short-story-thumbsIt is a truth universally acknowledged that jumping, jogging or galloping in a nurse’s uniform in a challenging, but necessary, maneuver to execute. Numerous situations during any shift may require the nurse to undertake such an activity. Night shift for instance comes hand in hand with the 3am goose bump chills, that are difficult to shift unless one jumps up and down on the spot, causing your phone, keys, pens, calculator, ID and emergency packet of Malteasers to rattle together in an alarming racket. Other times, a frenzied gallop down the corridor is required when a nurse realizes they have left a particularly independent gentleman on the toilet for half an hour, who is notorious for wheeling his own way back to bed, most impressively, in a commode. As I am sure you can understand, the physics involved in galloping with many items in your pocket, has the potential to result in these items winding up on the floor. Thus the run has to be executed in a rather delicate manner, with one arm clutched around the waist to act as a shock absorber for the pockets, and the other around the chest to prevent the ID card from bruising the face during motion. At any rate, the noise of such pandemonium during the day would cause other pedestrians in the corridors to flatten themselves against the walls, and at night it would naturally wake up most of the ward. And this is where the story begins, on one particular night, where no such chaotic noise was occurring, making it more unusual for Room 24’s buzzer to sound, piercing the usual sleepy silence that was expected at 3:15am. As I attempted to shake off that fog of fatigue and cold that was blurring the chairs in front of me into mirages of soft, white pillows on top a deliciously downy bed, I tried to conceive what the gentleman in Room 24 wanted at this hour. My fellow nurses smiled apologetically at me, as their heads too began the downhill spiral into 3:15am delirium, and occasionally, onto the desk in front of them. Feeling a little light-headed, I fumbled my way around the nurse’s station and down the corridor to Room 24. This particular patient was in infectious isolation, and instead of gowning up, I peered my head around the curtain, making certain to not touch anything. Immediately, I made eye contact with the 60 year-old, white-haired, bearded man, who was sitting up in bed, looking sullen, and very wide-awake.

“Are you ok, George?” I quietly asked, desperately hoping that this was a quick-fix situation, where a cup of tea or some pain relief would settle him down, so I could go back to unsuccessfully dozing off at the nurse’s station.

“I am not. You promised, some hours ago, that when you had time you would come and talk to me”.

I silently despaired. Yes, I had promised to George at the start of my shift, that if I had time, I would have a chat with him. But did he seriously expect me to entertain him now of all times? It was the horrible wee hours of the morning! Had he no insight into the fact that, whilst he has been snuggled up in his coveted bed all night, I had been on my feet making sure my other patients were suitably medicated, toileted, and comfortably able to close their eyes and sleep? Clearly, he must be confused.

“George,” I gently asked. “Can you tell me where you are?”

“Of course I know where I am. I’m in hospital,” he indignantly replied as though deeply insulted. “Come on,” he cajoled. “Come and have a chat with me”.

I still did not believe he could be serious. So I suggested,

“Why don’t I make you a cup of tea instead? It’s in the middle of night and you should be sleeping”. I hoped he would understand the hidden message in that statement, that I actually I wasn’t really in the mood for a pleasant chit-chat just now.

“That sounds lovely,” he beamed. “Now you go make one for yourself too, bring it in here and lets have a good talk”. If it were daytime I would have admired his bold persistence, but it wasn’t daytime, and I wasn’t happy. I gave him the short , polite smile of the defeated, and walked with slumped shoulders from the room towards the kitchen, knowing I wouldn’t win this one. Upon return to the room with his tea, I gowned up, walked in, and dumped his tea on the table beside him, and sat down on the closest chair.

“Thank you, my dear”, he happily said with a smile. He clearly had no idea about social proprieties of appropriately timed conversation.

He dragged himself to the side of bed and swung his legs over so he was facing me.

“So”, he began. “Hypothetically if we were both single, would you go out with me”. I looked at him with exasperated amusement. Such a bold question deserved an honest reply.

“Hmm, well, if you weren’t old enough to be my grandfather and weren’t my patient, I might consider it”, I replied. He laughed and his belly laughed with him. I couldn’t help but smile. I thought to myself that 20 minutes maximum would surely satisfy his hankering for conversation. Unfortunately, 20 minutes only provided enough time for the prelude to his story about his childhood on the farm, how he would work solidly from 5:30am in the morning to 8pm at night. How at night, he would eat fresh bread with jam and hot chocolate made with milk from the cow he had milked that same morning, and suddenly, reluctantly, I was hooked. I didn’t mind at all that he was doing all the talking for the next two hours. I did mind that he had brought joy out of me that I did not think possible at such a time, especially when the source for such enjoyment had no sensitivity about the nocturnal habits of patient and nurse. After realizing that George had taken up 2 hours of my time, I conceded to myself that he had undeniably won this game, and I had indeed lost.

“Well, George,” I managed to cut in, whilst he drew breath for his next sentence. “I do apologise but I must see if my other patients are ok”. I stood up to go, and he held out his hand for me to take his.

“I’ve loved speaking to you, my dear. Thanks for entertaining an old man like me”. That was enough. The simple acknowledgement made the past two hours worthwhile. He kissed my gloved hand, and I smiled and took both his hands in mine and said,

“I look forward to seeing you again tonight, George”.

He dragged me towards him to give me a kiss on the cheek. I had approximately two seconds to panic. He was infectious. How was I going to get out of this one? My glove and gown didn’t cover my cheek. Could I quickly stuff a tissue between my cheek and his lips without him noticing? But where was I going to get the tissue. Even if there was a tissue box within my reach, which there wasn’t, everything in his room was technically infectious. I could hear the Jaws track in my head as his face loomed closer and closer. My sleep-deprived brain gave me no alternative solutions, and George succeeded in giving me a big kiss on my cheek. I smiled as gracefully I could, gave his hands a final squeeze, calmly left the room, tore off my gown and stuck my head under the tap. I stood up from the basin two minutes later, face and hair dripping, suitably satisfied I had washed any potential infectious bacteria from my face, giggling quietly, feeling refreshed, and thinking what an amusing situation I had got myself into. Wait, what was this feeling? Alertness? At this hour? I didn’t even have to perform a panicked sprint down the corridor!

George had helped me to stumble across a brand new way of staying awake at night.

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