by Clark Nidaserialised here by permission of the author.

Maskell now showed Alan how he wanted him to remove the draw-sheet. If one side was rumpled up and pushed under the patient, he could then be turned on his other side over the rumpled bit, thus freeing the draw-sheet to be removed on the other side. A new one could be put back the same way, after wiping the rubber mac with the old draw-sheet – if there was enough of a dry edge still on it. Otherwise you’d use a nappy.

“It’s all about lifting the patient as little as possible. Good for your back – good for the patient. It minimises the risk of dropping him. The official way – Assistant Matron insists on it when she comes round – is to put the patient in a bath chair covered with blankets while you make the bed.”

Maskell moved from one foot to the other. His expression made it clear what he thought of Assistant Matron. “Frankly there’s no time to frig around like that. You’re also meant to put the screens round the bed too. As if these patients care! When you think that there’s only the two of us here on-duty this afternoon – and we have to change all 35 patients in this ward, 12 next door, to say nothing of the Babies’ Ward, and then start the baths before the split-duties come on, you’ll see there’s no time to muck about. Now pass me the bowl and sponge, will you.” 

Alan reached down to the bottom shelf of the trolley – and was snapped-at for bending down at the waist instead of crouching. “Watch your back! What did I tell you?” 

Maskell took the basin and put it down on the bed beside the patient. “Roger’s got his nightshirt wet as usual. So that will have to come off. Pass the blanket.” 

Without hesitation Maskell removed the sopping wet nightshirt as if he was peeling an enormous white fruit. All through this procedure the patient lay there passively. He might have been unconscious – as technically he was – but for his eyes being open. 

“Now that we’ve got the patient lying on the rubber mac we can give him a brief once-over with the sponge. Needn’t overdo it – he’s getting a bath when we finish the change. While you’re fiddling about on the trolley, cover the patient with a blanket. Matron is most particular about that when she comes round.” 

The way he said it showed that he had a little more respect for Matron’s scruples than he did her deputies’. He reached into the tub of zinc oxide with three fingers and took out a slug of ointment which he rubbed into the red patches on Roger’s hips. 

Speak of the devil, thought Alan. For who should be gliding up between the rows of bed was Matron herself, having come in by the fire-exit, as was her wont.

“He’s starting to get bedsores. They do, lying all day in the same position. But the skin’s not broken. Got to catch it in time. Otherwise it needs a dressing – which gets all wet with urine and needs changing frequently. Fortunately that’s not happened for a long while.”

Matron reached the bed before Maskell noticed her. With a regal courtesy she nodded briefly to Alan. “Good afternoon, Mr Hall. How are you managing?”

“Very well thank you Matron.” Alan’s throat was tight.

“Is Mr Maskell instructing you adequately?” – she turned to look at Maskell while she was speaking, who was just straightening up. She said it rhetorically. Maskell didn’t even answer the question but said respectfully “Good afternoon, Matron”. She turned and continued her watchful glide, making haste slowly like a thundercloud. 

“She didn’t say anything about the screens,” muttered Alan when she’d gone. “At least the blanket was over the patient…”

“You don’t have to be scared of her, you know,” said Maskell. “She understands the nature of the job. I’ve never known her pick-up on a matter of routine, like bed-corners. It’s always about the patient’s welfare. Not like some people I could name…” 

He chuckled and pulled the blankets back up around Roger’s shoulders, tucking them in with incongruous tenderness. “She’s a rare one – she considers we’re here to look after the patients!” 

The trolley was pushed to the foot of the next bed. Maskell motioned with his hand and Alan drew back the covers. Instantly he recoiled in disgust. A single glistening turd lay on the draw-sheet, where it had dropped from the patient’s anus. Maskell caught his eye and said “You’ll have to get used to that…” 

“What do I do?” choked Alan. “Are there any rubber gloves…?” 

“Don’t be bloody silly! What – fresh surgical gloves for every patient? Every Big Change? D’you know how much they cost?” He slapped Alan’s wrist. “No! – don’t touch it with your fingers! Never touch tish with your fingers.”

“What am I supposed to do, then?”

“Wrap the draw-sheet over it.” 

Once again the draw-sheet was removed in a similar manner to the previous patient. “Now, Philip’s dry – but he’ll need his bottom sponging.” 

Maskell did the honours with the bowl. Alan began to see the point of the Dettol in the water. Green bag for foul linen, thought Alan. It was all coming together… 

“…Ta-ta-ta-ta! – don’t drop it in there! Not with tish still in it. Laundry don’t thank you for that. It rolls out on the floor as they stuff it in the autoclave. Just put the draw-sheet carefully wrapped up on top of the trolley. We’ll shake it out down the sloosh when we’ve finished.” 

He picked the book up off the trolley and wrote something in it. “Roger – wet. No tish. Philip – dry. Tish. Keep the ward book written up as you go along.” 

“Do you mean to say you write it all down?”

 “Of course! It’s what nursing’s all about. Bladders and bowels. Sister checks through the book and decides which patients need enemas. Or suppositories.” Maskell snorted. “We let you use your rubber gloves for those!”

…to be continued.


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