A typical night in Accident and Emergency.
It was rough, loud and potentially dangerous. Luckily it was also exciting. These were the longest shifts and went by so quickly. Mary loved it, was born to it. Also, with only a few years under her belt she was still a newbie, as the older nurses regularly reminded her. Give it time. The love may fade, but the vomit and blood are permanent.
This latest admission was particularly vile, a strange and quiet little man who had walked in alone, checked himself in and sat there silently waiting. Not complaining, or coming up to the desk to ask how much longer or making little moans to prove he was genuinely ill. He was odd enough to capture Mary’s attention. It was the quiet ones you had to watch as her dad used to warn as she left for a night out, before himself quietly nursing a bottle for the remainder of the evening, and his life. Drink had been his downfall and she was reminded of it again every weekend in this place. But this new patient wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t rowdy, and it only him even more intriguing. Short, balding, overweight and dressed from the charity shop reject box. His top lip curled upwards and looked swollen. Mary didn’t like to be cruel but she knew it would be a serious stretch for anyone to find him attractive. He stared straight ahead with large glassy eyes that barely moved but still gave her the feeling that she was being watched, examined.
He had sat unmoving and quiet for four hours before projectile vomiting across the entire waiting area. Then stench was unbelievable, the sticky shiny brown liquid had spattered even to the far wall. The few people sitting near him, not freaked out by his unusual demeanour, had leapt aside and away, sprains and ailments be damned. Just eager to be as far away as possible from the acidic reek.
The patient himself hadn’t moved though. He sat solid and still. Chin dripping, mouth open, lip curled, and his lazy glazed eyes, staring at nothing and right through Mary at the same time.
“Are you ok?” Mary’s latex gloved hand gently patted his back.
He flinched violently. Pulling away from her.
“It’s ok, its ok. Are you Ben?” She soothed.
“So I see. Can you stand up?”
“OK love. Just you sit there and I’ll…”
Ben roared as his mouth opened. The volume of his roar was almost as impressive as the volume of his vomit. Mary screwed her face up and screamed back at him as it coated the thin plastic apron that was supposed to protect her. She tried in vain to move out the way. Tried to use her hands to protect herself. It just made the splashing worse. A riot shield wouldn’t have helped. It was in her hair, on her face, in her mouth! She looked around for support. The waiting room was all but empty. Patients and staff alike had found hiding places out of the danger zone.
An hour later and she was washed as best she could be, in a clean uniform, standing by his bed.
“It’s ok Ben. These things happen.”
The waiting area had been taped off and hosed down and mopped up. The stink of bleach mixed with the sickly-sweet aroma of Ben’s insides and wafted through the corridors. The queue had gone down by half. A lot of the patients had decided their drunken injuries could wait till tomorrow.
Mary couldn’t just go home and get away from it. She could taste it. Endless gargles of mouth wash and even the salts hadn’t helped, nothing would shift it.
“We know you are love. We’ll make you better.” She went to pat his side but remember the way he flinched before and reconsidered.
There was a cardboard bucket by the bed. He had been sick twice more since the initial incident. It was all just retching now. He was finally empty. Thank God.
Mary wrote on his chart and stood to the side as Dr Ann Salmond entered the cubicle.
“Hello Ben. Feeling a bit poorly yes?”
“So we see. It is more than a little food poisoning, isn’t it? Have you been doing anything that you shouldn’t have?”
“I want to go home.”
“Soon I hope. I think its best you stay in tonight though. We will find you a bed upstairs. Somehow.”
“I need to go home!”
“Soon Ben. We will look after you, alright.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone!”
He got over excited and started retching again. Pushing and heaving into the bucket. Mary and Dr Salmond stood back a little just in case. A wet croaking noise accompanied his tortured strains. The Doctor looked at Mary and with a tilt of the head motioned for her to move the curtain.
“Hi Mary. How are you?” Ann smirked. She knew fine well how she was.
“I don’t think I will ever feel clean again.”
“Yes I heard.”
“The whole building heard.”
“Did you also hear what was in it?”
“The cleaning team. They found meat in the vomit. Raw meat. Undigested.”
“Oh my god.” Mary turned pale.
“Yes I think Ben will need someone from psych.”
“But he was sick all over me, I can still taste it in my mouth.”
“I can still see it in your hair.”
Doctor Salmond pointed at her hair. Marys hand went up to her temple. A piece of undigested muscle fell onto the floor.
“I’m going to be sick.”
She burst into the cubicle and took Ben’s cardboard bucket and filled it up for him.
“Sorry about that.” She looked embarrassed and terrified.
“I want to go home.”
“So do I.”
“Come on Mary, let’s get you along to the staffroom for a sit down and a cup of tea.” Dr Salmond took Mary by the shoulders and guided her away.
“I need to go home.” Ben repeated.
“You will get to go home soon. We just need to make sure you are ok. I will be right back to see you in five minutes.” Dr Salmond pulled the curtain behind them.
They walked the short distance to the staff area and sat together on the uncomfy chairs. A plastic cup of dirty brown liquid was put in Mary’s hand. She looked away hurriedly and set it on the floor.
“This has been the worst shift of my life Ann.” Mary held back tears.
“That’s good, get a new benchmark. None of the other nights will seem so bad again.”
“Ha, thanks for the support.” She said sarcastically.
“Anytime.” She smiled. “So I better go tell Ben he’s headed upstairs for the night. And call psych. Bit of a weirdo isn’t he?”
“A bit? He’s like an extra from the walking dead!”
“He gives me the chills. Those eyes. I would hate to know what he is thinking.”
“Not sure he’s thinking anything at all. I’ll tell him. He’s my mess. You crack on.”
Mary made her way back to the cubicle. She just had to get through this. Get him moved upstairs. Get the area cleaned out and prepped for the next unlucky soul who had to follow. Then she could go home and fall asleep in the shower and hopefully forget tonight ever happened.
“Time to get you a bed for the night.” She said as she pulled the curtain back. Ben was gone. The bucket of sick was gone too. God, why! She thought. We got a runner.