The Print Petticoat(81)

By: Lucilla Andrews

‘Not much, Sister.’

‘I never slept much my first afternoon back on nights. What time did you arrive up from the country hospital?’

‘Just after one, Sister.’

‘Good. Time for a nice rest if not much sleep. I expect you’re glad to be back? Everyone feels so out of things down in the country.’

Nurse Smith said politely, ‘Yes, thank you, Sister.’ Nurse Carter glanced at her covertly. Nurse Dean correctly kept her gaze on the hands correctly folded in her lap.

‘When was it you left us here, Nurse Smith?’

‘End of August, Sister.’

‘Nice little break in country air. However, back to business and this Major Browne ‒ with an E ‒ still in the theatre. I’m afraid the SSO is having to amputate the right leg. Poor Mr MacDonald.’ The cap frills rustled sympathetically. ‘Amputations so distress him ‒ there it is. Apparently a tram went over the leg just outside our main gates this evening. I’m afraid the War Office aren’t too pleased at our taking him in as we’re a civilian hospital, but how were Casualty to know he was in uniform until they’d washed off some of the blood? I’ve just had the War Office on the ’phone again. I’m afraid I was a bit short with my caller. Well, really, I said, if the British Army imagines St Martha’s Hospital will ever refuse admission and treatment to a dying man because of some nonsensical red tape, then the British Army knows nothing about St Martha’s Hospital and isn’t it time it did since St Martha’s Hospital has been caring for the sick of London since 1428? I’m afraid he didn’t like that. But, as I was saying, still in the theatre and not too well. Nearly died on the table. However, Mr MacDonald has been able to continue with the fore-quarter ‒ Nurse Carter, you are a senior second-year. Tell me what I mean by a fore-quarter?’

Nurse Carter looked at Sister with wide, dark blue, intentionally blank eyes. ‘It is an amputation of the leg that requires the surgeon to disarticulate the hip-joint and remove the limb from that joint, Sister.’

Sister nodded briefly and addressed her senior night nurse. ‘Put him in 31, Nurse Dean. Much less disturbing for the other patients to have all three DILs on either side of my ward table, and less disturbing for the three not to be close to the entrance. Always so much coming and going at night. Leave that student with the cracked ribs in 30. He shouldn’t be in more than the one night or need much attention and having him there leaves more room for the screens on either side. Nor do I ever think it a good idea to have DILs side by side. So upsetting for the relatives if they peep between the screens ‒ and, of course, they always do. That reminds me, I haven’t told you about the Major’s next-of-kin. His wife. A ‒’ she checked in the large ward log book, ‘a Mrs Adela Browne, home somewhere in Hampshire ‒ not too far ‒ address in our Address Book ‒ on her way up now. We haven’t been able to contact her but the War Office say they have and she should reach us some time tonight. I hope the trains aren’t too delayed. The Major doesn’t sound too well to me. Now about tonight’s emergencies; as I’ve just told you, we packed nineteen off on this evening’s convoy to the country and as you can see, we’ve managed to get the middle clear again and I’ve left you five empty beds on either side up the balcony end. And what’s more, Nurse Dean,’ Sister Wally smiled with pride, ‘I’ve actually managed to get hold of ten proper mortuary sheets so for once you won’t have to manage with ordinary sheets. I think ten should be adequate, don’t you?’

Nurse Dean thought so. Nurse Smith pressed her pale lips more tightly together and tried, unsuccessfully, not to think on the subject. Nurse Carter studied her hands and dwelt on the thought that it was being so cheerful that kept Sister Wally going.

‘Thank you, nurses.’ Sister Wally flicked down the neatly upturned corners of her apron skirts and rose to signify the report was over. ‘I hope you have a good night. Nurse Carter, a word in your ear before you disappear to make the drinks! Don’t forget what I said this morning. Next time I come on and find you’ve used up my patients’ breakfast tea, I shall send you straight to Matron.’