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Nurse Bel and the Empty Bed – Part 1

December 18, 2014

“You going to bed when you get home?” asks Bel.

“With my lot?” says Simone. “You’re joking ain’t you! The place’ll be like a zoo by the time I get there – kids in total hyper-mode, which of course gets the dog all wound-up as well…Last year they were awake at half-past four. And then my sister’ll be round mid-morning with her three, just to make sure everything goes completely bananas…I might get my head down for a bit in the afternoon, but that’ll be the first chance I get.”

Bel nods in agreement, and for a while, she and her support worker sit together in companionable silence, contemplating the gloom beyond the nurses’ station. Usually Bel dislikes working nights, but Christmas Eve isn’t so bad. For once, the ward is quiet – one whole bay is empty and closed off – and on her last tour of the beds, the few remaining patients all appeared to be sleeping peacefully.

She shakes herself back to full wakefulness. “I suppose we should switch off the fairy lights on that tree” she says “to save electricity. I mean, we don’t really need them on in the middle of the night, and every little helps, as they say. I’ll do it next time I…”

“Shhh” says Simone, suddenly alert, interrupting her. “Did you hear a noise?”

Bel listens. “No” she says finally. “What kind of a noise?”

“I don’t know…like a door banging in the wind or something. I went cold as well. Didn’t you?”

“No” says Bel again, but feeling less certain now, and wishing, in spite of herself, that she had a blanket to draw around her shoulders. “It was probably one of the patients snoring. Come on” – reluctantly rising from her chair – “we’d better do another check on them.”

Simone looks up but makes no move. “It didn’t come from the bay” she whispers. “It came from” – pointing towards the sluice “ down there. It sounded weird, Bel.”

“Oh don’t be silly!” snaps Bel. “Someone’s left the window open, that’s all, and it’s such a stormy night out there, something’s blown down from the shelf – a measuring jug or a bowl probably. It wouldn’t take much to…”

The rest of her words are lost amidst a deafening crash, and Simone’s scream, and then a sound like dropped coins, slowly shuddering to a standstill. Simone, still seated, has her face on her knees and her hands on her head. Nervously, she looks up. “My God, Bel” she breathes “there’s somebody. In. The sluice! Call security!”

Bel laughs to hide her growing unease. “What a wuss!” she says. “You know full well it’ll just be a patient who’s…I dunno…looking for the toilet or something. Come on, we’d better make sure they haven’t brained themselves.”

Simone, rooted to the chair, shakes her head. “You go if you want to. I’m stopping here.”

Torch beam before her, Bel advances down the corridor. Through the frosted windowpane in the sluice door, she can see that the room beyond is in darkness. Heart pounding, she pushes the handle, reaching round for the light switch as the door opens. The florescent tube above her head jolts into life, and as it does so, a scene of utter chaos is revealed, first flickeringly, then in its full, inescapable horror: every bed pan, every kidney dish, every urine bottle, measuring jug and washing-up bowl in the place has been flung to the floor – and three commodes upturned on top of them. Amongst it stands no human agent. Bel is alone.

Propping open the door with a bin, she puts her head round the corner and and calls into the blackness. “Simone! Simone, it’s OK, there’s no one here! Just come and help me tidy up a bit, will you?”

She hears Simone’s footsteps getting louder as she approaches, then sees her gasp and back away slightly as she takes in the scene. “This is giving me the creeps” she says. “Seriously. I mean – how did it happen? The window isn’t even open!”

“I don’t know” says Bel tersely, not wanting to think about it. “But we can’t leave it like this. Let’s just clear up, shall we, then we’ll have a cup of tea – warm ourselves up a bit. It is freezing in here, I’ll give you that.”

Ten minutes later, with everything in the sluice back in place, the two of them return to the nurses’ station. Bel looks for her cardigan. “D’you want tea or coffee?” she asks over her shoulder. Simone doesn’t answer.

“Simone?” says Bel again, turning round. “D’you want tea or….” the question dies in her throat as she follows Simone’s gaze towards the door to the empty bay. It stands wide-open, its hinges gently creaking in the icy draught.

“It wasn’t like that before” falters Simone. “Bel! Someone’s gone in there while we were tidying the sluice! And look…!” On the white board next to the door, where previously there were four blank spaces, a name has appeared: Norah Hornby-Smith.

“I knew it!” sighs Bel. “I knew they wouldn’t keep that bay closed all over Christmas, not the way things are. Night sisters could have called us though, given us some warning if they were sending a patient.” Annoyed, she drums her fingers on the desk. “OK, I suppose I’d better have a look at her. You bleep night sisters, ask them what they think they’re playing at.”

Entering the bay, Bel turns on the light. In the bed by the window lies a lady who isn’t old – by her looks, only in her mid-sixties – but her frame is wasted, her complexion deathly pale. Gripped with foreboding, Bel swallows hard as she approaches.

“Hello” she begins, bending down. “My name’s Bel. I’m really sorry, but we’ve not been told a lot about you. I just wondered if you could explain to me…um…why you came to hospital tonight?”

Slowly, Norah turns to look at her. In her eyes – along with weariness – an immense, an overwhelming compassion; in her hand, as it reaches up to stroke Bel’s cheek, a world of yearning. “Oh my child” she murmurs. “Don’t you know? I came because I am dying”.

Don’t miss the second and concluding part – coming up tomorrow!

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From → Nurse Bel

2 Comments
  1. pennyhaswell permalink

    Terrific, brings back many happy memories of spooky nights! Can’t wait for the next bit…

  2. Thanks! You won’t have to wait long!

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