Unspeakable.

Age: 82 years.

Sex: Male

Residence: Bed number 19. Intensive Care Unit.

Duration of stay: 70 days and on-going.

Last heard speaking 68 days ago.

Up and down with repeated pneumonias, rising and falling need for support with breathing and blood pressure, weeks of starting and stopping a plethora of antibiotics, kidneys pushed to their limits, sepsis coming and going, metabolic state constantly fighting off infections. This goes on and on and we, his family go up and down with him. In between spells of invasions by nasty bugs, he mouths words, some of which we can decipher and some we can’t. It’s excruciating on both sides when he gives up after a few times of trying to be understood.

“I want to speak.”

Last evening, he insisted silently, sitting up in his hospital bed. His lips firmly formed the shapes of those words. After a quick consultation with the doctor in-charge, we arranged a brief attempt to enable him to speak. We did the appropriate suctions, explained everything to him and blocked his tracheostomy manually with a thumb covered in a sterile glove, to enable the small amount of air in his lungs to leave through his vocal cords, which have not been used for nearly ten weeks.

This man who used to have a big voice, spoke four languages and sang sweet songs had been rendered wordless. In a somewhat broken, hoarse, unrecognisable semi-voice he whispered, “I am trying.”

There were tears. Lots of them. Of love and all the unspeakable stuff.

His eyes were two bright lamps in a poor man’s hut. Oh! To be understood!

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