They are easy to recognize. Normally they are many and you will see them at the time of the visits, which usually are two times a day, in the ICU waiting room, or in the nearby corridors.
They huddle by groups, and if you get close to them you will hear them repeating the “visit pass”, in an understanding and clear language, but above all very emotionally charged. They speak as spokespersons. They are who make the ‘simultaneous translation’ of what has been told by the intensivist, the specialist or nurse reference, when they came into the ICU the previous time.
And when the weekend arrives, there are many more, and shared in order, to select who can enter to see to his/her loved one.
Ones come into, others remain outside. Some go out to smoke, others remain silent. Some content, others sobbing. Those who arrive you will see kissing or mired in a strong hugs with the rest of the crowd.
Because the situation is very limit, because the person who they love is being debated between life and death in many occasions.
The suffering crowd, I call them.
Typically they are the suffering crowd in a tightrope. I do not know if you have seen them.
When you see cliques of young people, when they are teenagers, or when you see a couple crying, surrounded by them, you understand that the protagonist is in an age in which suffering comes suddenly to chop to an unexpected door.
They are secondary players in a story that not always ends well. They are fleeting, appear and disappear. At certain times of the day, they always are there. They tend to be different generational groups. Their faces keep changing. The crowd is replaced by another, sometimes in a matter of hours, but at other times they may be days or weeks… Come and go.
I have also have been part of one of them. I remained standing, because there was no more chairs where you can sit, I have gone to sit on the stairs, or walk down the corridor. There are crowds that count the tiles of the corridors of the hospital, I know, because I have heard them tell and then, another crowd goes to check it out, especially if there are children. Children, the forgotten of the crowd. But if they are, the crowd has to take care of them. It´s also their mission.
Remember that we all can be there. One day you can be part of the crowd, suddenly.
And you will get the ICU at visit hours (well, you will get a little earlier to hear the informal visit pass).
You will arrive soon, to kiss and embrace.
You will arrive soon, especially if there are children, teenagers or people, to organise the crowd.
You will arrive soon, to join the crowd.
When you work in a hospital it is easy to recognize them. You can find them in a given area of the hospital, or in the elevator or the bar to hear them talk.
One time I was part of the crowd. I took a single picture, but in those moments, when you are part of the crowd you can not shoot.
But all the tiles of the corridor were already counted… and already is precipitating the end. It is a picture that curiously I don’t know where I keep it… but I keep the image on my mind, which will never disappear.
The suffering crowd was titled, and today I could not show it. I only could tell you.
Maite Castillo. Nurse and photographer