Duffy sprinted onto the ward, glancing down at the fob watch she had hastily pinned to the front of her uniform. Ten minutes late. Sister MacIntosh would kill her. Practically flinging her bag through the staff room door, Duffy decided that the best course of action would be to get on with her work and hope her tardiness would go unnoticed. She took a deep breath and stepped onto the ward.
No sooner had she located Mr Rosenburg, whose dressing needed to be changed than she was aware she was being watched. She turned slowly and looked up to see the formidable sight of Sister MacIntosh glaring at her.
Sister MacIntosh couldn’t have been more than forty but there was something in her demeanor that gave her an old spinster like quality. She might have even been quite attractive if she ever relaxed, or even just broke into a smile. As it was, her uniform was always perfect, her shoes always polished, and her hair was swept off her face with so much lacquer that Duffy wondered if it was solid to the touch.
She continued to glare at Duffy for a few seconds, and the already peaceful ward grew silent in anticipation of what was to come. Eventually she spoke in carefully controlled tones.
“Nurse Duffin. What time precisely does your shift start?”
The casualty department had only opened it’s doors at eight, technically at least. However, two of the paramedics, Ponting and Mute, had brought in a man from a hit and run accident at five minutes to eight in the knowledge that most of the shift turned up with time to spare.
Charlie, on the other hand, had arrived a couple of minutes late after having trouble getting his near antique Beetle to start. After the coffee incident, he decided that perhaps it was the Almighty’s way of telling him to get on with his work and he headed for the staff room to collect his uniform.
When he pushed open the door he found Staff Nurse Martin Fisher ensconced in a chair, flicking through the morning paper.
“Alright Boss?” He asked as Charlie came in and headed for his locker.
“Yeah, just not had the best start to the day”. He slipped off his new jacket and hung it up neatly. From his seat, Martin gave a low wolf-whistle.
“Nice jacket! Must have cost a bob or two, that!”
Charlie smiled, “Been saving up. I think I deserve to treat myself once in a while”.
“All right for some. My pay packet is already accounted for; rent, bills, food, nothing to spare!”
“I’m sure you’ll manage somehow Martin,” Charlie replied, fishing out his uniform white coat.
Martin Fisher was the sort of man who always seemed to land on his feet, and although Charlie would never admit it to anyone he was rather envious of the man. He had an easy way about him, could cheerfully talk to anyone and could effortlessly charm any woman he set his heart on. Although Charlie did wonder if it was his heart that inspired his flirting or some other part of his anatomy altogether.
“Hey, what happened to your shirt?” Martin asked as Charlie tried to arrange his uniform so the stain on his shirt wouldn’t show.
“Collided with some nurse whilst trying to get my morning caffeine fix”. Charlie explained.
“Oh,” Martin nodded as though that were perfectly understandable, “Was she pretty?”
“Don’t you ever think of anything else?”
“Not if I can help it. So, was she?”
Charlie frowned in consideration, “I didn’t really get to see, she was off and running so fast”.
“No wonder you ain’t got a girlfriend if you have that affect on women!” Laughed Martin, Charlie ignored him. It was too early in the morning to argue about his private life. As it happened he was saved from anymore of Nurse Fisher’s insights on life by the resident porter, Kuba, poking his head round the door.
“Sorry to be interrupting but Mr Crawford is now ready to go up on the ward.” Kuba announced cheerfully in his thick Polish accent.
“Must be his lucky day to get a bed so soon”. Charlie commented as Martin rose from his seat.
“Oh no!” Kuba replied emphatically, “He is not lucky, he is hit and run over”. He slapped his hands together as a demonstration of the basic principle of getting hit by a car.
“I’ll take him up, Boss”
“No, I’ll do it,” He stifled a yawn, “might wake me up a bit”. Martin shrugged and wandered off into the department proper.
“So which ward are we taking the unfortunate Mr Crawford to then?” Charlie enquired as they went off to collect him from his cubicle.
Kuba raised one arm into the air as he answered, as though rallying his troops for war: “Orthopedics!”
“I’m sorry, Sister” Duffy replied quietly. It wasn’t that she meant to be quiet, just that her voice refused to do much more than squeak.
“So you do realise that you are eleven minutes late then?” Sister MacIntosh replied.
“And this isn’t the first time you’ve been late whilst working on this ward is it, Nurse Duffin?”
“No Sister”. Duffy mumbled.
“Speak up girl!”
“No Sister, it’s not the first time I’ve been late” She could feel the eyes of everybody in the room on her, boring into her. She imagined them all laughing at her, thinking that she wasn’t good enough to be a nurse if she couldn’t even get to work on time. She wanted to scream out that she was only a little bit late and it had only happened twice since she started working there, but she knew that she couldn’t shout any such thing.
“Why were you late?” Sister MacIntosh barked.
“Yes, yes, get on with it, you…?” Duffy could feel tears starting to burn her eyes. She gritted her teeth in an effort to compose herself. She was determined not to let MacIntosh see her cry.
“I overslept, I’m sorry”
“Well, that’s all right then!” She scoffed, “And what if we all decided we couldn’t be bothered to get up on time, eh? What would happen then?”
Duffy knew that the answer wouldn’t be long in coming, soon the tirade would begin. She could feel her whole body start to shake with nerves and fought hard to keep control, digging her nails into the palms of her hands as she did so.
From the doorway Charlie and Kuba watched with mounting horror. Charlie knew from experience that as a Charge Nurse it was occasionally necessary to give a staff member a good talking to, but the poor girl who stood in the middle of the room looked like her world was coming down around her. Surely she couldn’t deserve such a public chastisement.
“The whole of the National Health Service would grind to a halt, that’s what would happen, Nurse Duffin. We have rules to prevent that from happening, rules that must be obeyed for everybody’s sakes…”
The poor kid was going to cry, Charlie had to do something, “Ahem!”
“No one must be above these rules, do you understand Nurse Duffin…”
“AHEM!” Charlie tried again; loud enough that his interruption didn’t even pretend to be a cough anymore.
In a mass movement everyone turned to face Charlie. He straightened his coat uncomfortably. Duffy stared wide-eyed at the obvious madman who had dared to interrupt Sister MacIntosh’s speech. Sister MacIntosh herself glared furiously at him, her face turning scarlet.
“Yes?” She said in her most withering voice, “What is it? I’m busy”.
Charlie cleared his throat, “Yes, well, aren’t we all. I have a patient here, Mr Crawford, he needs a bed”.
“I do not appreciate you waltzing onto my ward and making demands, Mr Fairhead”.
“I do not appreciate having to spend ten minutes standing in the doorway, waiting for you to finish prattling on about how nurses shouldn’t waste time!”
“I beg your pardon!”
“I said,” replied Charlie, now in full flow, “that perhaps if you let your nurse get on with her work now she is here; rather than trying to make her burst into tears, the National Health Service that you are so concerned about would run that much more efficiently as a result. Now if you don’t mind, I am trying to run a ward of my own and I would like to get back down there”.
Sister MacIntosh was speechless, and an awed hush enveloped everyone else. Kuba grinned and made the thumbs up signal to Charlie. From the other side of the room, Duffy managed a nervous smile. Not only had the attention been taken off her, this Mr Fairhead person, whoever he was, had actually stopped MacIntosh in her tracks. Duffy had never seen anyone stand up to her like that before.
Sister MacIntosh stalked over to Charlie, snatched the relevant paperwork from him, and still visibly seething snapped, “Nurse Duffin, take this patient to bay seven immediately”, before returning to her office.
Go to Part Three