To Save a Life

I sat down on the bus, avoiding eye contact with anyone. I fingered the collar of my nurse’s uniform nervously. I was always heckled whenever I caught the bus, but with my car out of service I had no choice. The first few stops were alright, the bus filled up quickly. Well, as full as it could be with all the coronavirus happenings. 

I sighed with relief as I stepped off the bus, I had experienced some nastier encounters travelling to work on public transport. I had actually been spat on once, which is ironic when you think about it, considering they were shaming me for ‘spreading the virus’. I did notice however that no one moved to sit in the seat that I had, although there were several people standing up. This hurt, but I brushed it off as I walked through the glossy double doors into the hospital. I had been through worse. 

After I had put on my safety gear, I raced up to the top floor. I was late. Again. I crossed my fingers and hoped that Martha wasn’t on registration today. She would be raging if she found I wasn’t on time. Luckily, Ella was manning the desk, and said nothing as I scrawled my name at the bottom of the page (amending the time a little), although she did raise an eyebrow. I shrugged apologetically and headed into the patient wing.

I was one of the workers treating patients with coronavirus, front line to look after the poor people suffering from this disease. It was hard work, they all required round the clock care, so I delved straight into it. Checking the ventilators, pressing cold cloths to feverish foreheads and administering medicine. I worked overnight shifts at the hospital, so I continued to work as the sun sank low on the horizon, until it had disappeared entirely.

As I worked in the night, I never left the wing. I stayed by the patient’s sides as they tossed and turned in the night. I soothed them whenever I could but they only tossed more and their groans were waking other patients. I had a brainwave. As I went about my rounds, I sang. I sang lullabies my mum once sang to me, I sang choir songs that I had heard snatches of from the music hall across the street, filling in the bits in between, and I sang songs that I made up on the spot, about grassy fields and pale blue skies, of crackling fires and autumn leaves. 

Even the most feverish in the wing seemed to visibly relax, and I continued to sing all through the night, until the first rays of dawn shone through the cracks in the blinds, and another nurse came to relieve me from my post.

I turned my key in the door and it swung open. Once inside, I kicked my shoes off and slammed the door behind me. It took all my energy to put away the groceries, and then I was suddenly in bed and asleep.

It feels like I’ve only been asleep for a couple of seconds when I open my eyes, but the alarm clock next to my bed proves that I was out for a good six hours. I stifle a yawn as I stretch and grab my phone. I’d missed a FaceTime from my girls by a few minutes so I called them back, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes as the phone rang.

They picked up after a few dials and all the sleepiness went out of me in a rush as I looked at my darling daughters. I had sent them to live with my sister during this coronavirus epidemic. I couldn’t risk them getting sick from me since I spend most of my time at the hospital treating coronavirus patients. 

“Hi Mummy!” They chorused.

“Hi girls. How are you doing?”

“Really good!” Said my energetic nine year old Mia, jostling her elder sister for possession of the phone. Her beaming face filled the frame, she looked a lot like a painting, with her curly yellow hair, bright blue eyes and gap toothed grin.

“Aunty Helen has been helping me with all my homeschooling and it’s really fun! Yesterday we did a cooking show video and I made pizza! And today we did a writing thing and I did a drawing of a butterfly! I mailed it to you all proper with a stamp and everything! We also did maths which was boring.” She stuck out her tongue.

I laughed at this onslaught of information. I loved Mia’s energetic chattering, and missed it so much.

“Thank you Mia, I’m sure your drawing is beautiful. I can’t wait to get it.” I said. “I have to go back to work soon so can you hand me over to your sister for a moment?”

“Sure!” There were a few blurry moments and then I was staring at my twelve year old Anna. She looked the spitting image of her sister apart from the heart shaped birthmark on her left cheek.

“Hi sweety.” I said. “How was school?”

Anna shrugged. “Normal. I had to write a three page paper for Humanities by this afternoon though.”

“What!” I said, outraged. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I know! And he has to mark it all so I don’t know why he would do that. It’s not even a proper assignment.”

I shook my head solemnly and we both giggled. I loved Mia’s craziness, but it was refreshing to have down to earth conversations with Anna once in a while.

“How about you?” She asked. “How are things at the hospital?”

This time I shrugged. “Normal. I just go about my rounds, no one’s died yet thank goodness.”

“It seems like you’re doing a good job then.”

I shrugged again. “Seems like it. Listen, I have to go, tell Helen that I send my love and I will try to call her later okay? Okay, bye! Love you so much!”

That was how my days went for some time. Working and sleeping and calling my girls was all I ever had time for other than eating of course. I discovered that singing helped the patients immensely so I continued to do it, I became quite good, and people started requesting songs. It was a simple life, and I had not yet caught coronavirus, though I was careful not to stand too close to anyone regardless. My car was still unable to be fixed, so I endured hellish bus rides with people shifting away and muttering just a touch too loud. The highlight of my day was my FaceTime with Anna and Mia, and soon my fridge was cluttered with colourful pictures and drawings.

I had a conversation with Anna once when I was so tired I could barely stand.

“You look so tired mum.” She had said. “Couldn’t you take one night off?”
I shook my head. She didn’t realise how important this was to me. 

“Why do you do this if it makes you so tired?”

“To save a life.” I said. “To save a life is one of the best things you can do. Too many people are dying from this. I want people to have their sister or cousin or grandfather to come back safe and well. I won’t let any more families sit down at the table with an absence caused by coronavirus.”
She dropped the subject.

And about two weeks later something amazing happened. I answered the incoming call from Mia and Anna to see them bursting with excitement.

“Mum-” Began Anna.

“Mummy you’re famous!” Interrupted Mia. “You’re all over the news!”

I was dubious, but I flicked on the TV and tuned into the news channel. There was an interview going on with a coronavirus patient. 

“She really saved my life, she truly did.” He said. “I wouldn’t have made it without her constantly checking up on me every time I moaned, working tirelessly through the night. These nurses have been, and are going, through such an ordeal, I was so surprised that she managed to stay so well tempered.”

I was still skeptical, though less so, but continued to listen.

“It was the singing that really got me through.” He continued, and my ears perked up. “She had the most beautiful voice, and it never cracked, never wavered, she sang all through the night and it calmed me right down. I never managed to thank her, I was released before I could, but I managed to get her name. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this but I would like to share it with everyone.”

I tensed with anticipation.

“Her name was Elizabeth Lampp.” He said. “And if you’re watching this right now Elizabeth, thank you. Thank you so much, I wouldn’t have survived this disease without you.”

A picture of me flashed up on the screen. I looked down at my phone in disbelief.

“See Mummy!” Said Mia. “You’re super duper famous!”

“Mum.” Said Anna. “Why didn’t you tell us you were treating the Senator?”
I was speechless. “I-I didn’t know he was the Senator. His name seemed vaguely familiar but I never saw his face in the dark.”

“You’re amazing Mummy!” Cried Mia. 

“Thanks darling.” I looked at the clock. “I have to rush off now, but I’ll call you later. Bye!”

When I sat on the bus, I was still reeling with all that had happened that day that I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. It was only when I stepped off that I realised no one had glared, or stared, or done anything mean.
And no one ever did again.


 

These stories were written in our Factory Feedback program, which was created with, and generously supported by, the Dusseldorp Forum.