Night Nurse

polls_florence_nightingale_lady_of_the_lamp_1903_146468_answer_1_xlargeI loved a man whose wounds gaped so wide no sutures could close them. So deep that poison forever festered in their hollows, distilled in those dark crevasses. Some recent, some very old, and so many that he spent his time counting them, his dreadful possessions. He gathered them together and forged from them bright armor, with fever for its shine, secured with the outrage of his nerves and the sinews of his jaw.

For years, I worked away at the metal carapace. I noted each wound and gave each its due. Named them in my own tongue, and wept over them. I worked to close them, to knit them, to pour cleansing daylight into those festering caves. I was a true and patient nurse.

And then I saw a new wound made – barbaric and infinitely deep, right before my eyes. I saw the sword that cut into the form, saw its bright blood well, its gaping meat split wide. I did not step back horrified. I did what I have always done: staunched as best I could, kept faithful vigil, gave the comfort I could give.

There are a thousand poignant stories of patients who fall in love with their nurses, and of nurses who fall in love with their charges. Don’t believe them, you clever young thing of tender heart. They are lies told to keep the stupid and the tired at their posts.

Take advice from this old and disillusioned thing: once you take up the basin and the sponge, you become the night nurse always and forever. You will not sleep, your feet will make no sound upon the corridor of another’s heart, your ministering hands will always come back empty into your lap. You will only exist when you are required.

And if you, sister, in your turn, are wounded, or when the infection finds in you a new host, no one will sit vigil over you, or wipe your brow. Night nurses die at dawn.

Pick another profession.

  9 comments for “Night Nurse

  1. September 12, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    You speak truth. But none will listen. It’s the way of it.

    • September 12, 2014 at 7:04 pm

      The idealization of nurses, like teachers, inherit their difficulties from the portraits of nuns who served those occupations historically. They are represented as callings, and of course, they are. They are not pursued for the monetary recompense for which other professions are taken up. But there is an unspoken believe that the people who are ‘called’ have no needs, suffer no wounds of their own.

      • September 12, 2014 at 11:59 pm

        Having been a nurse for a certain amount of time, this is incredibly accurate. In the hospital setting, nurses are the caring workhorses. We keep the patients going well beyond what the body wants to do. The funny part is for all we do we are expendable, lack personhood, and should give because “isn’t that your job?” For all my love of it, it’s thankless, degrading, tiring, and frustrating.

        But that’s not what everyone expects to hear.

  2. September 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    There will always be a disconnect, however artificial, between the wounded and their nurturers, much like the abyss that is assumed to exist between masochists and sadists . . .yet all of us straddle those lines, however unconsciously. Funny how the weak are praised for being strong while the strong are condemned if they show weakness.

  3. Davy
    September 13, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    Stunning prose. Having the enormous grace that is my own night nurse, I am called to wonder: Is it unjust? Is there remedy? Is there reward?

  4. Street256
    September 29, 2014 at 11:29 am

    are you not glad it is only for a night?
    well written and deep.

  5. Pearl
    June 14, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Beautifully written…

  6. Garret Brinkerhoff
    July 17, 2017 at 10:04 am

    In the 1970s I read a story in an anthology of pulp fiction entitled Night Nurse (or some variant). The narrator is a man who has just survived a serious auto accident who forms a relationship with his night nurse and comes to believe, with her help, that his accident was actually a murder attempt carried out by his wife in cahoots with his auto mechanic. The case against them seems utterly convincing. He may even have formed a plan to run off with the night nurse (I don’t remember). All his conjecture turns out to be a paranoid fantasy that eventually unravels. It was a great story, beautifully executed that stays with me to this day. I would love to be able to track this story down and would be very grateful to anyone who recognizes the plot and can direct me to the correct author and story name.
    gbrinkerhoff@comcast.net

    • July 24, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      This is not ringing any bells for me, but it sounds like a bloody fantastic story. Hope someone gives you a title!

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