A Memory Between Us

By: Sarah Sundin


2nd Evacuation Hospital; Diddington,

Huntingdonshire, England

March 3, 1943

Lt. Penelope Ruth Doherty braced open the window and drank in cool air to settle her stomach. “There, gentlemen. Isn’t it nice to have fresh air in here?”

In the bed next to the window, Lieutenant Lumley snorted. “Ma’am, I’m from Arizona. To me, this soggy English air is more lethal than Nazi bullets.”

Ruth smiled at her patient, who had broken an ankle when his P-38 Lightning crashed on landing. “Good air circulation is important for wound healing.” And for clearing the nauseating smell of breakfast sausage from the tin can of a ward.

“Say, Red, you know what would heal my wounds?” The new patient, Lieutenant Holmes, pointed to his lips and dropped Ruth a wink.

Ruth gave him a sweet smile. “You’d like another dose of castor oil?”

“And it’s Lieutenant Doherty to you.” Ruth’s medic, Technical Sergeant Giovanni, set his supply tray next to Lieutenant Holmes’s bed. “Now, time to swab your wounds.” A German shell had filled the navigator’s back with shrapnel.

“Besides, her hair is more auburn than red.” Lieutenant Lumley’s gaze had a softer cast than usual. Thank goodness, he was due to be discharged.

“I’ll be back with the morning meds.” Ruth passed one of the potbellied coal stoves in the aisle.

“Ouch!” Lieutenant Holmes cried out.

“Whatza matter? Does it sting the widdle baby?” Sergeant Giovanni’s voice oozed fake sympathy.

“Better not be iodine. Makes my throat swell up something fierce.”

Ruth’s feet stopped along with her heart, and she slowly turned to her medic. Sergeant Giovanni’s burly face stretched long in horror. Of course he was using iodine.

Anaphylaxis. She needed to act quickly without alerting her patient, keep a level head, and control her emotions as she had been trained. Panic would make his condition worse.

She returned to Lieutenant Holmes’s bed and put on her cheeriest smile and voice. “What would feel good on those wounds would be a nice rinse with cool water. Sergeant, would you please fetch Dr. Sinclair? I’d like to discuss Lieutenant Lumley’s discharge with him.” She locked her gaze on her medic. “Now,” she mouthed.

“Sure thing, boss.” The sergeant strode for the door.

Ruth grabbed towels from the drawer in the bedside table and braced them on either side of her patient’s torso, and then gently poured water over the brown stains and dabbed them with another towel. Too late, but she wanted to reduce the amount of iodine in the poor man’s system. “Now, doesn’t that feel nice?”

“I’d rather have a kiss.”

“And I’d rather have a million dollars, but neither is going to happen.”

“I don’t know about that. I can feel that kiss already. My lips are all tingly.”

Ruth’s hand tightened on the towel. He was going into anaphylaxis, but where was Dr. Sinclair? Only he could give the adrenaline needed to save this man’s life. “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.”

At a fast clip, Ruth went to the medication room, where Lt. Harriet Marshall was completing her narcotic count from the end of her night shift. “Excuse me. I need to get some adrenaline and morphine. Lieutenant Holmes is going into anaphylaxis.”

Harriet’s elfin face blanched. “Oh no. Thank goodness Dr. Sinclair is on the ward.”

“Not yet.” Ruth grabbed a tray and put two sterilized syringes on top.

“So—so why are you already getting the meds?”

“I want to be ready when he comes. I can’t waste any time.” One vial of adrenaline.

“But he hasn’t ordered them yet.”

Ruth leveled a look at the girl. “I know the treatment for anaphylaxis.”

“That—that’s presumptuous of you. You’ll make the doctor angry.”

Ruth pulled a vial of morphine. “I don’t care about the doctor’s feelings; I care about my patient’s life.” She ignored Harriet’s gasp and returned to Lieutenant Holmes’s bedside.

He stared up at her with wild eyes. “My throat—it itches, it’s swelling up. Was that iodine?”

“Yes, sir, it was, but Dr. Sinclair is on his way.” She gave him her most soothing smile. “Now, let’s get you in a more comfortable position.” Ruth patted his back dry and helped him roll over.

Lieutenant Holmes clawed at his throat. “I can’t—I can’t breathe.” Red hives dotted his fair skin.

“Sure, you can breathe. Stay very calm. Very calm, and think about something else. Where are you from, Lieutenant?”

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