I was the mucky pro. Queen of the sluice on the men’s surgical ward. I’d been there about a fortnight, so I was at that unfortunate stage when uniform is uneasily worn, cap well down on the brow and apron sagging drearily at the back, eyes shyly averted at urinals and men in bed.
Well, it may have been the beginning of a glorious career but there were days when I wondered about the glorious part of it, for although I was possessed with an eagerness to be a madly efficient nurse, sister showed peculiar lack of enthusiasm for my work. Well, on this particular morning I had ‘done my side’ with what I thought was a quite uncanny thoroughness.
When I thought how I had even remembered to dust the earphones above the beds, it made me feel rather spiritual and dedicated. So when sister called me I waited modestly for her praise. She said: ’Nurse, when are you going to do your side?’. well that’s the way it went. But my change to make good came that evening. An old man was admitted to the ward as an emergency. He’d been bleeding from his stomach and it had done him no good. He was in a state of shock. Everyone said so. Sister said so too when she taxied up to the sluice. When there was a flap on she walked as though she had little wheels on her feet. I thought she let them down like an aircraft does. She fixed me with an hypnotic stare and said slowly and distinctly the way you speak to a foreigner or backward child: ‘Nurse get a bowl of nice hot water and give the patient a nice hot blanket bath. And be quick about it.’
That she had got it wrong about me, that beneath my awkard uniform and gauche manner there was a second Florence Nightingale. So feeling unexpectedly confident and quietly competent, I sorted out the largest washing bowl I could find and filled it brim full of nice hot water as I’d been told. Then I carried it carefully not even slopping it once to the screened off bed.
The old man’s eyes flickered open when I arrived and he threw me a rather suspicious glance. So I gave him a nice reassuring nurse’s smile and said soothingly:‘And now I am going to give you a nice hot bath.’
I shall never know how it happened. Personally, I think a nerve in my arm must have jumped. But suddenly and without any warning my arm jerked up the entire contents of the bowl cascaded over the emergency patient. He was drenched through. So was the mattress. For a few seconds he looked at me in bewilderment and then enlightenment came, and he murmured wonderingly: ‘What a funny way they ‘as of bathing you in ‘ospital!’
But strangely enough he did live, and thrived. Stranger still, sister decided to let me live.-after a struggle with herself.