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The Nurses Chapter 19

Tags: war, death,

“Whoever captures your heart will be an exceptionally lucky man.”

Amiens. June 12 th 1940

The day had begun well with Katarina working simply with her girls and fussing around them like some sort of mother hen.

In the far distance, from the West, an occasional rumble broke the relative silence on Ward Three.

She wondered what it was as there was no sign of a storm but she didn't dwell on it, because of greater interest to her was this nurse she had heard so much about, the one who seemed to resemble her so much that several people had thought that it was indeed her.

It seemed that the only discernible differences between them, at least at first meeting were, their hair, Katarina had been told that the other wore hers in the style that was prevalent in Bavaria with two plaits wrapped around her head. Katarina kept hers in a tight bun at the back, and their accents, the other apparently sounding as though she was from the South as opposed to her own Berlin accent.

As nurses wore a white cap which covered their hair, no-one who had mentioned meeting her had realised that she was not Katarina until she spoke.

It seemed to cause considerable confusion and she began to find that those few people were now wary of speaking until they knew which of the two she was.

At breakfast that morning, she had carefully scanned the mess hall for any sign of this Matron Kaufmann and watched the door intently but did not see her and every time she left the ward, for whatever reason, she looked out for her but short of going to Ward Seven, where Ailise had seen her and where she had no purpose to be, it seemed that they were not destined to meet.

“Matron!”

Beatrice's voice pulled her from her thoughts and she left her desk at the head of the ward and went to join the young nurse at the bedside of the soldier who had been brought in so badly wounded the day before.

“I think he is dead,” she whispered as Katarina approached.

The young man was motionless and had a grey, waxy pallor.

Katarina first took his wrist and then pressed two fingers against the young man's neck.

“I think you are right, Beatrice,” she agreed, “I will fetch the doctor to confirm it.”

Minutes later, she returned with the doctor who examined the soldier and finally confirmed that he had indeed succumbed to his injuries, then took the bed sheet and pulled it up over the corpse's head.

Without a word, he took the notes at the end of the bed and scrawled 'Deceased' on it along with the date and time, then left as quickly as he had arrived.

Beatrice glanced at Katarina with a look of amazement that he had been so detached and uncaring.

“I expect he has seen many such things,” Katarina explained, “I suspect that war does that to a doctor.”

“Do you think that we will become that way, Matron?” the youngster asked sadly.

“I don't know, Beatrice but I hope not. I would like to think that no matter how much death I deal with, I will never lose my compassion.”

“I hope I turn out like you,” Beatrice replied with a sad smile to which Katarina could not reply directly but returned the smile and nodded, gently touching the young nurses shoulder.

“You will be fine,” was all she said.

Another distant rumble and Katarina turned to the window.

As she looked out, she saw three black specks, far away in the sky. They seemed to grow as they twisted and turned with two of the specks seemed to be moving around a single one.

Birds, she thought and turned away, returning to her desk and taking up the telephone to call for an orderly to remove the corpse.

As she slowly replaced the receiver, something drew her back to the window.

The three birds were still circling and turning, this way and that but they were nearer now and Katarina realised that they were not birds but aeroplanes and they were getting nearer,

It looked as though one was trying to escape from the other two and was doing everything it could to get away but to no avail.

She could not draw her eyes from the scene and she found that she was holding her breath, willing the lone aircraft to get away, to escape but then a thin line appeared behind it, leaving a coil in the sky as it rolled and climbed.

Suddenly it seemed to rear up, almost stopping in the air and then tipped over to one side. As it did so, one of the two which were chasing it, also began to trail black smoke as it flew by, rolled over and began to fall.

The last that she saw of it was when it disappeared below the horizon.

The remaining machine turned sharply towards the first which still rose and fell, turning left and right, the grey trail becoming thicker and darker.

Much nearer now, Katarina could make out the graceful shape of the birdlike wings, tapering to a point at the ends in sharp contrast to its assailant which had straight wings with the tips seemingly ending in a straight edge.

As they approached, she could hear them, the engines roaring as they danced around each other and then she ducked instinctively as the first passed low overhead, thick black smoke pouring from the front of this great metal bird. She could see the silhouette of the pilot through the bubble-like glass of the cockpit and the round circles under its beautifully curved wings.

Close behind came the second aircraft and she heard the guns rattle and saw the flashes from the muzzles. She noticed how different the second one looked with its square glass around the pilot and the square black crosses painted underneath its equally square wings.

They were gone now but still she looked out, lost to the amazing sight she had just witnessed, like nothing she had ever seen before.

“Hmm,” she thought, as memories of her flight from Berlin just a few days before came flooding back to her as now she had an idea of how it must have looked from the outside.

“Katarina, are you all right?”

She felt a hand touch her arm gently and recognised the voice forming the softly spoken words.

“Huh? Oh, yes, thank you, Karin. Just some memories.”

“You are trembling, Katarina, are you sure you are fine?”

Katarina remembered just how close she had come to dying that day and she took a deep breath, pushed the memories away and smiled.

“Yes,” she nodded, “I'm sure.”

She stood for a second, looking around the ward and then said,

“I am going outside for a minute for some air. I shan't be long.”

“Should I come with you?” Karin was concerned, “I mean, if you are not well...”

“No,” Katarina smiled, “I am fine. I had a bad flight on Saturday and that just brought it home to me. I will just take a little air and I'll be back before you know it.”

Outside, the air was still and warm but fresh. Away from the smell of her ward, Katarina breathed deeply and very soon began to feel her old self again.

For a moment, she was angry with herself for being so weak. So many of her patients had so much more to be afraid of.

She remembered the grey old man on the tram in Berlin. That seemed so long ago now and she wondered what had happened to him.

Of course, she knew she would never find out but it didn't stop her thoughts.

She took one final deep breath and turned to go back inside when an ambulance squealed to a halt right in front of her.

It wasn't like the ambulances she was used to in Berlin. This one was little more than a lorry, grey with big white circles on the sides and a large red cross in the centre of each, the international sign for anything regarding medical personnel and denoting it was not a combat vehicle. It had a canvas cover over the rear part, similar to the one she had seen on Monday which the group of nurses had arrived in.

She watched as the two medics jumped from the cab and ran around to the rear and, with a loud bang, quickly dropped the tailboard.

There was a nurse inside and she remained alongside the stretcher whilst the two men lifted it carefully from its mounts and slid it out from the rear.

As they passed her none of them took so much as a glance until the nurse looked up from her patient and looked back.

“We are taking him to your ward, Matron, will you be long?”

“My ward?” Katarina replied, surprised. She had not been informed of any new arrivals.

“Yes, Ward Seven,” the reply was almost lost as they disappeared around the corner.

“But I'm not...” she began but didn't finish the sentence because, as she spoke a motorcycle and sidecar had also pulled up outside and two soldiers complete with steel helmets and rifles had dismounted and marched quickly and noisily past her, almost knocking her over.

“Pardon me, Sister,” the nearest of the two said by way of apology.

“Well! I must say!” Katarina gasped, placing her hands firmly on her hips before marching back to her ward.

In Ward Three, there was no sign of a new arrival. Katarina looked around but everything was calm, just as it had been when she left.

“Matron?”

Karin came to her,

“What is it?”

Katarina frowned,

“I thought we had a new arrival here but I must have misheard.”

“Who told you?” the young nurse asked.

“The ambulance crew who turned up whilst I was outside although they did say 'Ward Seven'.”

Karin burst into laughter.

“That is where Matron, Kaufmann is!” she said. “I bet they thought that you were she.”

“Oh, good grief!” Katarina began to laugh too. “You are right. I will have to meet this person to see if she really does look like me.”

“Oh, she does,” Karin laughed, “Believe me!”

At that moment, the telephone on her desk jangled.

“Hello,” she said “Ward Three.”

She listened carefully.

“We will be ready,” she replied quickly and replaced the receiver.

“Another patient!” she called out, “Bed fourteen please.”

The other nurses quickly went and prepared the bed and minutes later the doors crashed open as two orderlies wheeled in a trolley with a comatose figure on it.

Once again, with lightning efficiency, the patient was moved to the bed and the paperwork handed over.

In no time at all, the orderlies had crashed again through the doors with the empty trolley and the ward returned to normal.

The two youngest nurses made sure the still unconscious patient was secure whilst Katarina read through his notes and watched them work.

“Never a dull moment in here is there, Matron?”

The voice came from the next bed.

“No, indeed not,” she replied. “You will be going home soon I imagine.”

The patient was an older soldier, his notes showed thirty-five, a corporal of the Wehrmacht, who had a severely damaged arm.

“I suppose so,” he replied, sadly. “I don't suppose I would be much use now with this arm as it is.”

“Hey now, that's enough of that. Once you get back on your feet, you will be amazed at what you can do. At least you still have your arm. There are many who are not so lucky.”

The soldier smiled.

“You are right, Matron.”

He paused for a moment, just looking at her.

“Does nothing ever trouble you?” he asked eventually, “You are always so sweet and positive about everything. Nothing ever seems to get to you.”

Katarina touched his good arm softly.

“Yes, sometimes,” she admitted, “But there is no use dwelling on things that have passed. We should always look forwards, search for the light in this ever darkening world we find ourselves in. Instead of thinking about what we cannot do, we should always seek the things that we can do.”

“You know, Matron, you are absolutely right,” the soldier pushed himself up with his good hand, “You are an inspiration. I am selfish indeed to complain of this injury. Thank you.”

You are not selfish, Corporal,” Katarina assured him, “You just need to think positively.”

She paused and then said,

“Now, if you will excuse me I must get on.”

As she turned away, she heard him say, “Whoever captures your heart will be an exceptionally lucky man.”

Inside, she smiled and wondered if she would, someday, find a husband. Certainly not in the foreseeable future, she thought.

The day wore on without any great drama, and they remained busy with the general duties and without any further patients Katarina was able to give time to helping her girls to gain experience and deal with the various traumas such a ward could produce.

She watched Beatrice particularly. She was the youngest of the four and the least experienced, but she didn't seem to allow the death of the young soldier to trouble her.

Once again, Katarina had waited until the others had taken their lunch break before taking her short one.

She didn't like to be away for too long just in case something occurred whilst there were only two of them there.

In the mess hall, she had looked again for Matron Kaufmann but she had not seen anyone remotely resembling herself, in fact, she had not seen any other Matron at all.

“Of course!” It occurred to her at that moment that maybe she didn't use the normal canteen but dined with the senior ranks, as she herself was supposed to.

She also thought about what the corporal had said about giving her heart to someone.

There had never been anyone who interested her before. It was not something she had given much thought to. The only man she had found remotely interesting was Sergeant Steiner, and he had only sat with her because he had confused her with this other matron.

She decided there and then that she was going to meet her doppelgänger, just as soon as she had a moment and, with that thought, she had drained the last of the thick, black coffee and returned to her ward.

Much later Katarina looked down at her little fob watch, lifting it a little so she could read the dial, Six-forty.

In a few minutes, Ailise would arrive with her staff to take over for the night, so she took one final walk around the beds, ensuring that all the checks were done, and the notes kept up to date.

She was pleased to see that all was well, and there was nothing out of the ordinary to hand over.

As she came to the corporal's bed, he smiled at her.

“May I ask a favour?” he said.

Katarina frowned,

“Yes, you may ask,” she frowned, uncertain.

“Well, I just wondered if there was anything I could do to assist you tomorrow.”

She smiled.

“Oh, we'll see,” she replied. “You arm has not yet had time to even begin to heal but, we will see.”

That seemed enough to make him happy, and he relaxed back into his pillow, allowing her to move on.

Her latest arrival in the next bed was sleeping now, and Katarina moved on after looking at his notes and seeing that all was as expected.

Ailise arrived, just as she finished at the last bed.

“Good Evening, Katarina. A busy day?” she asked cheerily.

“Quite busy,” she agreed, “But nothing out of the ordinary. One new arrival in bed fourteen but otherwise, pretty much as you left it this morning.”

“Did you see the drama this morning?” Ailise asked with a little excitement showing in her voice, “The enemy plane crashed just outside the town.”

Katarina was far from excited. The thought that the pilot was hurt horrified her. She hated anything to do with violence and, to her, there was no 'enemy' only victims.

“I didn't see that,” she answered, “I did see them fly over, though. One of them had smoke coming from it, so I suppose that must have been the one that crashed?”

“You didn't find it even a little exciting?” Ailise frowned.

“The pilot was hurt, Ailise, I saw them bring him here. I cannot get excited about that.”

“I suppose... since you put it like that...”

“On Saturday, I flew here,” Katarina continued with barely more than a whisper. “My aeroplane was attacked, and the pilot was killed, the machine was badly damaged, and I was lucky to escape with my life, so you see, Ailise, I cannot get excited when the same thing happens to someone else, whether it be a German or a so-called 'enemy of the Reich'. He is a person, one who may not have been so lucky as I was.”

The other nurse touched Katarina's arm.

“I'm sorry, I didn't know,” she said, noticing that she was trembling once again. “But you are all right, yes?”

Katarina nodded, tired suddenly.

“It is still fresh in my mind,” she replied, “I'm sorry I snapped at you.”

“Don't worry, I understand,” Ailise replied, gently rubbing her arm up and down. “Go and relax. I will see you in the morning.”

Katarina thanked her and left the ward. What she needed were food and coffee, so she headed directly to the mess hall.

It was busy this time, as though everyone had the same thoughts but she spotted a quiet table tucked away in the far corner, a small table with just two chairs which she quickly headed towards after selecting her favourite, Wien Schnitzel and fried potatoes, stopping only to collect a jug of hot coffee.

Half way there she remembered she had forgotten her knife and fork so went quickly back and collected the implements before continuing in her quest for the lone table.

“Good evening, Matron,” a voice from beside her.

“Oh, Good evening sister,” she replied, not sure who this was but she was happy that the nurse did not stop to speak further and allowed her to go on to that seemingly difficult to reach table.

As she got there, she placed her tray upon it, sliding it towards the side where she would be seated but it suddenly bumped into another tray which had appeared at the exact same moment, causing the coffee in the jug to splash over the top and make a small puddle beside her plate.

“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry...” a voice spoke, genuinely apologetic.

Katarina looked up.

“Don't worry, it was not your... fault,” her voice trailed away as she saw who had bumped her.

“You...” she said incredulously.

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