Cherry Ames 02 Senior Nurse (9 page)

“He is not strange!” Cherry tried to explain. She was so annoyed and so amused that she sputtered. “He’s—

he’s perfectly human and awfully nice!” They listened to her fairly enough. But no one could be convinced, despite Cherry’s efforts, that Lex’s fantastic reputation was what it was because of gossip long since wandered from the facts, plus fable, plus some dangerous envy. But they all respected Lex to the point of fear.

Cherry fell asleep that night wondering about Lex’s fate here in the hospital, and trying to decide between gardenias and an orchid.

c h a p t e r v i i

Double Trouble

spencer hospital was tingling with holiday excitement. It was still a good three weeks until Christmas, but already nurses were dragging fir trees to the wards and decorating them with the excited advice of their patients. Mysterious bundles were smuggled in and out of Crowley. Strange noises came from the basement of Spencer Hall where the doctors and internes were rehearsing for their Christmas Eve entertainment, to which they were inviting the seniors and graduates and other important members of the staff. Holly wreaths tied with wide red ribbons seemed to grow overnight in the lounge, the rotunda and the sleepy library. Out in the snow-laden yard, even the great white hospital buildings took on a festive look in the frosty air.

Everyone hurried with a special lilt in his step, and the
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chef could not resist baking cakes iced with red and green instead of the usual white.

Cherry herself was pretty excited. Christmas meant not only Christmas to her, but her birthday as well.

Cherry had always mourned that her birthday came the day before Christmas, with unfortunate effects on the gift situation. This year, though, she made it known that presents were taboo—except from her never-failing family, of course. Ann, Gwen, Bertha, Vivian, Josie, Marie and Mai Lee—all had loyally asked her what she wanted for her birthday.

“In wartime?” Cherry shook her head. They were all at supper together in the nurses’ teeming dining room.

“Thank you kindly and all that, but please skip it this year.”

“I wasn’t going to give you anything much,” Gwen informed her. “Just one old shoe, say, or a lovely stick of stale chewing gum.”

“We might take the same money and contribute it to some war fund where it’s needed,” Mai Lee suggested.

The others looked at the quiet, slender, little Chinese-American girl. They knew Mai Lee was thinking of her family and her family’s village, bombed to flame and dust. It was to avenge them, and to fight back effectively, that Mai Lee was becoming a nurse.

“We certainly might,” Ann said. “And because it’s Cherry’s birthday, she can have the thankless job of
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treasurer. Don’t bother to thank me, dear.” She grinned at Cherry’s gesture of despair. The purses promptly came out.

Bertha Larsen leaned forward. “There’s something I ought to tell you—You don’t expect presents, now honestly, do you? No, I don’t think I’d better tell you after all.” Her round pleasant face clouded as she seemed to be thinking of something.

“What’s all this mystery?” Cherry puzzled, as she and Marie Swift together figured up the funds. “Two-fifty, three, and two more quarters here, Marie. . . . What were you trying to tell me, Bertha?” But Bertha shook her head. There was no use trying to coax her, Cherry knew. Bertha was as stubborn as a mule sometimes.

“The seniors,” Vivian announced, “are going down to the basement tonight.”

Ann’s face changed. “Oh, the basement! Yes,” she said slowly.

There was indeed something to see in the vast basement under Spencer Hall. The Superintendent of Nurses herself assembled the senior class. She did not make any announcement. She merely asked them to follow her, and led them past the maze of service rooms to a further area of the basement. “Miss Reamer has a new hair-do,” somebody whispered. But they had caught her serious mood and could not chatter tonight
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about her newly swirled gray locks. In the deepest part of the basement, Miss Reamer paused before a steel door. She unlocked it and switched on lights.

Here, far under the building, was a complete Operating Room! Beyond it, deep in shadow, they saw a great hall constructed with steel beams and thick brick walls. It was filled with at least a hundred cots. More cots, and stretchers, stood stacked against the walls.

Adjoining it were a kitchen, bathrooms, a thoroughly stocked laboratory.

“Our country is at war,” Miss Reamer said. “This new equipment is here in case of air raid or other catastrophe.

I hope we will never have to use it.” Cherry felt her throat tighten. The young women’s faces, under the blazing arc of the operating lamp, in the shadowy corners of the Operating Room, were soberly angry and determined. Miss Reamer locked the steel door and led them down a corridor along which were a series of small rooms. More cots, more stretchers, stood piled high on either side of the corridor. There was not much Christmas spirit down here. At intervals along the corridor new raw brick walls formed square safety zones.

Miss Reamer unlocked the door to one of the small rooms. “These are all alike,” she said. Cherry and the others went in at Miss Reamer’s invitation, and opened the tall steel lockers. They found heavy folded equipment
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for field hospitals. Ranged on the floor were dozens of black leather medical kits, containing supplies of all kinds.

“These things are yours,” Miss Reamer said. “If it should ever be necessary, the seniors will ride ambulance with the doctors.”

A murmur rose. It was a strange sort of Christmas present to the senior class.

“No one need go if she does not want to,” Miss Reamer said gently.

The young women stirred. Their whispers surged around Cherry. “Of course we’ll go!” the nurses were saying indignantly. “Try and stop us!” They looked expectantly toward the Superintendent of Nurses.

“What you see here is grim—but necessary,” Miss Reamer went on. “Nurses above all people can face reality. I’m not worried about a single one of you—

because I know you truly are nurses. And that’s the highest praise I can give!”

Seeing the emergency equipment made Cherry restless. She was working this month on Nursery, with Gwen. Ordinarily, Cherry would have settled into this airy, peaceful ward as snugly as the babies slept in their little beds. There were no seasons here, no Christmas, no war.

Behind a glass partition, where proud parents and visitors could look in at them, lay a shelf of babies sleeping in a row. Each baby had a warm crib of his own, protected
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from draughts. Cherry was amused when the nurse in charge here told her to make these miniature, removable beds exactly as she would make a bed for adults, mitred corners and all. Another thing which amused Cherry, and touched her too, was to see big men doctors bending gently over tiny babies. There were nearly thirty babies here, brand-new from the Delivery Room, and all of them new acquaintances to Cherry. They kept Cherry and Gwen and the two graduates stepping.

“Feed one, and another one yowls for its whey,” Gwen complained laughingly to Cherry. She had finished bathing one baby and was scrubbing up before touching another. Both girls were wearing gowns and masks over their mouths and noses, for babies are very susceptible to infection. “Feed that one and the first one howls again. It’s a race!”

Cherry mumbled “Uh-huh” sympathetically but she was too busy to answer, what with the plump and wriggling baby on her lap. She had just washed his scalp with soap and water. But because he was less than ten days old, and his skin was so sensitive that it had turned bright red, she did not risk skin infection with a soap and water bath. Instead, Cherry gently cleansed him with a little oil. The baby seemed to be enjoying it, for he grunted and waved his arms and legs.

“What would you like to wear today?” she consulted the baby.

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The baby blinked amiably but expressed no preference.

“In that case,” Cherry lifted him up deftly, “what would you say to a square diaper, a nice cotton shirt and a fine old hospital gown?”

Apparently it was all right with the baby. Cherry thought it was something like playing dolls, but a good deal more satisfactory. She carried him back to his crib and put a loose light warm cover over him. He promptly fell asleep—“without so much as a thank you,” Cherry thought, and went to scrub herself before bathing the next infant.

The moment she had turned her back on the shelf of babies, that restlessness again surged over her.

Cherry did not know quite what it was. It seemed to have something to do with being a senior—restless at still being in school, impatient to work on her own as a professional.

“But taking care of new-born babies is important work,” Gwen objected, when Cherry confided this to her. “Or maybe Christmas or facing a birthday does things to you. It does to me.”

“It isn’t either one—exactly—it’s—Oh, I’m tired of being a mere student. I’ve acquired most of my skills by now. I want to get out in the world and use them.”

“In just which part of the great wide world?” Gwen inquired practically. “And in just which branch of the dozens of branches of nursing?’’

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Cherry could not answer that, so she pretended to be busy at the formula table with nursing bottles, funnels, and kettles. “You win,” she finally admitted meekly. “I don’t know.” Visions of those emergency kits rose before her eyes. “Yes, maybe I do know,” she said suddenly. She could nurse right here on the home front—for civilians were fighting this war, too. But for a while, she would keep this half-decision to herself.

Gwen’s bright inquisitive eyes warned Cherry a question was coming. Fortunately the lively young graduate nurse who was in charge of the premature babies came in just then.

“Hello, you two,” she said with a pleasant nod. She had pinned a little sprig of holly on her uniform. “Miss Ames, we’re sending Miss Jones another helper for today and you’re coming in to help me. We’re so short of special baby nurses that I’ll have to take a chance on you.”

Cherry’s heart sank as she followed Miss Towne’s brisk steps down the corridor. Handling normal babies was a delicate enough business, but caring for babies born at eight and a half months or earlier, or babies weigh-ing less than five pounds at birth, was immeasurably more risky. Cherry’s uneasiness grew as she entered the special room and the warm still air, kept always at eighty degrees, drowsily caressed her face. She and Miss Towne donned fresh masks.

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“Too hot for you in here?” Miss Towne asked, seeing the red creep up Cherry’s face above the gauze mask.

“It’s a bit uncomfortable until you get used to it. But you know, with these poor mites, loss of heat for even a little time can mean loss of life. See, each one has its heated incubator.”

Cherry gazed down at the tiny, tiny babies, curled up asleep in their special beds, some of them not much bigger than her two fists. One of them had no fingernails or toenails yet. Another one had no eyelashes yet. It was work for them even to breathe. Miss Towne was saying they existed on breast milk, fed with a medicine dropper.

Some of these morsels of humanity might live and some day become strong men and women, some might not survive the year. Cherry felt a wave of pity as she looked at the struggling little beings. She thought of their mothers, too.

“Would you—would you call this home-front nursing?” Cherry blurted out. The question sounded irrelevant.

She could not say what had prompted her to ask it—

this new restlessness, perhaps.

“How strange for you to say that!” Miss Towne exclaimed. “You must be reading my thoughts!” She looked searchingly at Cherry, then bit her lip.

“Why?”

Miss Towne looked embarrassed. “I hate to talk about it, and still, it’s a relief to say it out loud. The Army’s
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calling for nurses and I want to go. I’m young, I’m strong, and if I say so myself, I’m a good all-around nurse. I feel I ought to go. And to tell you the truth, Miss Ames,” she smiled at Cherry, “I’m raring to get out of hospital routine and taste some excitement!

“But,” Miss Towne looked pensively around at the babies in their incubators, “I ask myself what will become of these little creatures if I walk out on them.

Someone has to save soldiers’lives. Someone has to save these infants’ lives, too.”

“The hospital will get a nurse to take your place,” Cherry suggested.

“There isn’t anybody to take my place. You see for yourself,” Miss Towne said worriedly, “how all the young nurses are leaving here in droves for the Army hospitals.

Why, our staff here is depleted!” It was true. Cherry was pinch-hitting here right this minute, for that very reason. She remembered the extra nights she had put in on the wards a month and two months ago, because they were short-handed. Ann and Gwen had been pressed into service for extra hours, too.

Suppose—on top of this shortage—suppose there were an emergency? Not necessarily an air raid: it might all too possibly be a train wreck, a flood, an epidemic.

Where were the extra nurses to come from then?

Miss Towne set to work checking the babies’ weight and they said no more about it. Cherry worked hard and
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with concentration all that day, but she could not get the question and the restlessness out of her mind.

It shut out even the excitement of Christmas and her approaching birthday.

The Christmas gaiety was catching, though. In spite of herself, Cherry began to plan with Ann and Gwen what they would wear to the doctors’ and internes’

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