“You up for getting plastered tonight Charlie?” Martin asked, as he bounded over to the sink where Charlie was busily scrubbing away the last remnants of the RTA.
“You read my mind!” He replied, already savouring the thought of a large whiskey in the local pub, “Oh, but I might have to catch you up though”
“Really? What are you doing that's so important?”
“Work. Ewart and I have a few things to sort out after the shift. Shouldn't take too long” Charlie elaborated, having suddenly remembered what Ewart had said about starting daily stock takes.
“Well, I was thinking we might wander down to that new nightclub on the high road?”
“A nightclub? Aren't they a bit expensive?”
“Better atmosphere though. We could make a proper night of it, a sort of group outing; you, me, Susie, Duffy if she's finished throwing up by then...”
“What's that about Duffy?”
“Oh, she ran out of the room earlier looking as green as Megan’s dress!”
“This room? What was she doing in crash? It’s only her second day here, first full day, she’s not ready for major trauma!”
“Hey, Boss, it's not my fault! She just turned up and Ewart put her to work. She didn’t do a bad job until the guy died. I told her to go have a sit down”.
“I’d better go and find her then. I can trust you to hold the fort for a few minutes, can’t I?”
Martin nodded eagerly, “’Course you can trust me!”
Duffy sat on a bench on the grass in front of the entrance to A&E. It was a mild day but she could feel herself shivering slightly as she sat and watched the comings and goings of the department. Everyone was carrying on busily with their lives, going about their daily business chatting and laughing; Duffy barely felt a part of the world that they inhabited.
She was so lost in thought that she didn’t even notice Charlie until he was sitting next to her.
“Are you all right?”
She nodded slowly, trying to convince herself as much as him.
“It’s never easy. The first death I mean…”
“It’s not like I’ve never seen a dead body before,” she burst out defensively, not wanting him to think that she was completely useless, “It’s just I’ve never…”
“Seen someone die. Yeah I know.” Charlie finished for her. He reached awkwardly into his pocket and pulled out a slightly crumpled packet of cigarettes and a lighter, “Want one?”
Duffy shook her head; “I don’t smoke”.
“Very sensible,” he replied, placing a cigarette in his mouth and lighting it, “disgusting habit”. He took a long drag on it and Duffy could see him visibly relax, slumping against the hard wood of the bench and rubbing the back of his head with his free hand.
“Have you been sick?” He continued after a brief period of companionable silence.
Duffy looked mortified at the suggestion, “No!” He raised an eyebrow a little, and she relented, “A little. Were you sick the first time… you know…?”
“No”. She appeared to look a little downhearted at that, so he continued: “Not the first time anyway. The first time was an old boy, eighty-something. He was brought in after a stroke, never regained consciousness. He didn’t have any family, or at least none close by, so I stayed with him. It was all very peaceful, very dignified in a way. I’d heard so many horror stories from the others in the department that I was bloody proud of myself for coping so well. Then about a week later there was a scaffolding collapse at a building site. All three men had horrific injuries, we couldn’t save them. I spent the next half an hour locked in a toilet cubicle throwing up and chain smoking my way through a packet of fags.”
“Charming”. Duffy replied, though Charlie detected a slight smile come to her face.
“Yeah, well I’m just trying to explain that we’ve all been there”.
Duffy thought about his words. It was true of course, she knew that, she’d bet that any of the casualty staff had a similar story to tell and they’d all come through it. She hoped that it would be as easy as just getting through it. She’d never been a quitter, but she was sorely tempted to give up and get as far away from casualty as possible.
“I don’t know if I can handle this Charlie. I thought I could, but I never expected it to be anything like that…” She trailed off as the memories came flooding back.
“If you really thought that you’d be halfway home by now.” He stated in response.
“I live in Nightingale House,” she said, pointing to one of the other hospital buildings, “ I am halfway home!”
She allowed herself a giggle and Charlie joined in with her laughter.
“Look, if you want to give up and go back to the ward I won’t stop you, and no one will think any the worse of you if you do. Some people aren’t cut out for emergency work”.
Duffy frowned, unsure whether that was his way of suggesting that she should give up, or some kind of reverse psychology designed to make her stay and fight.
“How do you know if you are or not?”
He shrugged, “Gut instinct. Personally though, from what I heard you handled yourself well in there. Even though I don’t remember telling you to come into crash…”
Duffy winced and looked away from him, “I saw Megan wheeling out that other man. He started coming round and she was trying to comfort him so I offered to help her by taking in a trolley. I’m sorry.”
She looked up cautiously and saw that he was smiling, “Don’t apologise. You used your initiative. That’s what good nurses do”.
“I suppose so…” she replied uncertainly. “Charlie, how many of them made it?”
Charlie frowned and took a deep breath, “We had five major traumas brought in. Two died, one’s up in theatre. The others should make recoveries in time.”
“So half died…”
“So half lived…” He countered.
“And the glass is always half full, I suppose” Duffy replied haughtily, feeling like she was being patronised.
“Depends whose glass. Mine’s usually half empty!” He said, ignoring her tone and making a drinking gesture. “Look, think of it this way: if it weren’t for us, all five would have died. Medicine doesn’t have success and failure that way other jobs do. Everyone dies eventually; we just do the best we can in the meantime”.
She admitted to herself that he was making sense, but wasn’t quite sure if logic was enough. “Everyone will know I ran away though…”
“Maybe, but everyone will know you came back too. And they won’t hold it against you; they’ll have me to answer to if they do!” He winked at her and she couldn’t help but be taken in by his charm.
She thought for a second, then stood, chin up and shoulders back with a look of determination on her face.
“OK, I'm ready.” Charlie stubbed out his cigarette and stood up next to her.
“Well come on then, there’s a boil in four that needs lancing!” He said with mock enthusiasm, making Duffy grimace.
They made their way back to the building but, just as they were about to enter, Duffy paused.
“Charlie?” she asked softly.
“It does get better, doesn’t it?”
He looked at her worried expression, and put his hand affectionately on her shoulder to reassure her, before replying simply, “Yes”.
Go to Part Seven