Cassandra Jones was in the last room in the Intensive Care Unit. I closed the door behind me as noiseless as I could, walking gingerly across the room where a nurse sat, fingering a white rosary with her gloved hand.
Despite the extra-large cotton gown and my rubber gloves, I suddenly felt chills down my spine and wanted to turn around and run away from the room.
I stood rooted to the spot, suddenly confused, now regretting my decision to be this girl’s nurse till the dying moment. The nurse looked up and saw me and smiled weakly, the smile encouraged me a little and I walked over to her.
“I am Sandra,” I introduced, feeling a little guilty for interrupting her spiritual meditations.
“The doctor informed me of your coming to take over, I’m Kayira,” she said, handing over a medical chart to me. “That’s hers, everything you need to know is there.”
“Let me see her first,” I said, and went over to the old enamel bed where my newest patient lay, sleeping. I lifted the cover as gently and quietly as I could so not to wake her. It was the most eerie sight I’ve ever seen and nothing had prepared me for who lay beneath those bed covers.
Cassandra Jones was wrapped in clean white gauze bandages from her head to ankle, the only uncovered area was her feet which were blackened from the effects of the fire.
I panicked; my patient was an Egyptian mummy.
“She’s not a pretty sight, right?” Kayira said behind me. She was packing up hurriedly, ready to go.
“You seem in a hurry to get out of here,” I said, irritated by her eagerness to leave.
She kept quiet for a minute and when she spoke, there was a pained expression on her face.
“I’ve been a nurse for twenty years, been here for the past seven years and believe me, this is the worst case of burns I’ve ever encountered. Kid could have had a better life, it’s better to let her go and yes, I don’t want to be here when she goes.”
Without waiting for a response, she left the room and I was left all alone.
It was a Herculean task doing Cassandra’s dressing as I was scared by what lay beneath those gauze bandages. My hands were shaking badly as I dropped the wrapped sterile basins, the irrigation sets and bottles of cold solution on the counter.
I let my eyes rove over her again, she was completely wrapped in gauze bandages, patches on her eyes, plastic tubes going in and out of her body and my panic, previously abated returned with greater force. I held the rails for support, the three monitor leads, the regular beeping of the heart monitor and the bubbling from the oxygen tank added to my plight.
I took a deep breath. It’s now or never.
“Cassandra, can you hear me?” I bent over her, she was smelling strongly of disinfectant. She nodded slowly, her chest heaving and I knew she was crying.
“Hey, I’m Sandra and I am going to be your nurse. First, let’s be friends okay?”
She nodded in response and wiggled her toes.
“I don’t like crybabies for friends, so you’ll have to stop crying,” I said.
I saw the bandages around her mouth twitch and move and I knew that she was smiling.
Whew, I breathed out. Mission one accomplished.
“Listen dear, it’s time to do your dressing, I’ll be as gentle as I can and I’ll give you pain medicine before I start okay?” She nodded again. “Don’t worry, I will not hurt you,” I added when I saw her body shaking with fear.
I gave her an injection of morphine and while waiting for it to take effect, I made small talk, while she nodded in response.