She moves along the ward, straightening a pillow, checking a water carafe is filled. She switches off the dim reading light above Mr Edwards’ bed, he has fallen asleep over his book. As she reaches the end of the room, she pauses, gazing along the rows of beds, alert for any sound but there is none except the tick of the large clock above her head. She returns to her table, picks up her pen and starts on her report.
She loves this time, it never bothers her to be ‘on nights’: the dreaming ward, the green shaded lamp on the table, her pen moving smoothly across the paper. Now the bustle of he day is stilled there is time to collect her thoughts. There is such a contrast to day duty… Laura thinks as she writes: Warwick Ward, Bed 234, Mrs Evans. Nothing by mouth op 6 am…then it is all a flurry of temperature taking, doctors’ rounds, meal times and visiting hours.
The night has its interruptions too, but usually at a different tempo. Someone cannot sleep and calls for help. She will go to the kitchen, make a cup of tea, and then sit by their bed until they finally drop off. Sometimes, of course, there are big dramas and then the hours of darkness heighten the fear: the jagged sound of the emergency bell, the doors of the ward flying open and the resuss team turning night into day.
Laura writes: Warwick Ward, new arrivals Stella Dyson and Helen Wells Beds 253 and 242.
Tonight is tranquil and she hopes it will remain uneventful. She glances across to the empty bed at the far end of the ward. Today young Hayley Randolph went home. She has been here so long it seems strange without her. She remembers when the teenager was admitted, the deathly pale face, the closed eyes and the weeping mother. She remembers her conversation with Mr Anderson.
‘We’ll do our best but it doesn’t look good at all.’
The days when she lay still and silent with the drip in her arm and Laura and Maggie turned her to prevent bedsores, wiped the marble brow, said her name softly. Then there was the morning when she opened her eyes and smiled and from then on the gradual improvement. Somehow, and against the odds, they had pulled Hayley back from the brink. It was times like these that reminded Laura why she had taken up nursing. There were tears in her eyes as she said goodbye and watched the youngster leave.
She glances at the clock. Nearly three, the “devil’s hour” they called it… many deaths occurred then. She thinks of those times when the screens are taken away and the bed is flat as if the person who had lain there never existed. She has never become accustomed to this, to losing a battle she has fought so hard to win. She stares at her hand, which has paused, fingers till clasping her pen. For a moment she’d almost dropped off to sleep.
When she thinks about it it s extraordinary how she ever became a nurse. It wasn’t a schoolgirl vocation like some of the others here, quite the opposite. She’d squeal at the sight of blood. At that time she’d had no greater ambition than to leave school and get out into the world. She’d loved working at Holland and Kirby, the young world of an advertising agency. There, of course, she met Mark.
Laura stares out at the darkness beyond the circle of her lamp. Sometimes it seems this shadowy world is all there is, worries and other tasks slip away. She felt a deep sense of gratitude this work she loved. She writes Bed 258 Mrs Salisbury progress is excellent.
Every evening a fat jolly husband and several children arrive to sit round her bed, eating her fruit, while Emma Salisbury listens avidly to their news. She can’t wait to go home.
Each patient is different. It’s what makes her work so absorbing and, as a rule, leaves little time to brood.
When she thinks of that first term of the Access Course how she nearly gave it
all up before she’d even begun. Her brain felt like a rusty machine that would never function properly again. More than once she’d been reduced to tears. It just seemed too difficult to study at her age. But gradually it grew easier as he courses began to make sense. She remembered herself telling the nurse tutor why she thirty-year-old Laura wanted to take up nursing. It was a tough interview when any lingering illusions of the romance of hospital life were destroyed. Two years later the same nurse tutor smiled at her and said: ‘you are a born carer, Laura, we’re happy to have us with you.’
The luminous hands of the clock point to quarter to four. Someone moves, in
dressing gown and slippers pads silently down the length of the ward to the bathroom. Mr Gerard! She hopes he hasn’t any more of those cigarettes he somehow manages to persuade his daughter to bring in for him. Hearing her clear her throat he waves.
You’d better hurry,’ she whispers, ‘or I’ll come and see what you’re up to.’
‘Have a heart, Nurse.’
Once she thought her heart was beyond repair. During those terrible weeks
she’d had an image of it cracked in two. The odd thing was the pain was elsewhere, a constant ache in the solar plexus. Wasn’t that supposed to be your ‘centre’ by those who practised yoga? They could be right. She felt she had lost hers’ cast adrift, betrayed by the one person she thought she could trust.
There’d been little to prepare her. Perhaps they’d not been getting on very
well but that did not seem reason enough. That evening he had roamed the house and then suddenly come into the living room and said:
‘There’s something I have to tell you.’
She felt breathless. Was he ill? Lost his job?
It never entered her mind he’d tell her for the past two years she’d played second fiddle to another younger woman.
‘Nurse, Nurse.’ She rises and moves in the calm way she has learned over to Mrs Evans.
‘Can I talk to you for a moment? I’m so worried.’
‘It’s a very straightforward operation, you know. People are having it done every day.’
‘I know but it’s no good talking to me about other people. I’m the one going through it.’
‘What’s worrying you? The anaesthetic?”
‘No, I’ve had that before but I’m afraid it will be painful afterwards.’
“We can control the pain but I can tell you I’ve had my veins done and I was amazed at how painless it is.’
The attractive middle-aged woman looks surprised. ‘At your age?’
Laura smiles. ‘It’s an occupational hazard with nurses. We’re on our feet so much of the time.’
Mrs Evans relaxes. ‘I expect I’ll feel better in the morning. Human beings don’t like the dark, do they? It brings out all the fears.’
‘That’s what I’m here for, to try to dispel them,' says Laura, thinking that a large part of being a nurse is just that.
‘You’re so good to us,’ the other says. ‘But you work such unsociable hours. Does your husband mind?’
She usually says 'I'm divorced,' and waits for the condoling reply but tonight, still experiencing the euphoria of Hailey’s recovery, she feels light headed, happy. She hears herself say ‘I’m a single woman, Mrs Evans.'
‘Ah, those were the days,’ the other sighs. ‘Single and fancy free!’
Laura goes back to her report. She is almost finished. The luminous hands of the clock point to five.
It was happening now, that almost imperceptible thinning of the darkness beyond the windows when everything seems to hold its breath before the breaking of another day.
Laura sits quite still, feeling the beating of her heart, she senses an
inner change. For the first time since Mark left her, the agonising months that followed when she couldn’t accept he wasn’t coming back, the realisation that he wouldn’t, she’s been able to think of him without rancour, in the past. Although she’d never believed it, her dark night of the soul has lifted, time has done its work in healing. Life is strange, she thinks, it steals from you but gives so much back.
Maggie has arrived to take over the shift.
‘Nothing’s wrong, is there?’
Laura gazes at the woman who has become such a good friend. Around
them the ward sleeps on peacefully.
‘No, everything’s fine,’ she says.
She walks out into the hospital garden. Dawn is breaking and there is a wonderful freshness in the air after the central heating of the ward. She pulls down a branch of honeysuckle to sniff its sweet fragrance. The sky is lightening, the garden stirs, and birds begin to sing. The first day of her new life blooms around her. ENDS