Nurse Esme Platt had many problems: the Blitz, strict Mother Superiors, hideous uniforms, and that ever annoying Dr. Cullen and his jelly beans.
1. Chapter 1
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November 5th, 1940
St. Thomas Hospital, London.
I can’t remember the last time I slept. Truly, honestly slept: not these little naps of fewer then 60 minuets that my shifts at St. Thomas’ sometimes aloud me. Even on my sole day off (Sunday- I demanded that I be aloud my church services even in the face of war effort early on in my career) I couldn’t sleep thanks to the ever ringing siren and the sound of death from above.
The bombs I mean, the personification of third Reich and all its malice. From my seated place besides the bunk of a wounded woman, my hands wrapping a bandage around her bloodied head, her once brown hair matted with red, I can hear the wireless announcing that Roosevelt has been reelected as the President of the United States. I find that I’ve stopped caring what’s going on politically, the presidency of the colonies won’t stop this woman’s head from being in pain or stop the old man in the bunk across from her from dying due to being crushed by rubble.
We Londoners are new to this terror- the lightning war they all it. It’s been less then a month, but already I’ve become accustomed to seeing more civilians in these bunks then soldiers. Oddly, I almost miss seeing the army uniform. The worst you had with them were bullets or trench sickness.
I finish wrapping the woman’s head, whipping the red liquid off my hands and onto the white apron of my uniform, the smear a bright crimson. The uniforms we wear at St. Thomas are simple: a blue frock with long sleeves and white collar and cuffs, a white apron worn over it. White stockings, shoes and cap along with the occasionally worn navy cape complete the look that makes us all look so silly. It is simply impossible to look attractive in this get up; which perhaps is the point.
“Esme!” I hear someone call my name from behind, the sound breaking through the otherwise silent room, several other nurses looking up from their work. I turn my head, spotting Eliza, a fellow nurse I’d trained with once, waving for my attention.
“Sister Mary wants you downstairs,” Eliza said, an apologetic look on her face as she spoke, her perfectly blonde curls bobbin up and down as she spoke. Eliza is a plump, kindly girl who was born to be a nurse: no amount of gore undid her and she treated each patient as if they were family, yet mourned for none.
I inwardly flinched at the sound of Sister Mary’s name. The old hag hated me passionately for reasons I could not fathom. I passed Eliza, giving a weak smile as I walked down the corridors as slowly as I could, not wanting to actually arrive at the nun’s office door. When I did finally come to the door I knocked once, hoping she would have forgotten her request to see me and had left. Within the office I heard her voice telling me to enter my hopes dashed. I took a deep breath and straitened my soiled apron, entering after a beat.
“Nurse Platt I need you to aid our new surgeon while he becomes accustomed to St. Thomas. Help him with directions, surgery, et cetera,” the woman said, sitting in her seat, her nun’s habit making her look like an over fed black pug. She had a red face and horrible black eyes that made me think of despair every time I saw them.
“Of course Sister,” I said, more then happy to back out and leave the claustrophobic office that held the nun, her desk and a rather large copy of the Bible that really should have been in the hospital chapel.
I left in all haste, not even knowing where to find this new surgeon or his name. Pausing for a moment I leaned against the cool hospital walls, the cold sends shivers up my back as I sighed, closing my blue eyes.
“If I were a new surgeon where would I be?” I mused to myself out loud. I was, after all, in an empty hallway. No one could over hear my monologue to myself.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
“I’d be right here,” I heard a polished, intelligent voice say from my left, perhaps twenty feet away from myself. My eyes snapped open at the sound of another voice, heading spinning towards the sound so quickly I pulled a muscle.
In front of me was perhaps the most beautiful man in the world. And yes, beautiful is the word- he surpassed handsome in a way I hadn’t known existed. He looked like Apollo to my mortal eyes: his golden hair, topaz eyes and marble skin far to bright and perfect to be real. He was tall, easily 6 feet, huge to my perfectly acceptable height of 5’6. His face looked as if Michelangelo himself had carved it with sculpted cheeks and a perfectly strait English nose.
This man could not be a doctor. Doctors were fumbling old men who smelt of rubbing alcohol: not Grecian gods come down from Olympus.
My mouth went dry as it opened, closed, and opened again. I must have looked like a fish, standing there in all my stupidity.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snuck up on your like that Nurse,” he said, stepping forward. I could feel my hands shake as he came closer to myself. He smiled at me, causing my heart to bang against my ribs in an almost painful fashion. I notice in his hand he has a bag of jelly beans. I hate jelly beans.
“I’m Dr. Cullen- you must be Nurse Platt. Sister Mary said she was sending you,” he added. I could tell that his accent was from the nicer part of London, yet his idioms were archaic to my ears. Finally I noticed his out stretch hand, putting my own forward almost at once, shaking his with far more enthusiasm then I really should have had. His hand felt like ice against my own. Then again, he must have just been outside in the chilled London air.
“Esme- I mean Nurse Platt,” I said, finally dropping my hand from his when I noticed we’d stopped shaking them. “I’ll bring you to your office,” I said, my mind finally back on track. I tore my eyes from his and found it much easier to think when he was not in my direct line of site.
I took Dr. Cullen to his office space on the third floor of the hospital, answering the occasional questions he asked me.
“Who’s the head surgeon?” he would ask.
“Dr. Meyers,” I would reply, thankful I remembered the name.
“How many surgeries do you have on average per day?”
“About 10 or so on a good day- a light day I mean”. These were easy, statistics and names.
“So, why did you become a nurse?” he asked me after I unlocked the office door that had once had Dr. Charnetsky’s name on it (he’d retired after the Blitz began). I admit I was shocked by the question, and my face must have shown it.
“I…I…” I said, flabbergasted. His smile turned from a pleasant fixture to a conspiratorial smirk.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell if you ran away from a torrid love affair,” he was joking of course, but I still felt pangs of resentment to this comment. This was a game to him, it must be.
“I don’t see how that is your concern Dr. Cullen, if you need anything else I’m sure one of the other nurses would be happy to assist you,” I said, my face resembling the look my cat gave me when I’d slighted it some how (usually stepping on his tail was enough). It took everything I took not to burst into wracking sobs of to erupt in a rant worthy of any Shakespearian heroin. Dr. Cullen looked genuinely taken aback by my sudden out burst as I stalked away, my hands clenched in fists of silent rage.
I knew I needed to cool down and knew only one place that truly gave me an inner peace. This was of course the children’s section of the hospital. My favored patient here was a young boy named Eugene who was then sitting in his wheel chair by the window, looking outside at the smoky London sky.
“Hello Eugene,” I said presently able to contain myself.
“You look like an injin,” he said, smiling at me, his sandy hair and green eyes bright with life.
“I beg pardon?” I asked him, laughing. “Just how do I look like an Indian?” I asked.
“You’re all red. Like when my sister’s been with a feller,” he said smartly. Any other day I would have corrected him on his Indian and ‘feller’ but today I did nothing but turn redder.
November 7th, 1940
St. Thomas Hospital, London.
It was a Thursday. I hated Thursdays above all other days, even before Monday. At least on Monday I was in a good mood thanks to my Sunday day off. Thursday however was the day I was assigned to be the head nurse on surgeries. While I had no trouble with the actually process of cutting, removing, adding, fixing, cleaning and stitching I truly hated the smell of the iodine that filled the room within moments of swabbing it onto the patient. And I hated, hated, hated the horrid yellow stain it left on my hands, even if I did where gloves.
But this Thursday was even worst then the chronic iodine. This Thursday I was assigned to help the far to nosy Dr. Cullen. I had tried to tell myself over the last two days that he couldn’t have possibly have meant to offend me so. He was jesting; he had been expecting me to bat my eyelashes and twitter about patriotism and an admiration for doctor. Not throw venom at him and stalk away.
I took a deep breath before entering the surgery room where Dr. Cullen was scheduled to remove a good dealt of bullet out of a soldier’s leg. It was an easy process (well, easy for the staff. The soldier himself would be in a great deal of agony) and it would ask nothing more of me then to hold him down and hold a bowl for Dr. Cullen to drop bullets into.
I prepared myself with my facemask and my hands gloved as I entered, my brown hair pulled back into a stern bun that pulled at my temples. I looked at the ground the moment I heard Dr. Cullen enter, not ready to be…. what would be a good word for it? Agoged? No, that wasn’t it. Punch-drunk. That was close enough: I must have resembled someone with a cerebral concussion when he was around.
I didn’t actually notice the sounds of his entering, he seemed far more graceful and silent then any man I’d met before. More like a ballerina then anything else. What tipped more off to his presence was the hairs on the back of my neck standing up on end as he blew past me. We were on either side of the man now, the student nurses to my left; this was an entire team for surgery these days.
“Please hold him down Esme,” Dr. Cullen said, my name floating off his tongue like notes off the string of a violin: Es-me. Two syllables, not one rush of sound I was so used to. My cornflower eyes flickered up to his own, and I was taken aback for a moment. For once it had nothing to do with his physical beauty, instead it was his eyes that shocked me. Before they had been a clear, perfect topaz. Now they looked like jagged black rocks I was use to seeing at the seaside by my child hood home.
“Nurse Platt if you please,” I found myself saying, not sure of how I had managed to form the words. I resolved to stick to my original plan of looking down at the iodine (ach) swabs which the two students were rubbing the soldier’s leg with.
The surgery went surprisingly well, the soldier passing out from pain far quicker then the small amount of morphine we gave him ever could have. Six removed bullets later and a few stitches afterwards the students rolled the man back to his sleeping quarters, leaving myself to clean the operation table and Dr. Cullen to do whatever it was that doctors did when they were not doctoring.
“Es- Nurse Platt, I would like to apologies for the other day. I did not realize that I was treading upon volatile subject matter.”
Damn his voice- it was so soothing, like a lullaby from my child hood. I didn’t look up from my scrubbing of the bloodied operation table however. If I did I was sure to be completely undone by him all over again, even with the surgery mask on his pale face. I fought with myself for a moment before speaking again.
“I should be apologizing, I spoke rashly. You have no idea of my person. You meant no insult,” I said, putting the now drenched washing rag into a bucket on the floor. I finally dared to look up and saw that he’d taken off his mask and felt myself grow dazed again, all other sounds muted around me. I could barley see his lips move, yet I knew he was speaking. As if coming from another world I hear him speak to me, the sound of the jelly bean’s wrapper crackling.
“I had hoped perhaps you and I could start a new-“ he was suddenly cut off by the sounds of someone’s shouting from outside.
“DR.CULLEN! ANYONE!” I knew at once it was Eliza, my feet moved on their own accord, sprinting to the next room where Eliza wheeled a table with what looked like a girl my own age, a heavy white towel at her neck, saturated with blood.
“Her neck got rammed through with a metal pole,” Eliza explained. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up again. I knew without looking that Dr. Cullen was behind me. I removed the soaked towel from the girl’s neck to see the wound and found a great stream of blood hit my body, the jugular torn open.
I found myself drenched from head to waist in the girl’s blood, Eliza looked pale as my caramel hair turned a kind of ruddy color and my usually alabaster skin sanguine. I felt what must have been a breeze rush past me as Eliza’s mouth dropped open.
“I’ve never seen anyone move that quickly!” she gasped as I saw the tail end of Dr. Cullen’s coat go through the doors back to the operation room.
An hour later the girl was dead. There was nothing to be done by give her a bit of medicine and let her sleep her way to death. I went home on my sparse lunch break and showered and changed into a new uniform instead of eating. I was extremely lucky to have a flat not five minuets walk from the hospital. I lived here with another nurse and my rather fat tabby cat.
I went back to the hospital smelling like soap and spent the rest of my shift in the relatively calm area of pediatrics. I loved children above all other creatures on this earth and adored working with them in the hospital setting. Sister Mary had long since seen that I didn’t have more then an hour or two here claiming I was far to motherly to think properly amongst the little ones.
I hated to say it but she was right.
I sat next to a little boy named Eugene who was very sickly with polio. He spent his life in a wheel chair was suffering from the complications of never moving in his liver which was slowly shutting down. I could see the jaundice leaving a yellow color in his once green eyes. He was a happy little fellow, but dying. It broke my heart every time I saw him lying there in bed.
In my hands was his favorite play (Shakespeare’s Henry IV) which I always read to him when I came to see him in the ward. Usually he would fall asleep, not really understanding the story. The archaic words seemed soothing to him some how.
But tonight would not be that simple- far from it really.
“This sicknes doth infect/ The very Life-blood of our Enterprise,” I read before Eugene interrupted me.
“Life-blood? What does that mean?” he asked, his voice desperately small. I was surprised at the question, and not completely sure of how to respond.
“It’s what give you thought and actions I suppose. What gives life to a man’s being,” I said. Struggling with my response Eugene’s face twisted one way and the other.
“You mean God?” he asked.
“It can be. Maybe a work of art, a poem or another person,” I said, smiling softly at him. I put the book down as he began to cough, the action wracking his entire body. His sandy hair was pressed down with sweat and his face sallow from illness as I pulled his body to my own, rocking him back and forth. I sang under my breath just loud enough for Eugene to hear.
“Lullaby and good night, with roses bedightr32;
With lilies o'er spread is baby's wee bed
r32;Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed
r32;Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed” Eugene’s coughing lifted and I let him lay back down onto his bed, his weak body of 11 years more like one of 6 years.
“Nurse Platt is God really in heaven with the angels?” he asked him as serene look seemed to grave his features. I’d seen this look before and I felt the hot tears spill out my eyes before my words came. This was the look of someone who was going to leave this world and the pain they felt at last. The look of welcomed death.
“Yes Eugene. He really is,” I said, not sure myself if I was lying or not. I put my hand over my mouth as I watched the little boy smile, take a final gasp and die. He looked like an angel himself as I let my chocking sobs rise in sound, the other children all sound asleep.
I don’t know how long it was before I felt the presence of Dr. Cullen again, right behind me as usual. However I felt him sit on the bed with me, his arms pulling me back, my face quickly buried into his unbelievably hard and artic chest as I lamented with fevered tears.
The next morning I woke up to find myself in the cots the nurses take naps in, my shoes and nurse’s cap besides me some how. I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there, or when. Sitting up gingerly a hear the sound of something falling to floor and peer down to see a wrapper for a bag of jelly beans on the floor.
Smiling to myself, I suppose Dr. Cullen really isn’t that bad.