Room fifteen stank. A small room, it was hot and close and the air was thick with the smell of putrefying flesh; the young nurse could feel her revulsion rise and show on her face. She looked at the ward sister and received a narrow-eyed glare of disapproval in reply.
“Mr Antfarm,” the Sister said to the man in the bed before her, “Mr Antfarm, it’s Ward Sister Grace. I’ve brought Nurse Rain again. We’ve come to check your dressings before Doctor makes his rounds, Mr Antfarm.”
Her tone seemed cold and uncaring to the young nurse. This was her first week at Caledon Regency and she had a strong feeling she had found her way into the deep end from the off. Not only was she assigned to the fearsome Sister Grace’s ward, but she had landed the worst burns case the hospital had ever seen.
She looked down at the figure led beneath the damp gauze bandages and wondered what kept him alive.
His lungs were burnt almost beyond use, there wasn’t a scrap of skin left on his body, he could barely move and as of yesterday no longer able to communicate, his attempts to the wheeze and rasp a few exhausting words having slowly stopped. He must be terrible pain and she wondered if the opium Sister Grace administered could be strong enough to hold it at bay.
Again the sickly sweet taste of death hit the back of her throat and she felt her stomach heave. She dashed from the room, narrowly missed Dr Roundtree as he was coming in, and headed for the nearest lavatory.
Roundtree raised an eyebrow at a clearly furious Sister Grace but said nothing, instead he turned to his patient, “Hello Mr Antfarm, Dr Roundtree here. I see that Sister Grace here has been taking good care of you as ever. Now let’s see these dressings shall we?” He gently lifted one of the round pads that covered his patient’s eyes and peered underneath for a few seconds before replacing it and looking up at Sister Grace, his face lined with concern.
“Sister? How much opium have you given him?”
The woman bristled and shot an alarmed look at the doctor, “Just what you have prescribed, Dr Roundtree. It’s all here in his notes, dosages and times.”
“Well clearly something isn’t right, Sister. Your patient seems to have slipped into a narcotic coma, which you have failed to spot!” the doctor snapped.
Sister Grace felt her mouth flapping, but before she could say anything the doctor waved her protests silent, “There is nothing for it but to keep a watch on him and hope he comes out of it soon. His breathing is already so damaged that I can’t say I hold out much hope. Maybe his quietly slipping away would be for the best.”
The door opened again and a pale Nurse Rain sheepishly re-entered the room. Both Doctor Roundtree and Sister looked furious. The doctor pushed past the he and left the room whilst Sister Grace glared at his departing back. Nurse Rain looked up at Sister and began to offer apologies.
“I will deal with you later, young lady!” Sister Grace hissed at her, “In the meantime I want you to change this man’s dressings and clean this room. And while you are at it, maybe you should take a long, hard look at the suffering of this poor soul and try to remember why you came into medicine!”
“Yes Sister,” she managed meekly as Sister Grace also pushed past her out of the room.
And she was alone with the poor wretch. She gathered up all her courage and bound it tightly inside her chest before bending down and beginning the slow, laborious task of removing his dressings.
A few hours later, with the moon full and high in the cloudless inky-black sky, a nightwatchman slowly made his way down the corridor that led to room fifteen. It had been a quiet night and the lonely perambulations down dark, silent corridors were having a decidedly soporific effect on the man. Just as he reached the door to room fifteen a large an unstoppable yawn rose up from within him and erupted forth. The tired guard met the escaping harbinger of exhaustion with the back of his hand, his head tilting back and eyes closing tight as he walked. Three steps later and it was gone, the nightwatchman shook his head sleepily and walked on.
Those three steps had taken him past the door of room fifteen; a door that was ajar instead of tightly closed. Inside and quite unseen by the weary guard a hooded figure bent over the burnt patient and dripped a clear liquid into his lipless mouth…
To be continued…
All the “Far From Home” posts can be read here.
Links to other tales:
1) Amarantis Belfire writes of the patient’s journey to Caledon here.