A young nurse is reassigned to a palliative ward where the patients are poorly treated as they wait to die. When a grievous mistake feels more like a blessing, the black and white lines of ethics begin to blur. What is a good death? What is mercy? And what is the cost of the choices she will make?
"What's your name again?"
"Jenna. Jenna Vaughn."
The human resources department was in the basement of the hospital. After wandering down a few wrong hallways and getting directions from first a janitor and next a care aide pushing a healthy-looking woman in a wheelchair, Jenna was flustered. This was her first day of her first real job with benefits, and not only was she late, but nobody seemed to have any record of her being hired. She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks and ears. She had only been here fifteen minutes and she already just wanted to go home. She focused her attention on a fake plant in the corner and took a few deep breaths. She had survived nursing school: she would make it through today.
"I was interviewed by a woman on G2 Medicine, I think her name was Carol. She called me and said I got the position and should show up for orientation on G3 today. She told me to pick up my key pass here and then meet her by the elevators."
"I am sorry, Miss, I can't find the record anywhere. Carol should have notified me to make you a pass. But, for now I will give you a temporary pass that you can return here at the end of the day, and your personalized pass should be ready by then. Just sign it out here in this binder."
The woman shoved back her mass of dark curly hair and selected a large black binder from a shelf of similar black binders. As Jenna began filling out her information, the woman produced a white magnetic card stamped "RETURN TO HR" in bold red lettering.
"Um, so how do I get back to the elevators from here?" Jenna asked.
"Follow this hallway, then left turn at the pharmacy doors, then turn right at the vending machines."
Jenna shook her brown tuft of a ponytail. "Okay, think I got it. Thanks. Have a nice day."
The woman was already on the phone with her next client. Jenna sighed, swinging her backpack over her shoulder. By some divine intervention, she found the elevators on the first try. She pressed the 'up' button and dispensed a pump of hand rub into her palm from the dispenser on the wall. The doors opened with a ding and Jenna stepped inside.
"Hold the door!"
Jenna put her arm in front of the sliding doors to allow a chubby middle-aged woman in pink scrubs into the elevator car.
"Are you new here?"
Jenna looked up. "What?"
"Your badge..." the nurse pointed to the card in Jenna's hand.
"Which floor are you on?"
"Ooh." The nurse winced.
"G3, that's a tough floor. Lots of heavy patients - both physically and workload. And the nurses on that ward are a bit burnt out, so they can be harsh..." The nurse looked at Jenna's expression and smiled. "But I'm sure you'll be good for them. And you'll learn a lot. What's your name, honey?"
"Welcome to Kingston General, Jenna. I'm Rosa. If you ever need anything - tips, a hug, a drink, you just come find me down in surgery."
Jenna laughed. "Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."
The elevator bounced to a halt and the doors opened.
"This is my stop," Rosa said. "Good luck, new girl."
A man in a green hospital gown dragging an IV pole stepped into the elevator.
"Which floor?" Jenna asked, moving to press the button.
The man didn't reply. He leaned towards her to push the button himself, and promptly vomited on her new work shoes.
"Sorry," he rasped, as the elevator door closed. "I'm not good with elevators."
Jenna swallowed the bile rising in her own throat. "It's not your fault," she said.
When they reached the third floor, Jenna tried to ignore the slippery-sticky noise that her shoes were making on the tile floor. She found some gloves and paper towel in the hallway and cleaned up the majority of the mess. "I'll call housekeeping later," she told the patient who was holding the door open for her. She wiped most of the grime off her shoes and looked around for Carol. At the nursing desk, when she asked for Carol, the clerk gave her a funny look.
"Carol from second? She hasn't worked here in years. Who are you? Are you Jenny?"
"You're on the schedule for today. We're already working short."
"Short? No, I'm orientating. I've never been here before."
"Well, welcome to G3, honey. Learn as you go. Here's your patient assignment."
"But this isn't safe-"
"Call the manager if you want, but she's busy in meetings all day today."
"The gentleman in room 313 is going for angio in an hour, so you get him prepped and I'll get the paperwork ready."
Jenna felt tears cutting off her airway and burning the back of her eyes. You can cry later, she told herself. Just survive the next hour. With a swallow and a deep breath, she started writing down the names of her patient assignment.