trout [ 8 ] September 2000
Kerry Challinor Wilke


Going South ... continued

My first assignment out of prelim school was the dreaded night pool ... an eleven p.m. to seven a.m. shift. The first night I showed up, sweat beading my upper lip, dizzy with fear. Night Sister looked at me over her glasses. 'Hmm. I think ... Mrs. M.' I grabbed the desk for support, and opened my mouth. The two-striper in line behind me pushed me out of the room.

Mrs. M! She was legendary, the most feared assignment of all. She had suffered from polio, and was completely paralyzed, on a respirator and with a tracheotomy. She could urinate without a catheter, but had a manual removal of faeces daily (thankfully on the morning shift). She hated all nurses.

'I don't know how to suction, I only did it once, on a dummy,' I told the two-striper, when she found me hesitating in the hall. She took off her badge, and pinned it on me. 'I'll take your badge,' she said, 'and you take mine. Mrs. M. is hell on new nurses, but you can tell her you're second year, and you just got transferred from Greenlane. Suctioning is nothing. All you do is poke the catheter down till she tells you to stop. Just do what she says, and you'll do fine.'

Mrs. M. was in the Infectious ward, a hot, dark building that housed everything from Fijian lepers to quadriplegics on major life-support machinery. In her room were three other patients. Two were in iron lungs, which wheezed spookily all night. The other patient was on a respirator and had tetanus, and flew into agonized convulsions at any sudden noise.

The electrical cords powering the life-support machinery snaked from all directions into the center of the room and plugged into a board that lay flat on the floor (don't ask me why). When doctors or nurses entered the room for the first time, they would trip over the cords in the dimness, disconnecting one or more of the iron lungs or respirators. Then there was a wild scramble to plug everyone back in before somebody kicked the bucket.


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© 2000 Trout &
Kerry Wilke

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