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Nurse Bel does a bank shift

August 2, 2013

Bel remembers reading a memo somewhere telling staff the windows are being cleaned this week. That would explain the slapping of cables and harnesses she hears as she walks down the corridor. It reminds her vaguely of boats and holidays – pleasant thoughts, soon dispelled.
“Fuckin’ hell! Did you see the tackle on that?”
“His ropes, you mean?”
“Ha ha ha! That ‘s what you call it now, is it? He can come and soap me down any time, he can, and then wipe it off with one of them rubber things! Hard as he likes!”
“Oooh, kinky! Wouldn’t you rather he got his hose out?”
“Ha ha ha! Y’dirty cow!”
Bel sighs. She doesn’t really enjoy doing bank shifts on other wards, but her own ward hasn’t had much  going lately, and with Ben’s school trip to America setting her back the best part of a grand, she hasn’t got a lot of choice. When she took Jellyby ward, she was hoping she might miraculously have picked Sonia’s day off, but it seems she’s out of luck.
She enters the Staff Room. One or two of the nurses nod hello. Sonia looks round without interest and resumes her conversation. After her fantasy encounter with the window cleaner, she’s now back in the real world. She’s up to her neck in debt, it sounds like. For a moment, Bel feels almost sorry for her. She glances at her watch. Twenty past seven. Ten minutes till show time.
Out on the ward, Bel’s hopes of avoiding the Health Care Assistant From Hell are dealt a terminal blow when she finds that they’ve been allocated to the same area, along with Celina, a rather distant African staff nurse, and a student called Emma.
As soon as handover is finished, Sonia disappears. Bel knows exactly where she’s gone. Under the pretext of ‘re-stocking’, the in-crowd is holding its morning meeting in the linen cupboard. Nearly fifteen minutes later, Sonia returns, self-importantly pushing a trolley piled high with pristine sheets. “I’m going on second break” she informs Celina. It’s the type of ward, reflects Bel, where your place in the pecking order can be gauged by who goes to break with you. Celina barely looks up from the drugs.
Quarter past ten. Celina and Emma have gone to first break. In the female bay, Bel helps a lady back from the toilet while Sonia washes the patient in the bed by the window, screens tightly drawn. A head appears round the entrance to the room. It’s the ward clerk. “Are you there, Son?” she calls. “Your son’s on the phone”.
Sonia emerges and hurries out to the desk. “I’m not telling you again, Kyle” Bel hears her say. “You’ve got to go round there and sort it out. Your granddad gave that fishing rod to you…” The rest of the conversation is drowned out by a sudden frantic screaming from the bed by the window. Bel is behind the screens in a shot.
Lying on the bed, completely naked, an elderly lady who following a stroke, can neither move nor speak any meaningful words. At the window, where the curtains have been left undrawn, the window cleaner. Horrified, Bel rapidly pulls the curtains, grabs a blanket from the chair, throws it over the patient and then tries to console her as she wails and impotently pulls at the cover – her way of asking, Bel surmises, where it was when she needed it. The screens part. Sonia appears. At the sight of her, the patient’s howls grow even louder. Sonia folds her arms. “What has this nurse done to you, Lily?” she coos.
Bel stiffens. “It’s not what I’ve done” she hisses – she wants to say more, but immediately dismisses as unprofessional the idea of confronting Sonia in front of the patient. Instead, she says “Are Celina and Emma back from break yet?”
“Yeah” says Sonia. “Just”.
“OK, well, you’re due to go on break yourself now, so ask Emma to come and help me with Lily, will you?”
“Aren’t you going to break as well?”
“I’ll go in a bit…It’s OK, you can go. I’ll take over with Lily”.
With a reluctance that surprises Bel, Sonia puts her hands in her pockets and only slowly melts away. Emma presents herself a few minutes later. “Sonia said can she have a word with you. She’s in the sluice”.
Bel is reluctant to pass Lily’s care to yet another member of staff. “Are you all right with Emma for a few minutes?” she asks her.
“We’ll be fine” says Emma kindly. “We’re old mates, aren’t we Lily?” Lily turns to her head towards Emma, and smiling lopsidedly, squeezes her hand. Reassured, but still with thumping heart, Bel heads for the sluice. Sonia is waiting. She goes round behind Bel and closes the door.
“What did you mean” she asks “when you said it’s not what you’ve done?”.
“I meant” says Bel “that I wasn’t the one who left Lily lying on the bed stark naked for the window cleaner to see”.
“I expect he’s seen worse”.
“For God’s sake, Sonia! It’s not a joke! It’s basic dignity!” Sonia swallows. Knowing she’s been wrongfooted, she changes tack. “Well how was I supposed to know the window cleaners were here?”
“You don’t get it, do you? It doesn’t matter whether the window cleaners were here or not, you still shouldn’t have left her like that! But since you mention it, you knew perfectly well they were here. You were leering…you were talking about them when I got to work! I could hear you from the corridor! !” For several long seconds, Sonia seems paralysed. The only signs of life are her heavy breathing and her neck, slowly coming out in red blotches. “Right!” she says suddenly. She yanks open the door and storms out. After a moment, Bel cautiously follows. She’s just in time to see that Sonia has fled to the ward manager’s office and shut the door.
When Bel returns from break, she finds the health care assistants huddled round the nurses’ station. They break up slightly at her approach. “Gaynor wants to see you” says one of them. Gaynor is Jellyby”s notoriously desk-bound ward manager. Bel was expecting this, but despite herself, she still feels a bolt of anxiety rock through her. It’s not going to end well.
“Come in” says Gaynor when she notices Bel standing outside her office. It’s not a welcome. “Close the door”.
She wastes no time on pleasantries. “Sonia says you made a patient cry. She says she was fine when she left her, and when she came back, you were with her and she was in tears”.
“She was in tears because Sonia left her naked on the bed with nothing over her and when the window cleaner appeared outside, obviously he saw her like that. She started screaming because she was so embarrassed and when I went in to see what was going on, that’s what I found”.
“And you’re saying Sonia did this?”
“Yes”.
Gaynor crosses her legs and stares at the ceiling. She slowly turns back to Bel. “Well you see…” she says eventually “I can’t believe that of Sonia. She just wouldn’t do such a thing. She has a difficult life in some ways, but she’s still one of the nicest people I know”.
“Yeah, well, I expect she is nice to you” thinks Bel. “She knows which side her bread’s buttered on”. Out loud she says “I’m sorry, but that’s what happened.”
“Hmmm” says Gaynor. “Sonia also said that you accused her of ‘leering’ at the window cleaners. She was very distressed about it. Sonia’s a married woman, you know. She’s got no reason to leer, as you put it, at anyone”.
“Yes, well, I admit it wasn’t…a polite word” says Bel “but what was going on wasn’t very polite either. That’s all a bit irrelevant though. The point is that Sonia said she didn’t know the window cleaners were here, but I know she did because I heard her…talking about them in the staff room before we started work. Plenty of other people heard her as well”.
“Well that’s funny, because I can’t find any of them” snaps Gaynor “and frankly, I don’t want you on my ward if all you’re going to do is upset my staff and upset the patients. I can’t take this particular incident any further because I’ve got no other witnesses and unfortunately, the patient herself isn’t in a position to give us her version of events. But I shall be asking the Nurse Bank not to book you here again. I don’t want you to complete the shift. We’ll pay you for the hours you’ve worked – you’ve had your break have you? – ”
“Yes”.
“ – minus your break. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got paperwork to catch up on”.
Bel knows she owes Celina an explanation. Before she leaves, she tracks down the other staff nurse to the Clinical Room. “Your Ward Manager has sent me home” she says. “Leaving you on your own like this…I’m really sorry Celina, but it wasn’t may fault. It was Sonia”.
“Sweetheart, I know it wasn’t your fault. The other patients told me what happened.”
“I tried to explain, but Gaynor …well, she said Sonia’s one of the nicest people she knows…she would never do such a thing…I was gobsmacked. Does she ever set foot on the ward? Gaynor, I mean? I don’t know how you work in this environment. Honestly, I don’t.”
Celina pulls Bel into a corner away from the window in the Clinical Room door. She speaks rapidly. “This place stinks” she says “and Sonia – she’s the worst of the lot. She’s lazy, she’s rude, but with her sob stories –her husband, her kids – she’s got Gaynor wrapped around her little finger. She runs this place! A health care assistant, and she runs this place! I tell you, I’m moving to London next month. I have had enough”.
Walking back down the same corridor she walked along at quarter past seven, Bel wonders if she should do something about what happened. Then she realises she doesn’t even know who she should tell.

All persons and situations are entirely the product of Grumbling Appendix’s over-active imagination.

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From → Nurse Bel

4 Comments
  1. Very dramatic and well written, could be a script for a TV series examining the gritty reality of ward life! More adventures soon please…

  2. Thanks. I suspect Bel has been thinking about this a lot. Sooner or later, she’ll have to unburden herself to someone…

  3. Ally permalink

    Gulp, done a few bank shifts that have left me feeling like Bel….
    Fabulous writing

  4. Thanks very much! Glad you enjoyed reading – not glad that it’s so close to life.

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