Tuesday November 14th 2017. 09.15 hrs.
Twenty two year-old Claudia Finkelstein, trainee Intensive Care nurse at the Schelle hospital in Vienna’s 11th district, had finally completed her Spreadsheet on the three occupants of Unit 7 – a small ward overlooking a battalion of yellow waste bins outside. No view at all, really, but to those patients who arrived here and often never left, what did it matter? Or that the few bare sycamores behind the high wall stood so still, so dead? That even the foraging crows flying from their bare branches to the ground, seemed to have leaden wings.
She saved the file before furtively checking on eBay that the bid she’d entered for a red leather settee for her new studio flat hadn’t been bettered by anyone else.
Hers remained the only offer, but the whole process was making her anxious. Sometimes when she and Dr. Grun were inserting transfusion lines into a patient’s neck, she’d wonder if and when that beautiful, sexy piece of furniture would soon be hers. In fact, every time she saw blood, either lurking inside the transparent tubes or pooled into steel bowls, she imagined that padded, three-seater with its rounded corner unit, nestling in her lounge beneath soft, pink downlighters. The perfect place for her and Hans Neumann, her latest admirer, to get to know themselves better…
Suddenly, the hiccupping blue strip light over her desk warned of a new emergency on the way.
Claudia sprang to her feet. They felt oddly numb. So did her whole body, as if every single nerve had frozen. She hated emergencies. And now the light was red. Throbbing red…
Double doors hissed open, one after the other, louder too, as the trolley and its cargo drew near.
Here it comes…
Two green-clad paramedics were pushing it in unison, dark sweat maps showing beneath their armpits.
“In there.” Claudia indicated Unit 8 where a bed near the window stood empty; the under-sheet flat and clean like a dusting of fresh snow. “What on earth’s happened?” she asked while assessing the heavily-bandaged form, where only the eyes, mouth and the right arm’s basilic vein were exposed..
“Level crossing job, near the Zentralfriedhof. Suicide attempt and the train couldn’t stop in time. Female. No ID yet…” panted the bigger man with a Munich accent. “She’s in a bad way.”
And then, with their help, Claudia managed to transfer the woman’s inert form to the bed. Once the men had gone, she realised she was on her own. Doctor Grun and Senior Nurse Schiller were nowhere to be seen.
She rang the bell positioned next to the door, where fifty-eight year-old Erich Matten, her very own postman, lay tubed-up, clinging to life after a brain haemorrhage while delivering mail to Wiesengrachht’s town hall. He’d often complained about his heavy mail load, but no-one had listened. Nor even visited him. Perhaps as he slept, he felt angels’ wings brush against his cheeks. Even heard a sweetly-sung lullaby or two. Oh yes, she’d believed in angels since she was a kid. That they could, like God, be summoned to act, or make the passing from life to death swift and painless. However, no time now for invocations for him or the new admission lying motionless under the window. Here at the Schelle, death was viewed as a failure, and too many which were unexplained, invited investigations and media exposure. Risk of litigation.
She rang that same bell again. This time, harder and for longer. Panic kicking in.
“Don’t worry,” she then reassured her so-far nameless companion. “Help will soon be here. Meanwhile, there’s plenty I can do… ”
The patient blinked, while somewhere close by, bowels had opened.
“You’ve done well, Claudia,” acknowledged Dr. Grun who’d finally arrived some ten minutes later, and was checking that the legless, so-far nameless patient had been correctly cleaned up and stabilised.
“Excellent,” chimed in the Senior Nurse, smiling lip-glossed lips. Claudia had often seen her and the doctor walking together down the hospital’s corridors, hands brushing, heads inclined towards each other. She surely couldn’t be the only one who’d noticed they were an item?
“Take a break now. Rest up a while,” added her tall, curly-haired superior. “But I’m afraid we’ll need you again for the midnight shift… ”
He was, of course, feeling guilty for having left her with the task of keeping someone alive who’d clearly not wanted to live. Unaware, too, of the blame in that patient’s hard, grey eyes as she’d watched Claudia’s frantic solo efforts.
“She doesn’t want to go on,” Claudia whispered to him and his nurse, before giving a farewell glance at the bed. “I can tell.”