AS A STAFF-NURSE
It was sister’s day off and I was in charge of women’s medical ward. My clean cap and well starched bow gave me a sense of importance and authority as I sat at the desk of office and read the night report. Then I made a list of the things sister wanted done. I would forget nothing. No detail would escape my eagle eye and sister would be so impressed with the unusually competent way I had run the ward in her absence.
During the morning we admitted a patient for investigation, Mrs Maloney. She was a gaunt, querulous old lady of 71. The difficult type that use up an awful lot of tact. She had only just got into bed by the time the house physician arrived to do his round. He was a very earnest young man. Worthy - and so thorough about his round. But it was when he examined a new patient that he really let himself go. If he took an hour he was rushing it and always such an imposing diagnosis at the end. So obscure and learned sounding. Well, when the house physician bore down on the investigation with brains vibrating madly and hunter’s gleam in his eye, I gave a sigh of resignation.
Dinners would be up before he was through. After a sort of third degree quiz had gone on for about an hour, Mrs Maloney admitted that she had an irritation of the scalp and at this the H.P. grew tense. He was on the scent. ‘Get the blood pressure and reflex testing apparatus’, he commanded in a vibrant Dr. Kildarish sort of voice.
And when at last his examination was finished he drew me on one side and hissed dramatically. ‘Impending celebral haemorrhage!!. I put on my paying attention with intelligence face and listened carefully to his detailed instructions. ‘Bad sign, scalp irritation,’ he said. ‘She must be kept absolutely quiet. No nothing for herself.’ Oh dear, I thought, another hair, teeth and feeder with us so short staffed.
‘I’ll write her up for a sedative,’ he said, and he paused and eyed me with sadistic malice. ‘I’ll do a lumber puncture this afternoon.’ I nodded sagely and wrote bitterly in the treatment book. Well, we carried out his instructions to the letter. All Mrs. Maloney had to do towards existing was just to keep on breathing. We saw to the rest.
And although the day swept out in a hectic rush I couldn’t help feeling pleased with the way things had gone. I really thought sister could not have done more or done it better. So I was all the more puzzled when sister gave me such a piercing glance next morning when I told her about the new patient’s signs and symptoms.
But I found out why when she peremptorily summoned me to Mrs. Maloney’s bedside. ‘Ha! Irritation of the scalp indeed!! She said scornfully. ‘ Pity her hair wasn’t examined instead of every nerve in her body.’ I looked. Her hair which turned out to be a wig that she had not removed from her head since she put it there twenty years ago was alive. It was heaving and crawling and palpitating. She was just plain lousy. And was my face red.