The fifth story in the Winter Prose Competition 2011 series.
The Nurse yawned, absently picking at the bandage on his elbow and watching the camera feed from the isolation room. The patient, Paul, was sitting down on the grey mattress for the first time in three hours. It was finally quiet in there. The nurse silently wished the guy would just go to sleep so he could go get a coffee.
He was sitting in the office, nick-named the fishbowl. Shatter-proof glass windows allowed a person to stand in the centre and see into the courtyard, common room, dining room, and the three hallways leading off into the patient’s rooms.
None of it was very cheery at all. Everything was beige, bone-bone white or grey. Some of the walls had things on them; finger-paintings blu-tacked high enough so they won’t be pulled down, motivational posters with pictures of fuzzy animals or beautiful vistas. All of it wasted on the patients and even the nurses. The nurses were too busy to take any notice and the patients either didn’t want to be there or thought someone was stealing their hair to sell to spies so the aliens could track them.
Motivational posters can only do so much.
“Hey Geoff, how’s your thing?” asked one of his colleagues, pointing at her own elbow.
“Yeah it’s alright,” he replied, taking his eyes off the monitor for a second, “can you sit here for a minute? I really need a drink.”
“Can’t, gotta go take some bloods,” she replied as she opened up the fish-bowl door.
“I’d prefer a coffee, but whatever is on tap,” he said, spinning in his chair and looking up at the harsh fluorescent lights in the office, trying to shock his eyes into staying open. “Hey before you go, did the blood-work come back for my friend in there?” he said pointing at the screen.
“A little bit. Homeless guy from the scrubs bites you,” Geoff ran his hands through his hair, “Never know, you know?”
“They should be back in a minute. You’ll be right. I’ll get you a drink after I’ve taken the samples,” she smiled at him and walked out the door, shutting it softly behind her.
“White and two!” he called to no avail. Geoff sighed and looked back at the monitor, picking at the bandage again.
Paul had bit him just after dinner that evening, not hard, but just enough to break the skin. The first time a patient had injured him he was quaking for a week afterwards, but that was years ago now. Being worried about being attacked in this ward was about as useful as saying abracadabra to get a better shift schedule.
The only thing that gets on every nurse on edge who gets bitten, spat on and bled on, is whether or not the assailant has something like Hep C or HIV. This guy, this out-of-his-mind-aggressive addict, might have ruined his life in one tiny, little nip.
The intercom began to ring on the wall behind him, buzzing him out of his reverie. He stood up and answered it, stretching as he did.
“Hi. Um, is this the Mental Health Intensive Inpatient Unit?” the voice crackled back.
“Yep, how can I help you?” he said tiredly.
“I have these reports from pathology, blood samples for Paul Cothridge?”
“Thanks just stick them in the thingummy under the intercom and press the big green button.”
“Ok.” The voice said uncertainly.
“No it’s alright I’ll take them in.” Said another voice, sputtering gently. “Buzz me in Geoff.”
“Who is it?” Geoff said in a sing-song, know-it-all voice.
“Open the door, or I’ll throw it away and we won’t know if you’re sick until your hair starts falling out and your fingernails fall off.”
“Thanks,” Geoff said as he pressed the door open button, hearing the heavy door clicking open then slamming shut, echoing down the hallway. He looked back at the monitor; Paul was now fast asleep, spread out across his bed like he was trying to hold it down amid a cyclone. He sat back down heavily and poured himself a cup of water, throwing it back. It didn’t quench his thirst at all. He groaned and yawned, face-palming and putting his head down on the desk, only looking up when the office door opened.
“Hey Tim,” he said quietly.
Tim opened the folder in his hands and his face contorted into an odd expression.