“Dr Ndlovu… Dr Ndlovu, please report to the Trauma Ward,” the intercom sang just as Nono’s pager went off.
She silently told herself to move but just couldn’t seem to lift her feet off the ground. She was drawn to the figure sleeping peacefully on the Intensive Care Unit bed. He was being treated for a gunshot wound. Male, black, age estimated twenty-eight. Patient 343.
The police had brought him in two weeks ago, without an ID, and he had been sleeping ever since. There was a nurse attending to him. She was talking to him, softly, and gently dressing his head wound with a fresh bandage.
You don’t deserve the attention you’re getting, Nono thought to herself as she watched. She could feel her body warming up with rage and her head was starting to pound.
The intercom sang her name again, bringing her out of her reverie. Nono blinked and her eyes burned; she had been staring at him for too long. She turned and headed for the Trauma Ward. She was relieved to get away from patient 343.
“What do we have here?” she asked when she got to her patient.
“Female, twenty-four, hit and run accident. Trauma to the head, rib cage possibly bruised. She is in pain,” said the assistant nurse.
The girl was supposedly twenty-four but to Nono she looked sixteen. She couldn’t help but wonder why the girl was lying. The patient was fidgeting under Nono’s glare as she stood putting on her gloves.
“What’s your name?” Nono asked.
“Angela,” she answered through a stiff jaw.
It was hard to tell what she was really saying so Nono had to repeat it for clarity. I won’t waste my time asking about the broken jaw, the bruises on her face; I won’t even ask about the blue eye, Nono thought to herself as she touched the young woman’s face.
“Hit and run, huh?” Nono mumbled under her breath. The girl shifted again, uncomfortably, and moaned from the pain she was feeling.
As Nono examined the ribs, she found that two were broken. A tear travelled down Angela’s left cheek, and it was hard to ignore. Nono knew for a fact that those were the signs of a beating, not a car accident. Looking at her bruised face Nono could feel her pain. She closed her eyes trying to focus… but suddenly an image of a man laughing came to her mind, causing her to jump.
There he was, patient 343, laughing and mocking. Nono tried to shake the thought out of her mind but couldn’t. She closed her eyes.
“Ouch!” the girl cried. At her voice Nono’s eyes popped open. She realised she was putting the bandage on too tight. She stood frozen, staring blankly at the girl. The assistant nurse was looking at Nono like she had almost killed the patient.
I need to go home. I can’t do this, Nono thought.
“I can finish up with the patient, Dr Ndlovu,” the assistant nurse offered, as if she was reading Nono’s thoughts.
Nono gave her orders, not wanting to look incompetent in front of a patient.
“Give her 250 milligrams of Paracetamol, bandage her head and organise for her to have a chest x-ray.” She paused, noticing the nurse’s shocked face. What am I forgetting? Nono asked herself. “Get one of the Angels to come examine her. Maybe she’ll tell them who was ‘driving the car’,” she added as she tossed her gloves in the bin and walked off.
Nono went to the cafeteria to buy some water: she hated the taste of hospital water and she needed a quiet place. It was late afternoon and there would be no-one in there. She headed for the vending machine, the girl’s bruised face still fresh in her mind. Why had the patient lied about the ‘accident’? Nono wondered. Maybe she had been raped and was afraid, she reasoned.
As if prompted by the thought, patient 343 sprang into her head again. Nono closed her eyes and tried to fight the image, but couldn’t. She was getting angry because she was not in control of her head-space.
As a reflex, from frustration, she punched the vending machine in front of her with her right fist. The pain surged through her body in a weird mix of adrenaline and fear. She punched it again, harder this time, and again and again. Her knuckles started bleeding.
“Are you OK, doc?” a nurse asked, looking quizzically at Nono. “Wooh, you’re bleeding. Yiza, let me fix that,” she said, leading Nono to a counter.
As she cleaned Nono’s hand and bandaged it gently, Nono noticed that the nurse was avoiding making eye contact. And at that moment she realised that it was the same nurse who had treated patient 343, with the same care, gentleness and precision.
“Stop it!” Nono yelled, pulling her hand away from the nurse. “How dare you touch me with the same hands that touched him, that… filth?”
Nono walked briskly to the reception desk to log off. She needed to get out of there, fast. She picked up the roster for the next day and almost screamed when she saw it. Her main duty for tomorrow was ICU!
That can’t be! I have to treat him? I have to take care of him, treat him back to life?
“No!” she shouted as she threw the chart on the counter and walked away.
As she stood by the elevator she could feel eyes on her back. Nono turned and saw the assistant nurse who was helping her with the ‘accident’ patient earlier. She was talking in whispers with another nurse. Stop being paranoid, Nono told herself as she looked away.
“250 milligrams! Can you imagine? She almost killed the girl with an overdose!” the assistant nurse said to her friend.
“Thank goodness you were there, mngane. She’s been messing up lately. I wonder…” They stopped talking when they realised that she was looking at them.
I almost killed a patient, Nono thought as she stood alone in the lift. She looked at her bandaged hand and knew she couldn’t face Phillip. I can’t face anyone, she thought as she took the bottle labelled ‘Panado’ from her purse. It was filled with Ambien sleeping tablets.
Tell us what you think: What is the connection between Nono and patient 343 in ICU? Why is Nono so disturbed by him?