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The Nurses. Chapter 17

A new start, a new challenge.

Katarina looked at the clock on the wall at the end of the ward, almost eleven.

 

 

She had settled already into the day to day life of the ward, which was not so different to the Charité back home, except that all the patients were military men.

 

She found that a lot of her day was spent helping the other, less experienced nurses to learn about looking after patients and the day to day work involved in a ward.

 

Most of them had very little quality training and seemed eager, even after so short a time, to learn as much as they could.

 

She remembered looking out of the window for a moment, the day before, about this time, watching a small grey lorry pull up in the courtyard below. Two soldiers had jumped out of the cab and stretched their arms upwards after what she guessed had probably been a long drive.

 

She had been surprised when the driver dropped the rear board of the truck and pulled the canvas aside. Nothing unusual there, but it was what followed that grabbed her attention. A nurse appeared from inside and climbed slowly, wearily she thought, down the ladder which the driver had put against the back of the lorry. She was followed by another then another. Eight in all, each with a small suitcase not unlike the one she had. They were not clearly visible as her view was partially obscured so she could not identify any of them, but she had briefly wondered which ward they would be going to, although she knew it would not be Ward Three as her ward was now fully staffed.

 

“Matron!”

 

She turned away, hearing someone call her from the other side of the ward. One of her patients had a fever and the youngest nurse needed her help to clean and dress his wound.

 

“So,” she began, “What will you do first?”

 

The young nurse looked at her and thought carefully.

 

“Well, before I remove any of the old dressings, I will ensure that I have all I need to clean the wound and re-dress it?”

 

“Good, and do you have everything?”

 

Katarina had already looked at the trolley before she asked the question and was pleased that the answer didn't come immediately but waited until the younger nurse had done another quick check.

 

“Yes, Matron, everything is correct,” she replied finally.

 

For the next few minutes, the two of them worked as a team. Katarina guided her colleague and helped as she needed but was careful to ensure that she could learn as much as possible, whilst working.

 

They began by removing the soiled and stained bandage. The wound itself was open and raw, but the infection that had caused this young soldier to succumb to a fever was showing signs of receding and looked clean albeit still very inflamed.

 

Finally, the task was complete and the two of them stood back.

 

“Well done, Beatrice,” Katarina praised her, “You are learning very well.”

 

The young woman blushed but smiled happily.

 

“Thank you, Matron.”

 

As she spoke, the patient began to groan and his eyelids fluttered slightly before slowly opening.

 

He looked first at Beatrice and then, eyes opening wider, at Katarina.

 

“W... where am I?” he whispered, his eyes staring wildly, switching rapidly from one to the other of them.

 

Beatrice immediately reached out to him.

 

“You are safe now,” she said gently. “You are in hospital.”

 

“No, no, you are lying, it's a trick!”

 

He lashed out and then groaned with pain, as the wound in his shoulder pulled with the sudden movement.

 

Beatrice jumped backwards, visibly shaken, and knocked the trolley causing several metal bowls to fall to the floor with a resounding crash.

 

The other nurses all ran across as Katarina stepped forwards and gently but firmly restrained the agitated soldier with soothing words.

 

“Don't worry, there is no trick,” she whispered, “You are safe here.”

 

The soldier stared at her, as though she were the devil but slowly, as she held her ground and stared unblinking into his eyes, he gradually relaxed.

 

“Why am I here?” he asked at length, taking in his surroundings.

 

“Don't you remember?” Katarina asked, as she beckoned Beatrice back to the bedside.

 

She could see that the nurse was clearly shaken by this sudden change and she wanted to get her to continue, so that she could see that this was just one of the many situations she would have to deal with in her chosen career.

 

“Talk to him,” Katarina whispered, “Reassure him and help him to understand.”

 

Beatrice nodded as the soldier spoke.

 

“I... I was with...” he began.

 

“With?” Beatrice questioned.

 

“I... can't..., can't remember...”

 

“Was there fighting?” she asked.

 

“No, I...”

 

The young man frowned, trying to think, trying to make sense of the disjointed pictures spinning around in his head,

 

“I don't think...”

 

“Let him rest for a while,” Katarina whispered, “It will come back to him. I expect the morphine and shock are confusing him.”

 

As the soldier lay back on the pillow that Katarina had arranged to support his head, Beatrice wheeled the trolley back to the store room for some fresh bowls. One of the other nurses had picked them up for her, but now they needed to be cleaned.

 

When she returned, Katarina held out a cup of coffee for her.

 

“Are you all right?" She asked.

 

Beatrice nodded.

 

“Yes thank you, Matron.”

 

She took the cup gratefully.

 

“And thank you too for helping me. I really didn't expect that to happen.”

 

“Oh, don't worry,” Katarina told her, “It will happen to you many more times and worse, I am sure but now you will be ready. The trick is to remain calm and not frighten the patient more. That is better for them and for you.”

 

Beatrice smiled and sipped at the black liquid.

 

“Now,” Katarina continued, “Finish your coffee and we will move on. In a busy ward it is necessary to move from one crisis to the next without delay.”

 

“Yes, Matron,” Beatrice nodded and took another mouthful before returning the cup to Katarina's desk and followed her to the next bed.

 

An hour later, Karin and one of the other nurses left the ward to take lunch in the canteen leaving Katarina and the two who remained to look after the ward. On their return Beatrice and the other took their lunch.

 

Katarina realised she was hungry too but would not leave the ward covered by just two inexperienced nurses. No, once they had all been refreshed then, and only then would she take her luncheon.

 

It was two o'clock, before she was satisfied that everything was settled and she donned her short cloak and went quickly to the mess hall.

 

She remembered the words of the young nurse, Madeleine, she had met there two days before but she really didn't wish to eat with the officers, preferring instead to sit with her own colleagues.

 

She ate alone and it didn't take long for her to realise that it was probably because of her rank, so she determined that from then on, she would remove the cape and keep it out of sight because she really hated the thought of the other nurses avoiding her just because she was a matron.

 

Her lunch was good, but she ate only what she needed, and after a moment to allow the food to settle she stood up to return to her ward.

 

As she passed through the door into the corridor, a tall soldier suddenly appeared hurriedly from around the corner and almost knocked her over.

 

“Oops, Sorry!” he said, and then, “Oh, hello Sister. How nice to see you again. I trust you are no worse the wear for your journey.”

 

Katarina stared at him, baffled.

 

“Erm, no, erm, thank you, Sergeant...?”

 

“Steiner, Sister. You don't remember me?”

 

The tall sergeant seemed surprised when Katarina replied in the negative,

 

“No, I'm sorry, I don't. Should I?”

 

“You found me on Liege station on Sunday night. I organised a truck for you to bring you and your companions here.”

 

“Liege station?”

 

Now it was Katarina's turn to look surprised.

 

“But I have never been to Liege, Sergeant and certainly not on Sunday night. I think you must be confusing me with someone else.”

 

“Oh... erm, yes, I suppose I must be. Please forgive me Ma'am.”

 

Katarina smiled, bemused as he snapped to attention and became the very model of a Wehrmacht soldier.

 

“Relax, Sergeant,” she grinned, “It was an honest mistake but, if you will excuse me I have to return to my ward.”

 

“Oh, yes, my apologies, Ma'am,” he said, stepping aside to allow her to pass.

 

As she disappeared from view, Sergeant Steiner stood scratching his head and looking in the direction she had gone.

 

“Surely,” he thought, “There cannot be two such beautiful women... can there?”

 

Shaking his head slowly, he turned and disappeared into the mess hall.

 

Back on the ward, Katarina was greeted by an air of calm efficiency. All her nurses were busy at beds and there was little sound above that of the low murmur of voices, and in one case, gentle snoring.

 

She hung her cape on the rack just inside the door and sat at her desk to look through all the schedules for medication.

 

It was a warm day and most of the windows were open a little and she soon became aware of a little commotion outside, the clatter of boots running across the cobbled courtyard and shouts of 'Stand to!'

 

She jumped up and walked quickly to the window in time to see soldiers jumping over sandbags and into their positions behind machine guns and anti-aircraft guns.

 

“Good heavens, what is going on?” she heard Karin's voice from beside her.

 

“Are we under attack?” Beatrice asked, nerves causing her voice to tremble slightly.

 

“I don't think so,” Katarina replied uncertainly, “They said there would be a siren, didn't they?”

 

Then she suddenly turned.

 

“Keep away from the windows, just in case,” she said firmly. “And be ready to move the patients. It is better to be prepared.”

 

Remembering what they had been told upon their arrival, each of the nurses took up their positions ready to move the patients at a moments notice.

 

There was silence for a time and then, through the window, they heard shouts of 'Stand down!'.

 

Katarina returned to the window to see the soldiers unloading their guns and leaving the little sandbag shelters, slowly walking back the way they had come.

 

“It must have been a false alarm,” she said to no-one in particular. “Return to your duties and I will go and find out.”

 

The four young women visibly relaxed and went about their general work, as they had been before the interruption and Katarina went to her desk to telephone the Duty Medical Officer.

 

When he answered, she introduced herself as she had not spoken to him on the telephone before.

 

“Matron Langsdorf, Ward Three,” she said.

 

“Good afternoon Matron,” he replied. “What can I do for you?”

 

“I wondered whether we were under threat of attack just now, only I was told at the induction yesterday that if there was a threat an alarm would sound and it did not.”

 

“I was not aware of any danger,” the Major frowned. “Let me find out, one minute.”

 

In the background, she could hear the sounds of another telephone being used.

 

After a brief pause she heard, “Get me Leutnant Friedrich!”

 

Another pause. Katarina could hear the clicks and the burring of the ringing tone at the other end.

 

Almost immediately she heard a voice answer.

 

“Ah, Hans, Major Gruber,” a pause, then, “yes, I am well thank you, I have one of my matrons on the other line, concerned that we were under threat of attack, is that so?”

 

He waited, listening as Katarina heard unintelligible words coming from the handset. She could almost see him in her mind, with a handset to each ear

 

“Ah, good, I see. Thank you, Hans.”

 

She heard him replace the handset.

 

“It was just the Wehrmacht practising their 'Stand-to' drills,” he said, obviously to her. “Nothing at all to worry about.”

 

“That is good to know, Major, Thank you.”

 

“You are welcome, Matron. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

 

“Not just now, thank you but I am sure there will be at some time.”

 

She smiled as she stood up, once again thanking the Major before returning the telephone to its cradle and returning to her nurses.

 

“All is well,” she said, “Just the army practising.”

 

There was a small murmur of relief, as Katarina continued.

 

“You know, I think we could use their drills to practise our own methods.”

 

She paused for a minute.

 

“If we react whenever we hear the army practising, then we too shall be ready, if we ever are actually attacked.”

 

The four women all nodded eagerly in agreement, looking to each other for support.

 

“Good, then I shall work out a plan as to what we will do with the patients and we will begin practising right away.”

 

Indicating that they should return to their duties, Katarina sat back at her desk and took out a notebook and began to write down her ideas.

 

Her thoughts were broken when the telephone on her desk rang. It was the reception ward. They had a badly wounded soldier who had been caught in an explosion. The surgeons had treated his wounds but now they needed a bed for him.

 

She accepted and replaced the receiver.

 

“Karin!” she called. “We have a patient coming, would you and Beatrice prepare a bed please.”

 

The two nurses eagerly prepared one of the empty beds, putting on clean linen as Katarina watched from a distance. She smiled to herself noting that she had four eager young nurses who were quick to learn and were very efficient.

 

Within minutes the ward doors crashed open as two orderlies pushed the trolley onto the ward and straight to the bed that Katarina indicated to them.

 

Very carefully, they lifted the unconscious figure across to the bed, and after retrieving the bloodstained sheets, retreated back to theatre with the empty trolley.

 

Watching her staff working, she read through the papers which one of the orderlies had given her.

 

The soldier had been caught in a blast and had severe shrapnel wounds to his abdomen. The sudden pressure had also collapsed one of his lungs and the next twenty-four hours would tell whether he would survive or not.

 

She looked up and over to the bed where Beatrice was checking his pulse. She had a look of grave concern and Katarina realized that she would have to watch her, at least for a time, until she she became familiar with such severe wounds and even death, as it seemed obvious to her that she was not highly experienced and appeared quite nervy and easily upset.

 

As these thoughts passed through Katarina's mind, Beatrice looked up and directly at her, as though she had sensed, she was being watched. At first her face was expressionless, but then she smiled and Katarina smiled back and in that moment she knew that this was a nurse who would cope... with her guidance.

 

By the end of her day, at seven, Katarina was quite tired and ready to rest when the night staff took over.

 

The on-coming Matron, Ailise, seemed different as they exchanged notes.

 

Katarina told her about the new arrival and how much attention he required and about the soldier who had been confused and Ailise listened and read, but somehow, she seemed quiet.

 

When the handover was complete, Katarina paused and looked at her.

 

“Is something wrong, Ailise?” she asked.

 

The other, slightly older woman, returned her gaze then replied,

 

“I don't know, is there?”

 

Katarina frowned.

 

“What do you mean? Have I upset you in some way?”

 

Ailise looked at her for a moment.

 

“Well, I wasn't going to say anything but you walked right past me this afternoon without so much as a smile.”

 

Katarina opened her eyes in surprise.

 

I did? When?”

 

“About two hours ago. I was walking to the canteen and you went into Ward Seven. I was about to say hello, but you totally ignored me.”

 

“But Ailise, I haven't been to Ward Seven, Why would I?” she asked, confused now. “I haven't been off this ward since lunch time.”

 

“Katarina, I saw you! I was just a few feet away. You looked right at me and just kept going, right into Ward Seven. You smiled, certainly, but...”

 

As They talked, Katarina's nurses passed them, on their way out.

 

“Karin, Beatrice,” she called, “Tell the Matron here where I have been this afternoon since lunch.”

 

They both frowned.

 

“You, haven't been anywhere, Matron,” Beatrice replied.

 

“Not since lunch,” Karin added.

 

Katarina thanked them and they went on their way.

 

“But, but I saw you, Katarina, as clearly as I see you now.”

 

“Ailise, I don't know who you saw but it was most certainly not me,” Katarina once again asserted.

 

“It would seem not,” came the reply, “Please forgive me.”

 

“Of course I forgive you, Ailise,” she replied, patting the others arm. “I will see you in the morning.”

 

On the way to the canteen, Katarina pondered the events of the day.

 

First there was the soldier who thought he had met her before and then Ailise, certain she had seen her somewhere she had not been.

 

“Hmm, very odd,” she thought. “A strange coincidence indeed.”

 

When she arrived, the canteen was almost deserted and she selected an empty table just inside the entrance. This time she was careful to remove her cape and draped it across her lap whist she ate her evening meal.

 

She had been there several minutes when Sergeant Steiner entered and went to get his dinner.

 

Katarina watched him for a moment and then he turned and paused, looking for a suitable table.

 

She quickly looked away as she didn't want him to think she was watching him.

 

From the edge of her vision she saw him walk towards her and she looked up as he approached.

 

“Good evening, Sister,” he said with an awkward smile. “May I join you?”

 

“Yes, of course, Sergeant,” she replied, indicating the seat opposite with her hand.

 

He placed his tray on the table, pulled out the steel framed chair and sat down.

 

Neither spoke for a minute but ate with a slightly awkward silence.

 

The Sergeant placed his fork on his plate and looked at Katarina with a somewhat puzzled expression.

 

After a moment, she looked at him, fork in hand.

 

“Is something wrong, Sergeant?”

 

“Oh, no, Sorry. I didn't mean to stare. It's just that...”

 

“Just what?” she asked, intrigued.

 

“Well, when we met earlier I was convinced I had met you in Liege on Sunday. Please forgive me for saying so, but you are so pretty, there couldn't possibly be another like you and yet...” He dropped his eyes, embarrassed. “Please forgive me.”

 

“Forgive you? For what?” she replied. “You have done nothing to forgive but it is strange because the matron who took over from me, a few minutes ago, also thought she had seen me somewhere I had not been.”

 

“May I be so forward as to ask your name, Sister?”

 

“You may,” Katarina replied with a smile, “I am Matron Langsdorf, senior nurse of Ward Three.”

 

“Then I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Matron Langsdorf. I am Sergeant...”

 

“Steiner,” she interrupted. “I remember from this afternoon.”

 

He smiled widely,

 

“Michael,” he added quickly and dropped his gaze once again.

 

“Katarina,” she replied quietly, smiling inwardly that this handsome young man had taken such an interest in her.

 

They chatted for a few minutes, whilst she finished her dinner and Katarina took her leave.

 

“Perhaps we will meet again? Oh...” the sergeant paused as she rose and swung the cape over her shoulders. “I didn't realise you were a matron...”

 

“Does that matter?” Katarina asked.

 

“Not to me but you are equivalent to an officer and we NCOs are not encouraged to mix with officers, or to be more accurate, officers are not supposed to fraternise with the lower ranks.”

 

“I am not in the army, Michael,” she replied. “I am a Red Cross nurse. I don't care about your ranks.”

 

“Good,” he smiled. “Then, until the next time.”

 

“Yes, until then.”

 

Sergeant Steiner watched her leave and, still smiling, sat down and returned to his dinner.

 

 

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