Nurse Mollie drifted in and out of patients’ rooms, checking on her charges. She preferred this time of night, grimly referred to as the Graveyard Shift. Sleeping patients required fewer nurses, allowing the cardiac ward to settle into a soothing rhythm of beeping heart monitors and measured breaths. Nurses padded softly down the halls, speaking in whispers lest they wake lonely people eager for late-night conversation.
Mollie entered Room 136 and found Mr. Gable shivering beneath his thin hospital sheet. She unfolded a cotton blanket from the foot of his bed and covered him, tucking the blanket around his feet, then his shoulders. She wrapped her hand over his, watching his heart rate drop in response and his body become still. Mollie leaned close to the elderly gentleman and caught a hint of a smile playing at his lips as he settled in to a deeper sleep. His breathing turned to snoring and, satisfied, she left.
Much had changed since her early days as a nurse, some things for the better, some for the worse. For one, St. Margaret’s now had fancy blanket warmers, which seemed like an improvement, but which Mollie could never figure out. For the life of her, she could not open its door, despite watching other nurses do it routinely. If it hadn’t been for that, she would have covered Mr. Gable with a cozy warmed blanket.
Heart monitors had certainly improved since her “green” years, and those she understood. In fact, she was so at home with the new technology, she often demonstrated their use for confused co-workers who seemed to push buttons at random. Only last Thursday, Mollie spent nearly ten minutes correcting every wrong button Nurse Lewis pushed on Mrs. Hardacre’s machine. Frustrated, Miss Lewis threw up her hands and called for a doctor. Mollie demonstrated the correct technique for him, as well, but he remained as stumped as Miss Lewis. After that little scene, Eugenia Hardacre demanded to be moved crosstown to Presbyterian Hospital, where her son-in-law worked in the lab. Mollie could hardly blame her.
Nurse Mollie continued her rounds, trailing John Healy into Room 140. If only her former classmates were here to see this – an actual male nurse. Who would have guessed such a thing when they started out? But Mr. Healy treated his charges with tender affection, having once explained that he preferred to imagine that each woman was his mother or sister, each man his father or brother. Wouldn’t family members deserve the best care? The other nurses, in Mollie’s opinion, could stand to learn a thing or two from him. Mollie stood back, allowing the capable young man to minister to Mrs. Crandall. He needed no assistance, of course.
“You’re in very good hands, Mrs. Crandall.” Mollie smiled and nodded toward John as he adjusted Mrs. Crandall’s IV drip. “I’ll leave you two, but please ring if you need anything.” She paused and turned back. “Mr. Healy, shall I arrange a new IV set?” John did not reply, his gaze now fixed on the heart monitor. Such a conscientious young man. Mollie slipped from the room, impressed by Mr. Healy’s focus.
She rounded the corner and collided with Dr. Gomez, sending a thick stack of papers flying, then fluttering to rest at his sneaker-clad feet.
“For Pete’s sake!” he sputtered and stooped to corral the mess.
“Let me.” Mollie knelt to assist, but their efforts were so poorly synchronized, they could have been mistaken for actors in a vaudeville show. Every time Dr. Gomez reached for a paper, Mollie snatched it first – not on purpose, of course, but her eagerness to help proved most unhelpful. Dr. Gomez thrust his arms out left and right, back and forth, coming up empty on each attempt. Mollie couldn’t help but laugh – this otherwise dignified man appeared to be the victim of a game of Twister gone horribly wrong. Finally she delivered the clump of paper into his hands.
Dr. Gomez stood and thumped the stack onto the central desk. “I’m going to bed,” he announced to no one in particular and stalked off.
Red-faced, Mollie hid in an empty room. She covered her eyes and laughed into her hands, picturing Dr. Gomez on all fours, slapping at the floor like a madman. The door burst open, interrupting Mollie’s reverie. An orderly wheeled in a gurney bearing a plump older woman. The patient’s pink cheeks glistened as she breathed heavily, despite doing nothing more taxing than riding in a bed.
Immediately, Nurse Mollie regained her composure and began drilling the orderly for information as Miss Lewis joined them at the patient’s side. Mollie’s questions were answered, though not in the order she’d asked. She reached for the clipboard. Miss Lewis grabbed the charts first and Mollie made a mental note to have a private discussion with the young woman on the subject of insubordination. Who here did not know that Nurse Mollie ranked as the most senior member on staff?
Rankled, Mollie stood back and crossed her arms, observing Miss Lewis, ready to leap in and take charge at the slightest hint of incompetence. They would not lose another patient to Presbyterian on her watch; of that she was certain. As Miss Lewis tended to the woman with confidence and calm assurance, Mollie had to admit the young nurse possessed intangible qualities that could not be taught in school. In fact, her only current failing appeared to be an unprofessional manner of dress. Like most nurses these days, Miss Lewis wore “scrubs” in electric colors and childish motifs.
Mollie smoothed her starched white uniform and straightened her cap, the same uniform and cap she’d worn at graduation many years ago. She tsk-tsked at Nurse Lewis’s purple scrubs covered in orange pumpkins and black cats. Miss Lewis swiveled in Mollie’s direction and stared, then turned back to her patient. Shamed, Mollie busied herself reading the doctor’s instructions. Something seemed familiar about this plump, pink-cheeked woman, although she couldn’t place her.
The patient’s chart read “Wahl, Caroline Marie.” Impossible. Well, not impossible, but highly improbable. Two women named Caroline Marie Wahl in their town? In a big city, perhaps – but here? Mollie lifted the top sheet and read the admittance form. This one listed Mrs. Wahl’s emergency contact as “Herbert James Wahl, husband.” Mollie’s throat dried and constricted, her pulse quickening as she wondered how she failed to recognize her own daughter. It was age, of course. Mollie’s daughter could not possibly be as old as this woman appeared – that would make her older than Mollie herself!
“How are you feeling, Mrs. Wahl?” Miss Lewis asked, brushing white curls off the woman’s forehead.
“Better, now. I just want to sleep.”
“Everything looks fine, so I’ll leave you to it, but I’ll have to wake you in an hour for vitals and another blood draw.” Miss Lewis reached for the door handle.
Mrs. Wahl cleared her throat. “My mother used to work here, you know. Nurse Mollie Honeycutt.”
Miss Lewis smiled at her patient and nodded. “I’ve heard of your mother. She’s legendary on this ward. In fact, some of the staff are convinced she’s still on the job.” Miss Lewis winked at Caroline and left the room.
Mollie moved to her daughter’s bedside as Nurse Lewis shut the door. She placed one hand on Caroline’s arm and the other against her cheek. Then she leaned down and kissed her daughter’s forehead.
“Mama!” Caroline cried out. Tears seeped from beneath her eyelids and trickled down her temples. “Mama, I need you.”
Mollie curled up on the bed next to her daughter and cradled Caroline in her arms, rocking her gently. “I’m here, baby. I’m always here.”