Week Twenty-Five Prompt: Intersection, “Closer”.

Closer

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” – Albert Einstein

“At this stage, it remains unclear how many people have been injured, as the chaos surrounding the nightclub fire continues. First reports indicate an electrical short ignited the acoustical backing which surrounded the stage area…”
*
The morning has been chaos, I’ve been down in Emergency helping transfer the stable patients to theatre or a ward. The hospital is on bypass now, we’re not taking any more admissions. The burns unit is full and every bed up here contains someone in pain. Alexa asks me to do a dressing on a patient for her; rattling off a quick handover: She’s come to us from Emergency overnight, she’s fairly stable, extubated already, the main problems for her are pain management and infection control. Alexa touches my shoulder, “It’s a mix of first, second and third degree – her face, right arm, bilateral legs, abdo – face and arm are the worst. Just those dressings for now. Thanks.” I nod and enter the room, wheeling my dressing trolley in with me. The TV is blaring, another newscast about the fire fills the room. I mute it, and suddenly all I can hear is the ticking clock and the soft put-put-put of the pump pushing fluids into the patient’s one good arm. 

I cross to the sink, scrubbing my hands for the thirtieth time that day. My skin feels raw as I grab a towel and pat them dry, snapping gloves on after opening the dressing pack. What I can see of the woman is covered in bandages; swollen eyes and mouth are all I can see of her face. Puffy fingers peek out from one bandaged arm; the other arm uncovered, relatively unscathed. Good. One good arm. That is good. That will help. She begins whimpering as I slowly and carefully drip sterile saline onto the old dressings on her arm. 

“I know it hurts, I know. Try to take slow breaths.  We have to soften the bandages first before changing them.” 

Clotted blood and haemoserous stains turn wet, shiny from the saline. The dressing relaxes, no longer dried out papier mache, and I slowly, carefully, peel it back. 

Stop. Just stop. Get that look off your face. This is your job. Breathe through your mouth and suck it up. Breathe. Just breathe. This is a person. She is still a person. 

I bite my tongue. Stop. Her arm, what used to be an arm; what might, some day, again be an arm, stirs, reaches out, searching. Just stop. It brushes against mine; hot and angry. I watch it for a moment, see the red, oozing, raw skin against my own. My first impulse is to draw back, shake it off, some disgusting, rotting, inhuman thing touching me. She pulls her arm back, leaving a smear of clear fluid on my skin. I stare at the mark she left, anchoring me to this moment. Get that look off your face. The smell smacks into me, sinking into my nose, my skin, my clothes. This is your job. I close my eyes and suddenly, I am two years old again. I am staring out at the driveway of my childhood home. It is 45 degrees outside – mum and dad keep talking about it, “heat wave”, “we really should get air conditioning”. The driveway is paved dark stone and the heat is visible, rising in hazy waves to meet the hot blue sky. I am wearing latticed white stockings, no shoes, and a dress. It is 45 degrees outside. The door is propped open to let some air in. I step outside. 

Breathe through your mouth and suck it up. I think of the effort it must have taken this woman to touch me, how much pain it would cause that arm to brush against mine. Her eyes are wet; she is blinking as though she can’t see clearly. I look around for a tissue and grab one from her bedside table, holding it to her eyes. The tissue soaks up the salt water and I watch her mouth. She seems like she might be trying to talk, but I can’t understand her.

I reach to take off the dressings covering her face. They peel off, one by one, the smell rising up in cloying tendrils, getting worse with each unraveling layer. I gasp. I can’t help it when I see her face. What used to be her face. What might, someday, again be her face. But not today. Today it is half gone, blackened and shiny and swollen and oozing and it's never struck me before that without hair, eyebrows, a nose or cheeks a person doesn’t look like a person any more. Breathe. Just Breathe. The breaths remind me to focus on what she has been through. What she will go through. I see it all now, spinning out before me on some kind of timeline; I see debridements and amputations and skin grafts and excisions. I see how completely her life has changed even though she doesn’t know it yet. I see that right now all she needs is for me to be calm. In control. I take a deep breath. This is a person. I wipe a smile onto my face. 

“You’re going to be okay,” I lie through my teeth. I am two years old again. I am screaming and screaming and screaming as my stockings melt into my feet. I cannot move. I can only scream. 

“I’m just going to change these dressings okay? It will be over soon.” Panicked footsteps, and my dad is almost there. I know it’s my dad, even through my tears I can see he is dad-shaped and crying and trying to get to me faster. Closer now. Closer.
Almost there. 

“Almost there, I promise. I just have to clean this first.” He’s there, scooping me up, crying and yelling and so mad at me but gentle and I am so tiny in his arms and then I am in the car, feet in an orange bucket. There is ice and water in the bucket and I cannot stop screaming. My sister is holding me, shushing me, telling me it will be alright. ‘You’re at the hospital now, they will take care of you. This is where people come when they’re hurt because people know what to do here. They look after you
here.’

She is still a person. 

“Right,” The nurse smiles down at me, I smile down at the woman; calm, in control. “Let’s get you fixed up.” I relax in the nurse’s arms. I trust her. The woman grips my hand suddenly, tight against mine, and her breaths come easier. She trusts me. 

**NB** 45 degrees Celsius is 113 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This has been an intersection with the very lovely , who put up with my nitpicking like a real trooper. Now go read hers, it's awesome!

Many thanks to  for 'whipping' (har har, see what I did there?) this into shape. 

Like it? Vote for it here, and don't forget to give kizzy a vote too!

25 thoughts on “Week Twenty-Five Prompt: Intersection, “Closer”.

  1. Oh man. At first I did sort of empathize with the nurse, because she was trying to work against her initial negative reaction. But then I read further on and realized that it brought back traumatic memories of when she was burned, and I guess that’s why she became a burn nurse, and oh my gosh.

    Very nice interweaving of the present and the past here – that’s a specialty of mine, so I notice when others do it well. πŸ™‚

    Yay I liked this a lot!

    Also isn’t this based on a true story? I swear once when I was googling around after reading one of basric’s entries I read about a nightclub fire that happened like that.

    • It’s very loosely based on a nightclub fire that happened in my general area a few years ago. We were knocking around ideas and for some reason I thought of it, so we ran with it. I have a non-Idol LJ friend who lost a couple of friends in it 😦

      • How sad that this is based on real life:( The pieces really mesh well. I like learning character’s motivations for the choices they make.

        I’m so glad the nurse was able to recover enough to become a nurse. (And see, that show how well whirlgig wrote because I find myself happy for someone who is fictional!)

      • I know, it must have been awful to be there! Thank you so much for leaving such a lovely comment. (The little girl who burnt her feet – that actually happened to me, so I sort of wove that in as well – I’m glad it worked for you!)

    • Thank you so much! I’m so glad you liked it. πŸ™‚

      The little girl who burnt her feet – that happened to me – I’m not sure it’s why I became a nurse but who knows? πŸ˜‰

      As Kizzy said, it’s somewhat based on that story, I had never heard of it, but similar things have happened here in Aus.

      Thanks so much for commenting! πŸ™‚

  2. I could NEVER work the burn unit. The smell of burned flesh is one of the worst in the world. I truly admire someone who can do it. I never changed burn dressings but since you wet them before removal you aren’t debriding just protecting? I was just curious.

    A wonderful entry. The running commentary through your mind, the memories. Well done.

    • I do Burns/Plastics/Vascular now. It can be very sad/awful 😦 In this story, the nurse isn’t debriding anything – for burns like that that would generally be done in theatre – she’s just trying to minimise infection by changing the dressings and protect what skin there is left. In my head, this patient will go to theatre in a day or so, when she’s more alert and can be informed as to what is going on.

      Thanks so much for the comment!

      • Always like to learn–never worked burns, never plan to never want to don’t have the stomach for it. Glad their are nurses like you that do. Its a much more difficult job than mine especially when those nerves destroyed by burns start to regenerate and the pain comes. Bless you.

  3. I really, really like the changes you made – this is so much tighter!

    I have to admit, when you first sent it, it was hard to read – I had a fire-eating accident years ago, and the burn unit was a scary place – I was in the charity hospital, an old brick building, and the burn unit was full of kids who had pulled pots over on themselves and run into radiators, so there was crying all the time. I’m fine now, and my chain-shaped scar is a good story, but man this took me back. Morphine, nothing like it πŸ™‚

    Writing-wise, this is vivid without being horror-porn, and emotional without being sentimental. It really works that the reader is as grossed-out as the nurse, for the same reasons, which takes us along on her journey to find compassion and do her job.

    Well-done, and thanks for the sneak preview!

    • ahhhh, that must have been horrible I had no idea, I’m so sorry 😦 I’m glad you seem to have recovered very well πŸ™‚ Can you still do fire-eating or have you given that up?

      Burns units are horrible places, especially with little kids 😦 Very scary. Thanks so much for the lovely comment, and especially for the feedback! It helped so so so much, this was just not working before you took a look.

      • I checked myself out the next morning against doctor’s advice (I had to sign a million forms), rode home on the bus, and ate fire in a club across the street ten days later. It was still better than working as a waitress. Now it’s in our contract that the air conditioning vents get turned off during that section of the show πŸ™‚

        I’m so glad the feedback was helpful! I love getting to read your work early, you’re a fabulous writer and it’s a joy to get to contribute even a little to your creative process.

  4. Excellently written — I like the intertwining of past and present, and the way the nurse tries to work through the memories, and the way they inspire her. πŸ™‚

  5. Intense. The repeating refrain here really puts it all in perspective. One would think a person working in this industry is drawn to it out of a sense of compassion… it must be an extreme circumstance indeed that would test that. Well presented.

  6. This felt to me like the nurse used her own memories to get through the care of the patient. It seems plausible that she would have been inspired to become a nurse by someone who cared for her when she was hurt.

  7. Much as the nurse struggles to remind herself that this is a person, that compassion also makes the reader think more about the patient’s suffering that about the fact that her skin is destroyed and probably looks and smells terrible and yet it’s even worse to be the person inside that skin.

    I really liked the interweaving of the childhood trauma here, which gives the grown nurse a parallel for something of the patient’s emotional state and, as someone said, might have motivated her to take on such difficult work herself.

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