Fiction Drama Contemporary

On her morning nursing rounds, June passed by Room 215, where Mrs. Edwina Smith, a middle-aged woman in the hospital for an inflamed pancreas, appeared to be slumbering, her enormous chest and abdomen rising and falling. Then the woman grunted and her eyes flickered open. Cleo, the new nurse, was drawing up insulin, her black nail polish shining in the florescent light. By some instinct, June noticed the loaded syringe… it was too much… she was sure.. but no, she didn’t want to confront the new nurse, with her choppy jet black hair and her large black tattoos of angry cartoons all over her legs and arms.

June’s voice caught and strangled as she saw the needle plunge into Mrs. Smith’s large and pale abdomen. Why had she looked in? What Cleo did wasn’t her business. Her feet in their white hose and her white nurse’s sturdy shoes stopped and stuck to the floor, then unstuck and she hurtled into the room, as Cleo pushed the Code Blue button.

She was thrown off balance as Cleo with dark and cutting eyes, brushed past her, “You’re responsible,” she hissed, and was gone before the Code Blue team swarmed into the room to provide emergency care to Mrs. Smith whose body had begun convulsing with insulin shock.

June sat on the blue cushioned chair in her nursing supervisor’s office, crammed in by a plant stretching high and wide in the room. She held her shoulders and arms tight into her body and looked at the colorful framed photos on the Supervisor’s desk. The supervisor was in several of the photos, smiling in the company of family and friends. June could see her world extended beyond this room and ward, to seascapes and ski hills and picturesque places in foreign lands. June’s world was mostly this hospital ward and her apartment and her cat. She thought of Anna, her good friend, suffering from stage four cancer, who would never travel, and experience such places. She waited while the Supervisor typed, her key strokes making faint clacking sounds, half her face hidden behind her desktop computer.

The clacking stopped, and the Supervisor shifted in her rolling chair, her broad and well made-up face emerged into view. Her brunette hair was shaped and bounced off the collar of her black and white plaid pantsuit, and her red lipstick almost matched her heeled shoes. She was thirty years younger than June and didn’t wear a nursing uniform, and had never worked on a floor as a nurse. ‘Meg’, as she insisted the staff call her, made herself out to be a friend to some of the nurses on the ward, but June felt uncomfortable and avoided addressing her. Now the supervisor pursed her lips and looked June over with a critical eye.

“June, I can’t believe that you gave Mrs. Smith an overdose of insulin.”

June looked down at her white nurse’s skirt and shook her head. Tears brimmed and dripped, and her skin, which always felt dry and papery, stung. Half lifting her head, it wasn’t polite to avoid eye contact when talking to your supervisor. She spoke, “I saw,…” but she couldn't continue.

“Cleo says she saw you go into Mrs. Smith’s room,” Meg said, shaking her head of coiffed hair, and the fluorescent light above caught the subtle streaks.

“No,… yes… I went into her room.” June’s eyes drifted down and focussed on the Meg’s manicured red fingernails, like red ink, resting at the base of her keyboard, waiting.

“And… Cleo…” her throat felt constricted.

“I know you don’t care for Cleo, June, but this doesn’t have anything to do with Cleo. Mrs. Smith was your patient and you were there.”

“Uh, no… Cleo…”. She didn’t want to tell her supervisor that after they’d been given their patient assignments, she’d given in to Cleo and traded Mrs. Smith for Mr. Twyning. They’d been told not to trade patients at the last staff meeting, but Cleo had wheedled, and June had felt so distracted, she’d been afraid she’d make a mistake setting up her own medication cassettes.

“I know how traumatic this is for you. People make mistakes, even good senior nurses like yourself make mistakes. In the past, nurses used to hang their own, but these days we have better practices. We encourage, we don’t punish self reporting of mistakes.”

June looked down at her own white nursing shoes, and at the linoleum floor. There was a penny on the floor. Who carried those things around anymore? Their weight was a nuisance. She bent to pick it up. ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’

“You weren’t going to pick it up, were you?” the supervisor said. She left the penny on the floor and looked up. The supervisor was pointing at the floor with a look of distaste on her face. “That floor is dirty.”

June jerked her hand back into her lap. “No, I wasn’t.... Oh poor Mrs. Smith.” She put her head in her hands. Why had she come into work today? Why had she allowed Cleo to trade patients with her? A small voice in her head told her that changing a work assignment wasn’t as bad as giving a client too much insulin.

She gripped the sides of her seat. “Mrs Sanderson, I mean Ms. Sanderson,” she halted as the supervisor’s eyes bore into her own. “M..M.. Meg, Cleo traded Mr. Twyning for Mrs. Smith. I didn’t want to exchange, but…”

“But you did. Now you wait here. Afterwards, I need you to sign the report I’m typing up. I’ll get the chart, and we’ll see who signed what.” A floral perfume emanated as the supervisor’s stout form passed by June. A few moments later, she returned with a large blue binder, and her red nails flashed as she slipped through the pages and came to a stop and then, using her nails as a guide, she brought them to a stop. Sighing, she jabbed her nail in the spot. “Look, there’s your initial, J.M, I don’t see C.L. for Cleo.”

June half stood up and looked down at the medication record page. Her hand flew to her mouth. “They’re my initials, but I didn’t sign them. Look, the ‘M’ doesn’t look like mine, and Mrs. Smith was in a crisis. I didn’t even have a chance to sign. I mean, all hell broke loose.” Realizing how much she’d just said, she felt self-conscious and breathless.

The supervisor held up her palm. “Stop. One minute you’re telling me you switched assignments with Cleo, which I forbade, and now you’re telling me you were in Mrs. Smith’s room.”

June wanted to avoid the hard glare of the supervisor’s eyes, but she felt hunted out. With her heart pounding, she knew she couldn’t avoid this. Mrs. Smith… oh, if only nothing too bad happened. She sat up straight and returned the supervisor’s eye contact, forcing herself to keep the connection. Folding her hands on her lap, she spoke, trying to keep the stress she was feeling out of her voice. “I’m senior nurse and I shouldn’t have traded with Cleo, but I did, and I.. I.. take responsibility for that. I was checking in and I… I… saw Cleo had drawn up too much insulin, but I couldn’t… I mean, I didn’t stop her… I didn’t stop her.” Her lower lip quivered, and fresh tears came to her eyes.

“June,” the new softness in her supervisor’s tone caught her attention. She wiped the tears from her eyes, and looked to see the supervisor looking at her with a kindly smile, like her smile in the photos on her desk. “Mrs. Smith is fine, and..” she paused to let June absorb the information.

“I’m aware Cleo changed a patient with you. How I know is my little secret.” She raised her hand and rubbed her fingers together. “But I’ll have you know that Mrs. Edwina Smith says she was drowsy but she distinctly being surprised you were wearing jet black nail polish and had the most frightening tattoos.”

September 30, 2022 19:43

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