In Sickness and in Health: Intensive care wards are no place for quiet contemplation

Earlier this year, Rebecca's husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

Share

Anyone who’s lived, worked, or spent more than five minutes with me will know that I have a bit of a thing about noise. A sound intolerance that covers everything from people clicking pens to biting their nails (I once cured a colleague of that habit by shouting “NAILS!” every time her hand fluttered near her mouth. I’m a terrible person, I know), from eating loudly to having leaky headphones. I blame my mother. Any childhood sniff would be greeted with her asking in a clenched sort of way “do you need a tissue?” and every cleared throat would be met with “could you go outside and do that?”.

I’m a muter of televisions, a volume-knob botherer of car stereos and a shusher of people talking too loudly (“you don’t need to shout, I’m a foot away from you” I explain to my dad at least once a month). Throw in 18 months of living in a paper-walled flat next to a nocturnal neighbour who’d crank out “Daydream Believer” at full whack when she got home from working in a casino at 3am, and you get an extreme audiophobe. Why can’t we all play the quiet game? Forever?

Almost five months of my husband being in hospital has proven to be a comeuppance for me. Intensive-care units and high-dependency wards are no places for quiet contemplation. There’s a constant soundtrack of the medical, the mechanical and the human. When Nick was first admitted, the whoosh of his ventilator and the beeps of his body monitors provided a bassline to the hours I spent by his bed. Every now and then, alarms would ring out and staff would come running. Their footsteps punctuated the gurgle and wretch of the tubes they used to allow patients to cough. 

Theses sounds of life being sustained were joined by something more traditionally melodic one spring afternoon as I sat by an open window reading to Nick. A radio somewhere was playing “End of Century” by Blur (at just the right volume) and it floated through the warm air. It was a welcome interlude, making me think of the day I’d first heard it 20 years ago, a memory that I recounted Nick’s unmoving form. But for someone who can find cacophony where others would only hear a hubbub, ward life has been a bootcamp. In one afternoon, I heard the following symphony.

The man in the bed next to Nick honks rhythmically like an elephant seal. As he groans, Nick begins to writhe. If it wasn’t so awful a noise, it would be awfully funny. Hooooonk. The patient diagonally opposite, the one who I call the professor on account of his scholarly demeanor, jolts his legs and rattles the bed frame. A nurse walks over to Mr Honk and promises painkillers in a Clear, Understandable and Reasonable Voice if only he would just be quiet. Next comes the rattle of the medicine trolley and the clunk of its lock. A machine bleep bleep bleeps. Bleep bleeps. Bleep bleep bleeps. There’s a smattering of snoring. Honk. From the corridor comes a verse of “Let It Be” sung by a cleaner. Staff laugh. Patients converse. Families circle, talking about the cost of cappuccinos in the coffee bar. The mad ballad continues as a machine plays a refrain that sounds like the tune of Magic Roundabout. Honk.

Does it bother Nick? Or does it comfort him? Or, like me, does this soundscape do both? After all, life goes on and it’s seldom noiseless. The grave is silent but, thank god, the hospital ward is not. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Clean energy should be our mission to the moon

Martin Rees
Angela Merkel and David Cameron say goodbye in the Bundeskanzleramt after their meeting in Berlin, Germany, 29 May 2015  

The complacency of Europhiles could lose them the referendum

Steve Richards
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral