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The Long Road Home. Chapter 19.
By
AnnaMayZing

The Long Road Home. Chapter 19.

All she could see was her long, tousled and bloodied, blonde locks covering her pillow.

Her memory showing no signs of recovery, the unfortunate young woman is transported to a sanatorium in the suburbs of Vienna. Will she find the answers to all her questions there? Who is she and where is here sister?

Vienna, December 24th 1943

 

The Flight to Vienna was uneventful. Despite being wrapped tightly in blankets, the young woman was cold. Not freezing but, nevertheless, far from warm. It wasn't a long flight, little more than two hours but it seemed much longer.

By the time they landed, she had almost forgotten what it was like to be warm. There were six stretcher patients on board but the constant droning of the engines was too much to hear if any of them could speak. Instead, she just remained still and closed her eyes, pushing herself to remember.

For some reason, she felt as though this were not her first time in such an aeroplane. There was some vague memory at the back of her mind and, although she didn't know why, she found herself looking at the corrugated walls and roof. What she was looking for she had no idea but she had brief flashes of holes and sunlight shining through.

 

Two ambulances were waiting. A large bus-like one, into which four of the stretchers were loaded and a smaller one which looked like a box on the back of a truck. She and the one remaining patient were loaded into that one.

She couldn't see who the other patient was, only that it was a woman. She appeared to be asleep and didn't wake at all during the further two hours it took to drive from the airport to the sanatorium.

An orderly was travelling with them and the young woman asked him what was wrong with her.

“No idea!” he replied somewhat tersely. “All I know is that she is to be kept sedated for the journey.”

“And the others?”

He laughed, almost sneering.

“They're not going with you, not to the sanatorium. Only the two of you are going there. They are going to the main hospital. You must be pretty important...” He paused and raised an eyebrow before continuing. “Or at least know someone who is.”

 

The road through Vienna and out into the suburbs was very uncomfortable. The suspension of the ambulance felt to her like, well, like there was no suspension. She felt every bump and every jolt. Even just turning corners made her whole body ache. The driver was careful not to drive too fast and did his best to keep away from the rougher parts of the carriageway but still, she found it almost unbearable. On the plus side, however, she was, at least, getting warm again.

As they bumped along, she couldn't help but be drawn to the patient on the other side. She just lay still and silent. Her head was turned away from her, facing the white-painted steel wall. All she could see was her long, tousled and bloodied, blonde locks covering her pillow. She wondered who she was and what had happened to her. Something deep inside her was stirring. In her heart, she could feel the other's suffering. She knew that she must be badly hurt somehow, she could sense it but why?

She tried to remember what the doctor and nurses had said. She was a matron. Yes, that was it, a nurse, she supposed. She didn't remember being a nurse but maybe that was what she felt. Perhaps, as a nurse, she had developed some sort of compassion for others who were suffering. It made sense and would go some way to explaining what her dreams were about and why they seemed so violent.

That was it, then, she was a nurse. She turned back to the poor unfortunate across from her. The feeling returned. She wanted to go to her, to help her but she knew she couldn't. She was too weak in herself.

The young woman sighed and closed her eyes but she couldn't rest. All she could do was hope that the journey would soon be over and the constant, pain-inducing jolting would be at an end.

 

Eventually, the ambulance slowed to a halt. When it stopped, the doors at the rear were opened and the young woman could see that they were at the entrance to a large, white building. Very carefully, her stretcher was pulled from its supports and placed gently onto a waiting trolley which was immediately wheeled inside. Although only about two to three metres before she was under the canopy, she felt the gentle flakes of snow as they drifted onto her face.

They did not wait for the other patient but the orderlies, who were dressed in starched, white coats, took her directly to a room on the first floor.

The room was quite big with white-painted, functional furniture and a large, comfortable-looking bed. It was nothing like she had imagined a hospital to be.

With the guidance an older-looking nurse, similar in age to Nurse Kissling back in Innsbruck, she thought, the orderlies lifted her from the trolley and placed her onto the bed. It was an agonizing few moments as it was impossible for them to transfer her without disturbing the myriad cuts and bruises which covered her.

 

Finally, the orderlies took the now empty trolley and left her alone with the nurse who smiled pleasantly.

“So,” she began, looking down at the file she was holding. “You have no memory of what happened to you. Is that so?”

The young woman nodded.

“I have no memory of anything at all,” she replied sadly. “I am hoping that is why I am here, so that you can help me to remember.”

“Well yes, that is so but first, we must take care of the physical injuries you suffered. Your file says that you were found unconscious after an air-raid. Is that correct?”

“That is what they told me,” she answered honestly. “I don't actually remember anything before waking up in a hospital bed.”

The nursed frowned.

“Hmm, yes. That is what it says here. It also says that you don't remember who you are and that your identity has been considered as Matron Maria Kaufmann. Although that is not verified. Is that also correct?”

The young woman nodded again.

“I don't want to be called anything until I can be sure.”

The nurse smiled kindly.

“It says that too. Don't worry. You are in the best place now. Most often in cases such as yours, as the physical body heals then so does the mind. Sometimes, all it takes is a trigger. Something that you recognise or remember. Then it will be like opening a dam and the memories with come flooding back.”

“And if it doesn't?”

“Then we have treatments to help it return. Although this is a hospital now, it is still also a sanatorium and we have many years of experience looking after patients such as you.”

The young woman began to relax a little as the nurse continued.

“I am Sister Winter and I have been assigned to you for the time being. I will arrange for some dinner to be brought to you and I will see you after you have eaten.”

She turned to leave but the young woman stopped her.

“Oh, wait, before you go,” she said quickly. “What about the other patient I arrived with? What is wrong with her?”

Nurse Winter smiled.

“I'm sorry, I don't know. She is not on this section. No doubt she will have someone assigned to her too. Now, I am sure that you must be exhausted after your journey. Please rest and your meal will arrive soon.”

 

That night, although exhausted after the day's travelling, she slept only sporadically. She was continually disturbed by her memories trying to break free from their shackles. One dream which plagued her was the sight of an old woman laying on the floor of an apartment, The door was shattered and there were angry-looking men. One man, in particular, was shouting but he didn't frighten her. For some reason, she felt reassured by him, as though he was protecting her.

She seemed to know him and felt safe in his presence.

“Papa!” she said as her eyes snapped open.

For the next two days, Nurse Winter, orderlies and a doctor all spent time with her. The doctor to assess her progress and the orderlies to aid her as she exercised under the watchful eye of the nurse.

By Christmas Eve, she was strong enough to get up and walk for short distances unaided and so she began to sit by the window and look out at the snow-covered gardens. It seemed so peaceful and quiet that she found it hard to understand how she came to be here and with such injuries.

 

Late in the afternoon, Nurse Winter came into her room.

“How do you feel?” she asked.

The young woman looked up from her chair at the window and smiled.

“Somewhat better, thank you,” she replied politely.

The nurse studied her for a moment as though assessing her.

“Would you like to go down to the main dining room for dinner tonight?” she eventually asked.

The young woman returned her gaze to the window before answering.

The nurse continued, giving her time to think.

“You know that today is Christmas eve, don't you?”

She nodded slowly.

“Yes, I do but...”

The nurse frowned.

“But you don't remember what it means?”

The young woman shook her head.

“No, well, yes, I suppose I do but I don't recollect anything about it.”

Nurse Winter crouched down beside her and spoke softly.

“Perhaps, when you see our tree and the decorations we are putting on it, maybe it will trigger some memories, yes?”

“Perhaps...” she conceded but, in truth, she barely believed it.

The nurse studied her for a moment before standing up again.

“All right then,” she said cheerily. “I'll go and get the orderlies and we'll go down. There is plenty of time so you can take as long as you need to.”

She was gone only a few minutes until she returned with two men. They weren't young men. All the young men had been sent off to fight the battles on the eastern front or some other place. These two, though, were pleasant enough and both wore white coats. One of them was pushing an empty wheelchair.

“Just in case,” the nurse said when she saw the surprised look on the young woman's face.

 

With a walking stick to aid her and help her balance, the young woman walked slowly. Putting one foot in front of the other was still painful but not as excruciating as it had been two days ago. At least it was bearable now. The exercises that she had been doing with the orderlies assistance had help loosen her joints again. Much of the swelling had reduced considerably and her knees and hips moved much more easily than when she arrived here.

Nevertheless, she had to stop to catch her breath and, by the time they had reached the elevator, a distance of only about thirty metres, she was exhausted and had to sit down in the wheelchair to rest.

For the short time in the lift, she remained in the chair but as soon as they were on the ground floor she insisted that she was all right to continue walking. Although she was only young, she felt like an old woman and it wasn't a feeling she relished.

 

The ground floor was quite busy and, although the elevator was only a few metres from the dining hall, they passed several people. Doctors, nurses, orderlies who all smiled at her and wished her 'Gruß Gott'.

This greeting meant something to her. It wasn't a term that she would use herself and she wasn't used to hearing it said but, there was something, something deep in her mind that was familiar about it. She wanted to ask why people kept saying it, why they wished her greetings from God but she didn't like to. If only she could remember...

 

The dining room was a large room with a single table running almost the length of it and was lined with many high-backed chairs. Along one wall were the huge windows looking out onto the snow-covered gardens and in the opposite wall were doors into other rooms. She imagined that through one of them would be the kitchens.

She was correct about that but she soon discovered that there were also a few small rooms with smaller, four-place tables. It was to one of these that she was being guided.

The first thing she noticed, however, was the Christmas tree at the far end. She stood for a moment and watched as some of the staff decorated it with baubles and ribbons.

Suddenly, she was in a hospital ward and she could see a young nurse decorating a much smaller tree whilst the patients in the beds watched. The nursed hung a small wooden ornament on the tree and then turned to face her. She gasped! It was the same woman who had haunted most of her sleeping images!

Behind her, she heard the tramping of boots and a crash as the doors burst open and she turned but all she saw was Nurse Winter who quickly took hold of her arm.

“ Are you all right?” she asked, her face wrinkled with concern. You look as though you have seen a ghost.”

The young woman nodded.

“Yes, I, I think so. I think I... I think I remembered something. A tree, a Christmas tree like that one but it wasn't here, it was...” she shook her head. “I don't know. I remember it now but not where. I think something bad happened.”

“All right,” Nurse Winter spoke gently. “I am sure that you will have many more such moments as you memory recovers. It is a good sign.”

The orderly moved the wheelchair behind her but she shook her head.

“Thank you but no. I will keep walking.”

 

With difficulty, she shuffled one foot forward and then lifted the other to move on. Slowly, one agonising step after another, using her stick to support her, she walked on past the empty table until she finally reached the door to a small room.

To her surprise, at the table inside was a man. She guessed he was an important man because he was wearing a very smart uniform with the insignia of what she imagined to be a very high ranking officer. In his hand, he held a silver-topped cane.

When the young woman appeared in the doorway his jaw dropped and his eyes moistened.

“Oh my...” he began as he got to his feet. “Look at you...”

The young woman was confused. Did he know her? More importantly, did she know him? She turned and looked at Nurse Winter.

“This is Oberstarzt Ritter, one of the senior medical officers for the Wehrmacht.”

The man looked sad when she turned back to him.

“Don't you remember me?” he asked her gently.

She shook her head slightly, trying to think. There was something familiar about him but that was all. She felt as though she should know him but...

“No,” she whispered and let her gaze fall to the floor in front of her. “I'm sorry. I feel I should but I... I can't remember you.”

“Oh, look, please, sit down,” he said quickly. “You should be resting.”

The orderlies helped to support her whilst she lowered her bruised and battered body onto the dining chair.

Colonel Ritter took a crisp which handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his eyes dry.

“I'm sorry,” he said. “It is a shock to see you like this, Katarina. So frail and obviously in pain.”

At the mention of a name she suddenly stared at him.

“You know my name?”

“Yes. I wasn't sure at first but now I am. I always struggled to tell you two apart but when you spoke, I knew.”

“I am Katarina? You know that for sure?”

he smiled sadly.

“Yes, I am sure. You are definitely Matron Katarina Langsdorff. I am sorry but it was such a shock to see you in this condition.”

Katarina ignored the last part.

“You said that you couldn't tell us apart. What did you mean? Tell me apart from who?”

Ritter stared at her and then looked up at Nurse Winter who just shrugged.

“From your sister,” he replied, shocked once again that her memory was so badly damaged.

Katarina frowned.

“My sister? I have a sister?”

A tear rolled down his cheek and he dabbed it quickly away as he nodded.

“Yes, Maria. Don't you remember her? You were so close. You must remember...” His voice trailed into silence, the lump in his throat preventing him from finishing.

Katarina stared at the white tablecloth, her thoughts in turmoil. A sister. Could that be the woman who appeared so frequently in her dreams?

Eventually, she cast a sideways glance at the Officer.

“Where is she, my sister?”

Oberstarzt Ritter looked at Nurse Winter.

“Isn't she here?” he asked. “She was supposed to have been brought here three days ago.”

The nurse frowned, puzzled.

“I have no idea, Colonel. I don't know of any Maria Langsdorff having been admitted. At least, not to my section.”

“Her name isn't Langsdorff, Sister. Matron Maria Kaufmann.”

The nurse thought hard.

“Kaufmann? Yes, I have heard that name. I believe she is here, Colonel. Will you be all right for a moment whilst I go and check?”

Without waiting for a response she quickly turned and all but ran from the room.

 

While she was gone, Colonel Ritter reached across the table and placed his hand gently on hers.

“It'll be all right, Katarina. I will see to it personally that you get the best care available. You have given over your life to help those who need it. You and your sister.”

Katarina looked at him.

“How do you know me?” she asked.

Ritter smiled.

“I was your commanding officer in Libya. Do you remember Tripoli?”

She shook her head.

“North Africa? The desert?”

Katarina thought carefully.

“The desert... I have had dreams about a hot, dusty place. Could that be Libya?”

His smile broadened.

“I think it might be,” he chuckled.

 

Nurse Winter reappeared, her face bright and smiling.

“Matron Maria Kaufmann is here. She is in the next section upstairs.”

Katarina looked up at her.

“Can I see her?” she asked.

“I thought you might ask that so I checked,” she answered but with a look of uncertainty. “I am told that she isn't very strong. They said that you can see her but you have to be brief.”

 

Nurse Winter and the orderlies helped her into the wheelchair. She had exercised enough, they told her.

 

It took only a few minutes to return to the lift and the first floor. This time they took the opposite corridor and along to a room about half-way along. Nurse Winter knocked gently and turned the handle. The big wooden door opened noiselessly.

The room was identical to that of Katarina's and immediately, she saw the recumbent form lying in the bed.

Oberstarzt Ritter waved the orderlies to the side and took the handles of her wheelchair. He pushed her to the bedside.

While Katarina stared at the sleeping woman, something inside her began to stir. A lump formed in her throat and her eyes welled.

“Maria...” she whispered.

Maria stirred and her eyes flickered open and then stared, filling with tears as she saw her visitor.

“Katarina!” she sobbed. “Oh my sweet Lord, you are safe!”

With tears flowing down her cheeks, Katarina leaned forwards and, despite the pain, held her sister, cheeks pressed together so that their tears mingled.

After a few moments, Katarina sat back in her chair, sobbing still and holding her sister's hand so tightly.

She looked up at Colonel Ritter.

“I remember,” she said happily between sobs. “How could I ever have forgotten?”


 

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