Ann Matkins : Celestial Ambulance
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It had been a month since the first diagnosis. Now, as he waited by his hospital bed for Linda to come and take him home, Ben wondered how he could go back to living a normal life for the next few days and not think about the operation to come. He just couldn’t imagine how he’d do it.
Linda saw his mood as soon as she walked into the ward; with a determined look on her face that Ben recognised, she said, “Ok, my man, I’m taking us out for lunch. None of your ‘straight home’ nonsense!”
They had lunch at the Bridge Inn by the river: steak, chips and salad. Well, Linda ate her salad and Ben didn’t touch his. “Can’t see the point,” he always said when she’d determinedly served up salad at least once, if not twice, a week. She would hmmph and tell him it was good for him and he needed his vitamins – but he still wouldn’t eat it.
They sat outside in comfortable silence for a while, watching the ducks on the river, each in their own thoughts. Ben tried to rivet his on the beautiful sunny day and the comfort of having Linda to enjoy it with.
“We don’t do this often enough,” she sighed.
He smiled at her, sensing that she was probably already planning more things they didn’t do enough of; her way of taking his mind away from what was to come, and maybe it would help her too. “The consultant said he was going to book me in for the operation as soon as possible.”
“Yes, I know,” she replied. “I saw him too. That’s good then, isn’t it?” She looked hopeful. “Eat up your salad. You need your strength.”
Ben just grinned at her and left the salad.
Within a week he was back in the oncology ward and scheduled for theatre at ten o’clock the next morning. In the end it was all happening in a rush.
“Not a minute to lose,” had been the final words of the consultant, accompanied by a warm but slightly crooked smile. It was meant to be encouraging. It wasn’t.
The ward doors swung open; a trolley, a ward orderly and Sister arrived at his bedside, with a bit of chat from the orderly, keeping things light. Ben smiled. He knew the ropes.
As the trolley wound its way to the operating theatre his mind flickered to scenes of others who’d been wheeled down this corridor before him, knowing now how they might have felt. Sister smiled down at him.
I’m being well looked after. Just relax. It will all be all right!
In the prep room the anaesthetist stood on one side, his assistant on the other. Ben couldn’t help thinking they both looked far too young. The assistant made small talk – more clever distraction while the anaesthetist prepared the patient. After the first few words, Ben’s world became as if it had never been, as he quietly slipped into unconsciousness.
The operation went well. But the patient died.
Ben opened his eyes a fraction. His body felt strange: not so weak, a good sign, he thought. Tiredness wrapped around him like a warm blanket and he drifted back into a light slumber.
There was a feather-like touch on his shoulder.
“I’m not ready to wake up yet,” he said, enjoying another moment of perfect rest such as he had never felt in all his life before. Must be the morphine.
The gentle hand would not go away.
He opened his eyes wide this time; someone gazed down at him, deep violet eyes tilting into a smile.
“Who are you?” he asked, somewhat surprised. Although she looked very much like a nurse, she was not one Ben could remember and he had a good memory for faces. He looked around for Sister. She was nowhere to be seen. And another thing he noticed - the ward looked different. He was sure it had been a four-bedded one, but now he seemed to have a room all to himself. Way to go! he thought to himself with a slight smugness that didn’t quite manage to forget the well-being of others. But the walls seemed less solid than they should have been, a bit too hazy and veil-like, and through them he could see movement, people. A glance around the room made him appreciate its spaciousness, a lingering scent of roses and violets, and sunshine pouring in through the French windows. And that sky! God, it looks so blue! He gazed at the nurse again. No, he still didn’t recognise her.
She saw his puzzled expression and said reassuringly, “I’m here to help you to where you are needed.”
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