The Devil's Chord or a Tap on the Shoulder
August 3, 2020 11:26 AM   Subscribe

There is no single continuous “blip” of a monitored heartbeat threatening to end in the stereotypical screaming flat line. It is more a continual fidgeting of sound, a representation of the chaotic systems of a body responding to clinical adjustments in a recursive, non-linear dance toward wellness or death. After a week of sitting beside an intubated loved one, it becomes like birdsong, a fact of nature in this strange, still, pale glade.
posted by Rumple (4 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Dang, what an amazing, sprawling piece. Thanks for posting it.

I am reminded of how quickly I got used to the monitors' rhythms and sounds each time I was with my wife in the delivery room. We could tell from the display & tones when the fetal heart monitor slipped, even before my wife felt it...and well before a nurse appeared to check.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:52 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was in A&E for sepsis last month, and the beep of the ECG was weirdly comforting. Maybe it was the hypoxia, but I felt like it was a game where my job was to get my heart rate back to normal, and the screen and the beep were giving me my score in real time. The ding alarm when the pulse oximeter fell off my ear was incredibly irritating though.

It was great when they finally unhooked me though and I painfully took off all 12 ECG stickers, removing lots of body hair in the process. Not so great when they came back two hours later and told me they'd changed their minds and I'd have to get hooked up again...
posted by kersplunk at 1:02 PM on August 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

Thanks, OP. Unexpected and engaging.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:43 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, those ICU monitor beeps that are for whatever reason separated by just a few hertz. The beating between them reminded me powerfully of Balinese gamelan "ombak", the 'waves' created by precise detuning. But I was not able to think of the whole NICU soundscape as a gamelan, no, it was too clearly thoughtless.

I remember learning the sounds that meant something serious is occurring to someone's infant in that unit across the room, and... what do you do?
posted by away for regrooving at 12:45 AM on August 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

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