Waiting, Watching, Caring

At the height of Indonesia’s COVID-19 crisis, Stephani Soejono brought her reluctant mother to the hospital hoping to get her treatment for a mysterious illness. Thus began their long confinement to a tiny room, where they anxiously awaited visits by medical professionals who had few answers and even less time.

In the process of caring for her ailing mother, Stephani discovered her own need to be cared for.

Content warning: This comic includes references to cancer.

A comic page of 3 panels in black and various shades of blue and grey. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. Narrator (Stephani): "It's no secret that Covid has wreaked havoc on everything". The waiting section of a hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, is full of people, begging to be given a room. "Please give us a room! We've travelled hours for this," some of them say.
Panel 2. A nurse approaches Stephani and her father and asks, "Are you Mrs. Soejono's family?". "Yes," replies Stephani. Narrator: "Especially healthcare."
Panel 3. Narrator: "My mum was hospitalised in January after a period of illness, hoping she could be diagnosed and cured. We thought she just had a low hemoglobin count." Flanked by her husband and daughter, Stephani's mum sits in a wheelchair, grumpily muttering "I said no hospitals".
A comic page of 7 panels in black and various shades of blue and grey. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. Narrator: "Hospitals were overwhelmed with patients, and we had to wait a while to get a room." Stephani and her family wait in a corridor. "When can we go home?", asks her mother. Stephani isn't sure what to say.
Panel 2. Narrator: "The aunty beside us had to wait five hours last time. (This didn’t make me feel better)." An old woman coughs repeatedly into her fist.
Panel 3. Narrator: "I played games to pass the time." Stephani plays a mobile game on her phone.
Panel 4. Stephani's father pats her on the shoulder, saying "Get up, we’re finally being moved."
Panel 5. Narrator: "It was 10:30 p.m.—11 hours after we’d arrived."
Panel 6. Narrator: "We immediately planned shifts to accompany mum." Stephani's father says to her, "I’ll take over after you, then we’ll have Uncle W, then Aunty N—"
Panel 7. They're approached by a nurse, who says, "Sorry sir, only COVID-tested immediate family members allowed." Stephani and her father look at each other in dismay.
A comic page of 9 panels in black and various shades of blue and grey. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panels 1 to 4. Narrator: "Dad and I did the best we could for those 10 days." A montage of scenes by her mother's hospital bed: Stephani and her father take turns talking to her mother. Her father offers her a glass of water. Stephani falls asleep. Her mother refuses a plate of food.
Panel 5. Narrator: "Family and friends pitched in." A nurse in full PPE equipment holds out a bag of food, saying, "Salad for Stephani?". 
Panel 6. Narrator: "As did doctors and nurses." A doctor demonstrates how to raise her mother's leg, explaining, "This is how to exercise."
Panel 7. Narrator: "But the stay felt neverending because we were limited to that room in the hospital." Stephani is shown in different positions on the same couch - sleeping, yawning, looking at her phone, getting up.
Panel 8. Narrator: "And Ma’s tests and treatments didn’t seem to end." Stephani meekly says: "...blood samples—" to her mother, who snaps, "Again?!". A nurse waits by the bedside to take the samples.
Panel 9. Narrator: "We did our best to cope." Stephani's father occupies himself with a video game. Stephani reads a comfort book.
A comic page of 6 panels in black and various shades of blue and grey. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1 to 3. Narrator: "Eventually, we sort of got used to it." Stephani reads the Koran Hari Ini newspaper to her mother, who is on a hospital bed. "There’s a bunch about Jokowi...Biden...", she points out. In the next panel, the lights are off and it is night; Stephani reads by lamplight while her mum sleeps. Narrator: "And one day, Ma was due for a discharge." Stephani and her dad look at each other worriedly. "I've got no more days off," she says, and he replies, "Neither have I."
Panel 4. Narrator: "Family and medical staff suggested that we hire home care, since we both had to get back to work." A nurse and Stephani sit on a couch, conversing; the nurse says reassuringly: "Don’t worry, they’ll know what to do."
Panel 5. Narrator: "They gave us a list of people to contact." A handwritten list of homes with notes; expensive is crossed out. A mobile phone screen is shown dialing a number.
Panel 6. Stephani, holding her phone to her ear and a pencil in her other hand, says enthusiastically: "Hi, I’d like to hire a home care nurse?"
A comic page of 3 panels in black and various shades of blue and grey.
Panel 1. Receptionist's voice: "I’m sorry, all of our nurses are dispatched to COVID hospitals or re-homed due to the pandemic." Stephani is speechless. In the bottom right of the panel, she settles on a chair and folds her face into her palms. F*ck! she exclaims.
Panel 2. A nurse's voice ("Miss?") jolts Stephani from her thoughts. She replies, flustered, "Oh—sorry—you were saying?"
Panel 3. Nurse: "Mrs. Soejono has stage IV cancer." The realisation strikes like a bolt of lightning. Stephani and her father are frozen.
A comic page of 2 small panels in black and various shades of blue and grey, set in a dark blue-black background.
Stephani and her father look at each other, lost for words. The panel repeats, but smaller. There is nothing else on the page.
The page is completely dark. Fade to black.

Artist’s Note: There’s a saying: you process things by telling stories. I’m not sure exactly what I’m processing. I want to wish that everything is better, that we did not have to deal with this in the pandemic, but I can’t say if it would have been better. As someone else said, this is like looking both ways before crossing a road, but you’re still attacked by a shark coming from nowhere.

Rest in peace, Ma. We miss you.

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