16. Self Inflicted
"I should be upstairs saving lives and instead I'm here wasting my time here talking to you" the consultant harshly chided. "I'm needed in surgery helping patients who don't deserve to be here" he continued.
"We're picking up the pieces of your self-inflicted mess and that's not fair."
The staff and patients within earshot of the ward could not help listening in to the consultant's angry tirade. They cringed with embarrassment on behalf of the petite and ghostly white girl who looked the angry doctor straight in the eyes with a contemptuous stare. She seemed completely unmoved, which only enraged him further.
The consultant briskly walked off. Everybody in the vicinity had stood spellbound, watching the scene unfold and there was a moment of hesitation before anybody started to move around. It was deathly quiet before people resumed talking again. A male nurse who had been hovering near the girl's bed now came over to replace an empty drip bag. He studied her face.
"He doesn't know what he's talking about. I didn't choose to come here" said the girl.
"He's very good at his job. He's very respected in this hospital" the nurse replied.
"I don't dispute that. But I didn't want to come here and take up anybody's valuable time" she said.
The nurse stopped what he was doing and looked at her.
"The police brought me here. It wasn't my choice. I didn't want to come."
The nurse wanted to tell her to keep her voice down, but he knew that it would be hypocritical, given that the consultant had launched a loud verbal assault on the silent girl. She hadn't spoken a word to contradict him. In fact, they had never spoken. He had read her notes and marched into the ward to give her a lecture. The other staff were quite sympathetic towards this fragile creature who had been so apologetic that she had ended up in hospital.
Lara had to put two canulas into the girl's pale skin when she arrived on the ward. Inside the crook of her arm and down the length to her wrists, there were scarred track marks and pus-filled abscesses. Lara searched the back of the girl's wrists but couldn't find a single vein that hadn't collapsed.
"I'm sorry. That hasn't worked. We'll have to try again" Lara said as she pushed the thick needle of the canula into a vein in the girl's ankle.
"It's fine. Don't worry. I'm sorry it's so hard. I'm used to it" the girl said.
Lara knew that it must hurt, but the girl didn't make a sound, even when she slightly flinched with pain.
"I bet she can't feel a thing" muttered one of the other nurses to Judy, the ward manager. They were watching through the glass from the corridor.
"She detoxed in intensive care. She's probably in a great deal of pain and discomfort" said Judy with a stern look at her colleague.
The hospital was a fairly nonjudgemental place. Even when the radiographers would gossip about the strange objects that they had seen on X-rays, that had been inserted into mens rectums, there was still a lot of sympathy amongst the staff and sensitivity for the feelings of the patients. "Imagine shitting that out" Anne cackled, talking about a toy car that a man had "accidentally sat down on" and had been unable to remove himself.
On a general ward, those who stayed for any considerable length of time were the geriatric patients. The patients Lara looked after either got better and were discharged, or they got worse and were rushed off to surgery or intensive care. The old people took a long time to recover and had multiple health problems as their aged bodies slowly shut down and died. Young people were a relative rarity on the ward and there was something shocking about seeing somebody unwell when they had their whole life ahead of them.
The young girl on Lara's ward had been admitted with pneumonia, septicaemia - blood poisoning - as well as a number of infected abscesses. She had hepatitis B and C. She was HIV positive. Her blood borne diseases were not affecting her health but would severely shorten her life expectancy. This shocking prognosis was at odds with the defiant and beautiful patient who seemed so strong despite being critically unwell.
As an emergency admission, the girl was still wearing the same clothes that she had been when the police had brought her to hospital. Her thickly applied make-up was still plastered to her face. Her short skirt, boob tube, mascara, black eyeliner and bold lipstick unmistakably identified her as a sex worker. Her uncovered arms betrayed the fact that she was an injecting drug user, but the men who picked up street walkers wouldn't notice or care about such things.
"Do you want me to find you some pyjamas?" Lara asked, trying not to stare at the small scars all over the delicate flesh on the underside of the girl's arms.
"Only if it's no trouble" the girl replied with a grateful smile.
Rummaging in one of the store cupboards, Lara managed to locate some pale green pyjamas and a pair of beige disposable slippers wrapped in cellophane.
"Here" said Lara. "I'll put these on this chair and we'll get you unhooked from all this stuff when that drip bag is next empty" she said.
A drip fed into the canula in the girl's ankle. She had a blood pressure cuff and oxygen level monitor attached to her arm. A machine pumped fluids into her body. A catheter bag hung below the bed, half full of urine. The tentacles of cables and tubes spread out from the white sheets of the bed where she lay, to the surrounding machines and equipment.
Changed out of her clothes and into clean hospital-issued pyjamas, the girl had managed to quickly clean her face in the bathroom. Her complexion was unhealthy but she was clearly very young. Without her makeup, she was just a helpless sick child.
"Are you OK in there?" Anne asked. "Lara, is that you?"
Anne was stood outside the ladies' staff toilet. She had heard somebody sobbing inside. Lara emerged sniffling and dabbing at her eyes with toilet paper. Anne looked around to make sure nobody had noticed them, while Lara fussed with her handbag and tried to walk away as if nothing had happened.
"Whoa there girl! You're not going anywhere. We're going to mine. No arguing" said Anne.
Lara had stifled her sobs as they exited the building and headed to the nurses' accommodation block. It was the end of their shift but Lara had obviously been locked in the toilets for some time because the rush to leave the building had quietened down.
No sooner had Anne closed the front door of her studio apartment behind them, Lara burst into tears again.
"What's wrong? Is it that girl in ward D?"
"She.. she... she's so young" Lara snivelled.
"Yeah. Heartbreaking" said Anne in a flat tone.
"But she's got nobody. Did you hear the way Osborne spoke to her?"
"Well, he's got a point. Nobody forced her to start taking drugs" Anne said, pouring out two large glasses of white wine.
This made Lara sit up and stop crying, although her eyes were still filled with tears.
"That's such a cliché. You think she's to blame for her own problems? You think she chose everything that's happened to her?" asked Lara.
Anne sat down on the sofa next to Lara and handed her a glass.
"No. I'm sure she was abused as a child. I'm sure she was raised in foster care. I'm sure she's had a hard life. I just mean, some kids turn out alright and some don't. They're not born with a crack pipe in their mouths" said Anne.
Lara knew that her friend wasn't being harsh. It was no use for them to wallow in misery over every tragic case that crossed their path. Anne was being supportive and kind by looking out for her and giving her space to talk about this girl away from work, even though she was challenging Lara's sympathetic stance.
"I don't think it's as simple as Doctor Osborne makes out" Lara said, taking a gulp of wine, still unable to look her friend in the eye.
"He shouldn't have spoken to her like that. He was shouting. Everybody heard him."
"Yeah" said Lara weakly.
"I bet he feels bad about it now. He was just mad because it's so tragic that she's messed her life up so badly at such a young age."
"He's not her dad" said Lara.
"Yeah, but he probably feels a bit protective, like a parent. Like you say, she's got nobody."
"There were people from social services, the police, addiction support workers. They're all worried about her. Lots of people want to see her get better. She doesn't seem at all afraid about how sick she is."
"You know this is her third hospital admission this year? Doctor Osborne is as worried as anybody" said Anne.
"You can't lecture somebody like that" said Lara, catching her friend's eye now.
"You can't get so personally involved. I bet that's why you were crying, wasn't it? Because you didn't want to leave her and go home"
"Yeah. Everybody is judging her. Because she's a junkie and a prostitute" replied Lara, starting to cry again.
"It's not your battle. You can't save her. All you can do is make her as comfortable as possible while she's on the ward"
"During my shift" said Lara.
"Yes, that's right. During your shift. You have your own life too."
"Can I sleep on your sofa tonight? I want to get drunk" asked Lara.