The Quiet Wards

By: Lucilla Andrews

Chapter One


Robert Ward was very quiet that night, but few of the men were sleeping. Robert was a men’s acute surgical ward, with twenty beds each side. All the beds were occupied, and the men watched us with troubled eyes as we moved in and out of the drawn cubicle curtains round bed number 18.

Behind those curtains Sister Robert stood still as a statue at the foot of the bed. The sleeves of her navy blue dress were rolled high above her elbows; one hand rested lightly on the metal transfusion stand attached to the bed-rail. She watched the slow, steady trickle of blood through the glass drip-connection.

‘A little faster, Nurse Snow,’ she murmured. ‘Put that pin in the top hole and see if gravity will do it. I’ve opened the screw as far as it’ll go. If we can’t speed it up we’ll have to let Mr Dexter know.’

I moved the pin and the blood ran more quickly. Sister dropped her hand. ‘That’s it. Now there’s nothing more we can do until he comes round. Your probationer must sit with him while I give you the rest of the report.’

I went outside the curtains and beckoned to the pro who was hovering round the cluster of empty wheelchairs at the end of the ward.

‘Stay with him, please, Nurse,’ I said when she joined me, ‘and don’t leave him for anything, no matter who calls. I’m not sure yet how we’ll manage the other men, but I’ll work that out later.’

She nodded uncertainly. ‘Do I โ€’ do I have to do anything for him, Nurse Snow?’

‘Take his pulse every ten minutes; keep an eye on the blood, and if it slows down call me at once. Or if his pulse varies more than ten either way โ€’ it’s a hundred and two now โ€’ put your head between the curtains and call me, no matter who I’m with or what I’m doing. I’ll hear you and come at the double. But don’t leave him. Got that?’

She nodded again. She looked terrified.

‘You take over now.’ I held back the curtain. ‘Sister wants to finish giving me her report.’

Sister Robert pulled down her sleeves and walked to the table that was hidden behind red screens in the centre of the ward.

‘Sit down, Nurse Snow, and we’ll run through the others. It won’t take long. Fortunately Admiral Kerry is our only ill patient.’

By ill she meant dangerously ill. All our men were bed patients; only seven of the forty patients had reached the stage of being lifted into wheelchairs for afternoon tea. Robert, being an acute ward, dealt only with operation cases, and our patients were moved to a convalescent ward directly they lost their stitches. It was a pleasant and interesting ward, but it was never empty or slack.

Sister did not linger over her report. It was after 10 p.m., and officially she should have been off at nine. When she had finished I walked with her to the outer door of the ward which lay at the end of the small corridor we called ‘the flat.’ That was a point of etiquette.

‘I’m afraid you’re in for a bad night,’ she said, as I held open the door for her, ‘since one of you will be tied up constantly with the Admiral. I asked Matron about a spare night relief, but she said that the only spare senior nurse is specialing an accident in Charity, so I’m afraid you will just have to manage as best you can. But I’ll have a private word with Night Sister on my way out and see if she can produce someone, if only for an hour or two.’

I thanked her and she left. I went straight back to bed 18. Nurse Fraser, the pro, looked round hopefully.

‘Shall I get on with my routine, Nurse Snow?’

‘Not just yet.’ I explained what Sister Robert had just told me. ‘I’ll have to see to the others first and give out the sedatives before Night Sister and the men arrive. I’ll be as quick as I can, but until I’m free you’ll have to stay put.’

She was very young. She had a small, thin face, and her fair hair was pulled back in a tight bun. She had not yet learnt how to manage her cap, and it was sliding over one ear. She looked like a pigtailed and very frightened schoolgirl. I sympathised with her. I had been equally scared by serious illness when I started training nearly four years ago. Now it disturbed me, but did not scare me; I had been taught what I should do and what I should not do. This was the difference that training made. Pros are always scared because they think they have to do everything.

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