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Nurse Bel and the Empty Bed – Part 2

December 19, 2014

Out in the night, the wind moans louder and a furious rain lashes the windows. Determined to keep calm, Bel leans towards her patient.

“Norah” she whispers. “What are you dying of?”

Norah says nothing, but raising a finger, motions to the screens; Bel, understanding, draws them shut – fabric walls enclosing nurse and patient. Then she waits. Slowly, oh-so-slowly, with her gnarled arthritic fingers, Norah grasps the bedclothes. She glances down, as if seeking reassurance they are really in her grip – then stops, shuts her eyes and offers something like a prayer before she finally – decisively – pulls them back.

Bel reels, aghast at the horror now before her. Lying next to Norah in the bed, almost as big as she is and seemingly still attached to her by its greedy mouth parts is a huge grey leech – plump and engorged, glossy with a sleek, self-satisfied sheen and – Bel notices for the first time – making rhythmic sucking sounds.

She fights the urge to gag. But she can’t prevent herself from blurting words that up to this moment, she’s been proud to say she’s never uttered to a patient: “Norah!…Oh my God!…What’s that?”

Norah, exhausted, sinks back into her pillows. “Clinical commissioning” she says. “It’s bleeding the life out of me”.

Footsteps are approaching from the door. Quickly, trying not to look, Bel  replaces Norah’s covers. As she does so, the screens part with a flick, and a tall, fleshy man emerges. “Hello” he says kindly. He sounds Welsh. “I’m Dr Bevan, the on-call. Are you Mrs Hornby-Smith?”

Tired as she is, a look of relief spreads over Norah’s face. “Doctor…” she sighs. “Here…come closer. I could have sworn…you look just like my father…such a wonderful man! His favourite, I was. He’d never have let this happen to me”.

Her hand reaches out for his, but as it does so, a screaming gust rattles the window panes. Above their heads, the lights lurch, then dim. Dr Bevan looks at Bel and shakes his head. “The storm” he says. “Brought the power lines down. And this bit of light we’ve still got left, who knows how long it’ll last? It’s not the generator, you know. It’s staff goodwill.”

From the corridor, sounds of commotion drift in, but held by the macabre fascination of Norah, Bel doesn’t move. More footsteps approach and for the second time, there is a parting of the screens. Simone glides though, glancing nervously towards the bed.

“Bel!” she hisses. “Night sister doesn’t know anything about this lady. She says they never sent her. But…there’s all these people here – loads of them. Outside. They say they’ve come to see” nodding towards Norah “her”.

Norah, barely conscious now, moistens her lips with her tongue. “Leave them, love” she says. “They’ll be my children”.

Awestruck, Simone hardly knows how to answer. “But…” she stammers “I mean…how many children have you got?”

“Millions” says Norah dreamily. “Millions and millions.”

Her words are barely spoken before her face contorts in agony. Sweat springs out on her forehead and her eyes roll backwards. “Doctor!” she gasps, her hand scrabbling for the comfort of his. “Oh Doctor! I’m failing! That thing – its teeth are scorching me! I can’t go on like this!”

“Right!” says Dr Bevan. “Right…there’s only one thing for it! It’s a risky manoeuvre – requires a lot of concentration – but if we get it right, trust me Norah: we can save you”.

Businesslike, he turns to Bel and Simone. “Get everyone!” he says. “Those people outside – form them up into a human chain. If we all heave together, we can pull away this hideous parasite and maybe she’ll…have a chance. But hurry – there’s not much time!”

Returning to Norah, he carefully unfolds her covers, then takes a deep breath and grasps the leech, shifting his weight slightly as he does so and hefting it against his chest. Bel stands behind and folds her arms around his waist. As she does so, she looks down to see two other arms, instructed by Simone, close around her own waist. An excited frisson of common purpose ripples down the line; from it Bel draws unexpected strength.

Panting slightly, Simone comes back. “OK!” she says. “We’re good to go!”

Dr Bevan nods and looks over his shoulder one last time. “Ready!” he shouts – Bel’s heart leaps to her mouth. “Steady!” – waves of nausea sweep over her. “PULL!”

A creaking, ripping noise fills the air. Norah cries out, and Bel staggers backwards. When she looks up, she sees Dr Bevan holding aloft what looks like a rapidly deflating grey balloon. She looks again, and it’s the size of a ten pence piece, pinched disdainfully between his thumb and forefinger. He considers it a moment – then drops it in the kidney dish held out by Simone. “Get rid of it” he tells her. “Once and for all. Flush it down the toilet”.

Norah, still weak, but already seeming better, sits up in bed. “Open the curtains” she says to Bel. “I want to see the new day”.

Through the window, Bel surveys the breaking dawn. “The storm was raging in the night” she says “but it’s blown itself out now. Everything’s calm, out in the wide world”.

“Whereas in here” says Simone, coming up behind her “it’s like Paddy’s flippin’ Market. Just look at them all! What are we gonna do?”

They turn back to bay in time to see the crowd parting raggedly down the centre. Bel throws Simone a quizzical look, then notices a young woman – holding a baby – cautiously picking her way to the front. Seeing Norah, she stops – then speaks, in a voice full of thankfulness. “Mum!” she says. “Oh Mum! Look what I’ve brought you! The newest member of the family, born in the night.”

Norah stretches out her arms. “Let me take him” she says, and while the others watch, she gently cradles him, and tenderly, lovingly, smiles down. “It was touch-and-go for a while” the younger woman says “but we made it through – like I knew we would – safe and sound in our wonderful NHS. Wherever would we be without it?”


Seasons greetings and thanks to everyone – contributors, readers, tweeters and supporters – who has helped to make Grumbling Appendix such a success in 2014.

We’re having a well-earned rest over Christmas, but we’ll be back with the same incisive, unmissable nursing commentary on 6th January 2015. See you then!



From → Nurse Bel

  1. pennyhaswell permalink


  2. Thank you so much!

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