Tuesday, June 28, 2022

January 2022: He has been lying in the ICU hospital bed for days already. Helpless. Powerless. Alone. The “No visitors policy” in the hospital, because of COVID, is terribly difficult for everyone; patients, families and staff.

His body has become so atrophied that lifting his arm a mere few inches causes him to grimace in pain. He is being cared for by numerous nurses, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, nephrologists, pulmonologists, infectious disease specialists, a palliative care team, physical, speech and respiratory therapists, dietitians, social workers, chaplains and psychiatrists. Tubes are emanating from almost every single part of his body. Various machines crowd the room and elicit constant beeping.

He is only 65, but he has the body of a 95-year-old man.

He is uncomfortable and often in pain. He tries to get sleep, but it is not easy. And so he lies in bed, alone with his thoughts and glancing at the TV from time to time. He is absolutely determined to get better, but maintaining this willpower gets harder day by day, as his body gets weaker and weaker. His prognosis is poor.

His supportive family and friends sent photos and get-well cards which are exhibited throughout the room. Some are placed on the walls, some on the tray table next to his bed and some on the windowsill. Pictures of him, his beautiful wife, children and grandchildren. Pictures of him laughing with his friends. Those were the happy days. The pictures reflect the way he looked a mere six months ago; a healthy and active husband, father, grandfather and friend, smiling and enjoying life. It all seemed to change in the blink of an eye.

As he has a lot of time lying on the bed, his eyes are often drawn to looking straight ahead at the pictures displayed opposite him, on the wall. When he stares at those pictures, they sometimes bring him sadness, frustration and wonder. Why did this happen? Will he ever look like that again? Will he ever go back to being the man in the picture? Will he get strong enough to be able to leave the hospital and eventually get home? Will he ever be able to do the things that he used to do to enjoy life?

However, most of the time, seeing the pictures on the wall makes his heart so proud and brings him renewed energy. They remind him of all the people he is blessed with and those who bring meaning to his life. He looks at those people and is reminded of why he wants to stay alive. He still has so much to do and many more memories to create with each of the people in those pictures. Those pictures bring him hope.

And as each of the many staff members enter his room throughout the day, they can not help but notice this vast array of pictures on the wall. “Who is this?” they ask. “What a beautiful family,” they comment. “Seems like you have a lot of friends,” they say.

It is for those brief, few moments that the overworked hospital team member, who attends to so many sick patients on any given day, pauses for a moment. The clinician is reminded that although this person in the bed might not look like the picture now, it is the same person seen in the pictures. The person lying in the bed is loved and belongs to somebody.

The pictures on the wall are a reminder that “Bed No. 4” is not just a disease, but is a person.

Sometimes a simple picture speaks more than a thousand words.

Note: No matter what the reason for a hospitalization, it is always beneficial to place pictures in the patient’s room (assuming it is allowed).

Debby Pfeiffer is a board-certified chaplain working at Morristown Medical Center through its affiliation with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest, NJ. She resides in Bergenfield with her husband and children. She can be reached at [email protected]

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