“There we go,” I said, repositioning the clean sheets neatly around the man's legs. Glancing up at his serene yet spoilt complexion that I had grown to know so well over the past few days, I couldn't help thinking again how very good looking he was. His bottom lip was covered by a dressing that hid its raw gash and there were multiple stitches in his eyebrow and right cheek. Yet my thoughts were far from his ugly wounds, my heart beating just that little bit faster as I half imagined what colour his eyes would be and how much more handsome he would look with a smile on his rugged face.
I shook my head to force me out of my reverie. Don’t be silly, Jenny, you can’t get hung up on a patient! It just isn’t done. Remember what happened last time when you got too close to someone here. I shuddered at the thought and it certainly brought me back down to earth with a thump. Sighing with a general dissatisfaction of life, the niggling question that had been plaguing me ever since I could remember cropped up again, like a weed that still forced its way into the open again, however much weed killer I tried dampening it with. When was I ever going to find someone? I suddenly felt like Bridget Jones at the dinner table when all eyes were fixed on her, waiting for her to answer the dreaded question: “Yes…Why is it there are so many unmarried women in their thirties these days, Bridget?” Gosh, how I could relate to that!
“Wow, who died?!” Lydia popped up beside me, making me jump, clutching a tatty red clipboard, and standing in her rather tight starched pinafore, which curved to her plump shape. ‘A rounded figure’, we liked to call it. I loved how she was always so warm and cheery, however stressful a day at the hospital might have become. So constant, and a faithful friend of which I hated the thought of losing.
She gasped at the irony of her own words, and brought a podgy hand to an open mouth. “Oh dear, that wasn’t the right thing to say, was it!” She half laughed at herself and raised her eyebrows in worry, biting her lip. I chuckled in response but in a strained way, my face soon falling again, and that crease which scarred my forehead returning with a vengeance. My mind was still preoccupied with my earlier thoughts, which seemed to linger like a sickly perfume.
I replied in a forcefully happy tone after inhaling steadily. “Oh nothing’s wrong, just thinking about all the stuff I have to do when I get home. I’m already exhausted as it is!” I attempted a smile.
“Yeeeah, I know what you mean!” Lydia instantly replied warmth and empathy bubbling over. “I’ve a bunch of things…” I subconsciously tuned out to what she was saying as I ran through in my head the endless list of tasks I would have awaiting me when I returned to my flat. The thought of how this evening would not be different from any other brought a wave of depression whooshing over me, making me sink down into its dreary waters; all I wanted was to shrink down into the corner of the room right there and then, and not have to face the reality of it all.
I suddenly caught the last few words of Lydia’s sentence and found her staring at me waiting for a response.
“…don’t you think?”
I blinked; turned my head and pulled a sheepish expression.
“Oh I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening at all! What did you say?”
She sighed, slightly put out. “All I said was, don’t you think it’s weird how no one has come to visit this guy in the last few days he’s been here.” She gestured her free hand to the man in the bed that I had just tucked in so tenderly.
Automatically nodding in agreement, I felt a slight twinge of forbidden satisfaction that it had only been me who was his regular visitor. But it hadn't exactly been only my doing: in the last few days, the other nurses had shuffled their shifts around so I was always the one doing his regular checkups. Apparently, they knew I had a 'thing', as they called it, for him and thought I didn't know about their clever plan, but I'd actually overheard them discussing it by the drinks machine yesterday. I was secretly grateful and slightly amused even though I knew they would only tease me later about it.
Lydia switched into her gossip mode as she lent in closer to me and added that tension to her tone of voice, which I couldn’t help pricking up my ears to.
“I heard Karen talking about him in the cafeteria yesterday. Apparently, the paramedics didn’t find any information on him or in his car which connects him to anyone. His phone was smashed to pieces not surprisingly, and he didn’t seem to have any possessions with him at all! No wallet, no bunch of keys-just the single key in the ignition I guess.” Incredulous, she shook her head for emphasis and fiddled with the pencil hanging by a string off her clipboard. “They’re tracing the car’s owner at the moment to try and get some sort of lead on him.” Dropping her voice to a whisper, Jenny darted her head round then swivelled it back to me. “I shouldn’t really be telling you this but you can’t help being interested in all that information Karen seems to glean – you know what she’s like! But all a bit spooky, eh!” She said lightly, nudging me on the forearm, making me chuckle in response.
“Yeah, I know!”
A look of motherly concern crossed her face as she turned towards the bed. “Yeah…poor guy. Well.” she said sighing, and glancing at her miniscule watch which seemed to be embedded in her wide wrist. Her tone of finality indicated the wrapping up of our conversation. "Looks like you’re pretty much done-it’s five twenty five. I've gotta stay until ten!" She rolled her eyes but they shined with compassion. I knew how much she loved her job.
"So you have a good night, sweetpea, and I’ll see you tomorrow. Bright and early!” Her laugh tinkled.
“Yep, bye!” I called, echoing her laugh, as I made my way towards the cloakroom.
That familiar feeling of relief, knowing that my shift was finally done, whooshed over me like a warm tide over sandy wet toes. But what also came with it, was that contentment of knowing I had accomplished yet another day of helping those who needed it most: Mrs Taylor’s grateful smile as I put on her clean bandages; Mr Temple’s rather grumpy temperament as I gave him his daily pills and checked his drip; and countless other patients who I had bonded with quickly and grown to enjoy the company of. But I knew this last week, I'd most enjoyed caring for the man in the coma. He was still nameless. I wondered what life he'd had before the accident happened...where was he going? What kind of job did he have? Did he have a girlfriend...or a wife? Surely they'd have visited him by now if he did...
I'd talk to him whilst turning him over: left, right, back and then repeat. I'd tell him what my favourite music was and how I hated passing Mr Lincoln's flat door and that I was going to take long walks through the fields near my appartment, when it got warmer in the spring. I'd even told him my worries about Callum, who is failing at school and getting into the 'wrong crowds'...and how mum only ever rings me up to ask what she can do to make him more hard working like me. Even though I was met with the sound of distant chatter from the hallway and the rasping endotracheal tube for my replies, I liked to think he would eventually get to answer these questions when he woke up...or if he woke up. Well, it certainly made up for the lack of company I had in my own social life. I tried not to let that bother me, although I knew it still did.
Before long, I was at the wheel fighting the rush hour traffic. Clutch, brake, clutch brake, clutch, accelerate!! Roaring out of the turning of a side road I was only five minutes away from reaching home.
“Oh!” I’d forgotten to put on my music; that was rare.
"It’s good to be in love, it really does suit you, just like everything, you’re happier in love…”
I wished Imogen Heap didn’t make me feel so wistful sometimes.
Soon I pulled up into my usual space which had been waiting patiently all day for me to return. Off went the engine and the music and I clambered out and locked up my trusty Peugeot.
It was chilly tonight. Still in the bitter winteriness of early February, the inky darkness clung to every fibre of my thin cardigan and threw a shiver all over me. The stagnant cold continued to swirl in the drafty stairwell as I trudged up the steps to my flat. Fumbling the house key in its lock, I relished the beckoning warmth of the indoors and gladly shut the door behind me, along with the gust that had whipped the hair across my face. Clonk-my keys on the round table; thud- my bag on the worn carpet. Slumping awkwardly across the length of the soft sofa, I closed my eyes for a few seconds as exhaustion pummelled me and I felt myself drifting off into glorious abyss...