, silent. I looked down, embarrassed at my own indifference. Mom turned to

me and gave me a hug. I returned it and gave gentle rubs on her back.

The only time I cried over my grandfather’s death was that very night. When the

sudden realization hit me that I could not feel, even for someone who had cared

for me his entire life. He was just another body.

I was just another body.

Since that day I’ve come to realise that my greatest fear was not death itself,

but numbness towards it.

In this occupation, you feel so much that you begin to feel nothing. I

I’ve always though my greatest fear is of death, but my greatest fear is numbness

towards death.

An infant was being rushed through the hospital doors for us. Mother crying

behind. At that moment, I could feel nothing. They

I wonder, how would I react to my own mother’s death

Maybe it was the countless death

A lady.

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