Low frequencies

I think it's a 60-inch television hanging on a pillar in the middle of the room. I'm not good at these things, but then, I never really think about it all the time. I even have to remind myself that my laptop has a 13-inch screen.

That screen displays the status of every patient in the room. There are sixteen beds. The first four aren't displayed, perhaps because they're designated "critical". Well, I assume it is, because the partitions are labeled with a C. The rest have an A, which I assume stands for "adult".

The screen says the first four A beds are slated for admission to the intensive care unit. Two of them have been waiting for a bed for two days. Another one has been waiting for three.

As I stood in front of the screen, nurses wheeled in a defibrillator cart in another A bed. It was out of my line of sight, but I can tell they were trying to revive the patient inside. Am I going to be in the same room as someone who's just died? I thought. Thankfully, not. Their status would later state "for admission, ICU". The long wait begins.

Needless to say, it was a depressing place to be in. There's a continuous din, perhaps the humming of the air conditioning system. You can't make it out because you hear a lot of beeping. Low frequencies. I remember the conversation I had with Shalla about how those notes, chords, whatever they are, can make something feel forlorn and depressing, the way they do in horror films. There are sixteen beds, and each one has a patient. All of them are hooked up to monitors. Their heart rates, their breathing rates, their oxygen levels, their blood pressure levels. All of them are displayed on screens, and I can't help but see them from where I'm standing. I'm five-foot-eleven, and they're pretty much at my eye level.

I already looked it up on my phone, to refresh myself. The normal pulse for healthy adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Most of them have heart rates in the 70s, which should be all right, I assume, considering they're all at rest and possibly asleep.

To my right, a nurse checks if an oxygen tank is empty. It is. He rips off half of the tag attached to it. It now says "empty" rather than "in use".

I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to be out there, watching the screens, trying hard not to look at the patients. But what else am I supposed to do? I have the urge to keep myself somewhat busy, or else those thoughts will creep in and I will be paralyzed, and I can't be paralyzed, not now. "You'll have to be strong," a friend told me twelve hours prior. I guess, in this case, it means listening to classical music - I can hear it, but I can still hear the din and the beeping - and keeping my head preoccupied with these little descriptive details, as well as the logistics of the whole thing. I am also waiting for a room. I already got the phone call from the admissions department. "Yes, a small private room should be enough." I'm hoping this doesn't cost as much as we feared it would be. There is never a right time for this, especially now. But, no. I have to be strong.

The personal protective equipment I'm wearing is more of a hassle than the swab test I have to take. I found the latter fun, because I got to chat with the nurse - it's two in the morning and we haven't got any better to do - and she had this script peppered with "sorry" for when she poked a cotton swab into the deepest recesses of my nose. On the other hand, to be inside the emergency room - to be able to take in all these little details - I'll have to put on a hospital gown, a covering for my head, coverings for my shoes, and latex gloves. They are incredibly irritating. They cling close to your hands - by design - and yet they don't, so it feel like you're shedding skin that you can't quite let go of, or technically, not allowed to. My hands feel like they're sweating, but they aren't. But I get why I have to wear them. "Either mag-guwantes ka, or palagi kang mag-a-alcohol kapag may hinawakan ka," the nurse waiting outside the ward told me the first time I entered. I had to do it at least twice more, when I went out for dinner, and when I went out to buy some water at two in the morning. A convenience store open this late. I haven't seen that in a year and a half.

It's nothing, I imagine, compared to being a nurse. I was in the emergency room for eleven hours, and never once did I see a shift change. It must be depressing for them, too, being surrounded by all those beeps, and being the first line of defense when something wrong happens. But, no. They have to be strong. And I can see they're trying. They try to joke with each other, as they replace their gloves and adjust the two masks on their faces, as they change the status of the sixteen patients in the room.

I realize I need to go to the restroom, but it feels like I should not bother them. I'm not supposed to be here, in the COVID ward, in all but two circumstances. Thankfully, I don't have the coronavirus - I have the swab test to prove it - and I'm not the one allowed companion of someone who does. There is a non-COVID section, and in ideal circumstances I would be there, but we've been waiting for a slot for four hours and that was the only place available.

"Okay lang po ba na sa COVID ward?" the nurse asked me.

Why would I take a bed meant for someone who really needs it? But also, why would I say no? Shalla might die. I don't know how much time we have left. I do know that I've lost count of how many times I have had to say "overdose of escitalopram" in a disinterested, almost clinical, fashion. Why would I say no?

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