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A Celebration of Life in the ICU

Too many people have their first and only encounter with their mortality in the ICU - its a cold and heartless environment by design.

Photo of Avi Bhar
27 22

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I have had the misfortune of seeing too many people die in the ICU. Some taken by illnesses which were unexpected, while others I could see approaching their end of days months in advance. I consider myself a competent physician but its a losing battle with Mother Nature as all I am trained to do is pump chemicals into a dying vessel, powerless and ignorant of ways to feed the soul.

Unless I face my mortality, how can I ever begin to understand the needs of the people under my care. Yes 'people' and not 'patients'; I am often astonished with myself how differently I view my patient after seeing a photo of their pre-ICU lives.  Its hard to understand it, but medical professionals tend to remember people based on their diseases, clinical condition and image of a sickly body laying in bed. In the darkness of the ICU, how do we bring light and celebration to people? Not only for the person laying in bed, but also for the care team and family members.

I envision an audiovisual kaleidoscope projected on the ceiling of the ICU. A combination of pictures from social media, video uploads and personal messages from loved ones feeding the mind and soul. These pictorial projection can be accompanied by the patients' favorite tunes heard through earphones, to help drown out the monotony and beeps of the ICU. In the not to distant future, virtual and augmented reality experiences can be blended in to help the patient relive experiences with their loved ones.

If the chemicals I prescribe can only do so much, then let the nourished soul heal your mind and body. Goodbye.



Join the conversation:

Photo of Jade Mickler

Yes, I agree 100%. Most of us are in Healthcare because we started with the same overall goal: to help people, or to save lives. In order to truly help the people we take care of in the hospital, the first step is to see them as an actual person who was more than a sick patient lying in bed connected to various life support devices. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily ‘hustle and bustle’ of working in the ICU, it’s so easy to walk in and titrate that drip without thinking about what the patient may have wanted, it so easy to forget the real goals of ICU care and simply ‘go through the motions’. Maybe we do this because it makes it easier for us when we try to remain objective, but this is not fair to the people we take care of or for their survivors.

We need to manage the physical health of our patients, but we cannot forget to evaluate the goals of our care. Most people wouldn’t honestly want to continue to receive life support if they could truly understand what “doing everything” actually entails. And how can they truly understand what “doing everything” actually means unless they’ve worked in the ICU and were able to witness what “everything” means?

If we took the time to celebrate the person’s life and understand their relationships with their family and friends, it would change the way that we approached those difficult conversations about end-of-life decisions. And it would also help the family with their grief and alleviate some of the guilt felt by the decision-makers. The first and most important step is to see our patients as actual people who had intricate lives before they became ill, so I feel a celebration of their life is just as important as taking care of the person’s physiological needs. It’s something we’re not really taught during our training, but that does not mean that we don’t need to do it. Our goals for going into Healthcare were to “help people” and “save lives”, after all, so we should start by honoring that persons life.

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