Wednesday, January 18, 2006


In the winter of last year I worked in Florey with a nurse called Bianca. She was, and there is no other word for it, sweet.

What do I mean by that?

She laughed a lot. She had a discerning wit and a subtle sense of humour - i.e.: she laughed at all my jokes.

She seemed to genuinely enjoy working with patients - she laughed with those who laughed, mourned with those who mourn. I think I saw her cry once (she was the nurse who was with when we sat with Mrs Rose, the woman everyone loved and in whom we discovered cancer).

And she was a good nurse. Petite, blonde, smiling, she could calm the raging psychopath and convince the child to put the hissing mask over his face, and she helped old ladies onto the commode with as much dignity and courtesy as anyone.

She did get a little bit of hassle from the other staff - she was congenitally unable to swear, and referred to certain parts of the anatomy by euphemism: "a man in cubicle seven with a lump in his thing", "a woman in thirty three with a rash over her parts". But I could sympathise with the whole 'made to look silly by religious upbringing' thing, and emergency medicine can be a weird place for people who are a little shy. We liked working together.

I last saw her at Terry's going away morning tea. Terry was one of the older nurses, been in the ED since the early eighties. Nurses in the ED are either old school or new school, he was definitely amongst the old. Fifty years old, a lay preacher for some benign and respectable Anglican group, prematurely grey (his wife, cancer of the pancreas, five years ago, never quite the same since), putting the word 'doctor' at the end of every sentence unless you stopped him. Slower now than he had been, he had decided to leave before he was pushed.

"I can't keep up" he told me once. "All these new young things, reading ECGs and blood gases and stuff. I'm too old to learn that stuff."

Anyway, Terry leaves (big card, small but much appreciated gift), and a few weeks after that Bianca goes. She waas going to travel, go to the outback, work a bit in the remote hospital, Alice Springs, north Queensland, that kind of stuff. Terry went up to radiology nursing (sitting behind a desk all day, reading fishing magazines) and when they were gone I missed them.

And then today I bumped into Charmaine, one of the new breed. Never had much time for her, to be honest, nor she for me, but today she grabbed me and pulled me into a corner, eyes glinting.

"Guess who I saw at Alucard's?"


"The restaurant. Terry and Bianca. Having a meal together!"

I widened my eyes.

"Staring at each other like two lovebirds. Holding hands!"

"Bloody hell" I said, despite myself. Because Terry while a decent sort, was at best distinguished looking. And Bianca was officially hot, and had fled from both Dr Fauces the aristocratic surgery registrar and Brad, the eye-candy male nurse who was on some kind of tastefully nude calendar when he was in Brisbane.

"And you know where they met? You know where they go every week?"

I shook my head.

"The Coroner's Court. The Coroner's Court. I am not making this up. Every day off. Make a day of it together."

There was a pause. I tried to imagine the scene - both of them, holding hands where the judge won't be able to see them, sitting through the almost unbearably morbid findings:

"The said Court finds that Derek Andrew Leong aged 21 years, late of 100 Sauron Terrace, Mordor, died in the aforementioned hospital on the 21st day of October 2003 as a result of a result of neck compression from hanging, complicated by mixxed Diclofenac and Buproprion toxicity..."

"...was admitted to the Royal on 8/11/03 after her daughter found her nearly drowned in her bath after taking alcohol and mirtazepine. About 3 weeks prior to this she had found the body of her ex-husband after he had shot himself and then later had to identify the body. She has a medical history of..."

Her daughter states 'When she was out of my sight I heard a funny noise, a thudding noise. I ran inside to find her hanging onto the side of the table, in the kitchen. There was blood on the floor. I tried to help her stand but her legs were not working, they could not hold her up..."

"Professor Scourge stated that Dr Fomes failed to perform an adequate physical examination, as he apparently paid no attention to the deceased's abnormal vital signs. These included a raised temperature and a pulse rate of one hundred and fifty..."

And so on. Most people who end up in the coroner's court pass through an Emergency Department.

For a start, I reckon good on them. Thirty years different, beauty and the at-best-distinguished, more power to their right arm. Seeing beneath the surface - I don't get into the gossip much, but I might ask Dr Fauces how things are going the next time I see him.

And I like the thought of them, the demure, beautiful Bianca and the respectable, dignified Terry, sitting holding hands in the coroner's court, listening to tales of unsufferable tragedy, eating lunch together.

But it makes me think how wrong you can get someone, how you can be misled by big blue eyes and flaxen hair, or a steel-grey beard and a soft voice. You can underestimate people in the same way that Dr Fauces did, think they are the sum of their physical characteristics. Forget thatt these people are highly trained nurses, who have chosen to work in what one surgeon a few days ago called "the cauldron".

I don't know. The whole gore thing, can't really explain it to my satisfaction. I don't know if it's this need for emotional stimulation, if it's some kind of cognitive extreme sport, if it's some voyeuristic dependence on things graphic and intimate, a pathological addiction to emotional and medical pornography. I've always been a bit suspicious of why people do medicine.

But I suppose it needn't be bad. If people like that have it, have that dependency, then it can't be all bad.

No real conclusion here, but...

I miss those two. I might even pop down to the coroner's court one time to see if they're there. And I'm glad we had Terry and Bianca, and I'm sad we lost them, but I suspect the bond has not been totally severed. I think that the coroner's court is them keeping in contact.

Thanks for listening, and sorry about the last post...



Blogger Foilwoman said...

Alucard's?* Do they serve your choice of A+, B-, AB, or O? It's right next to Utarefson's? Up the street from Chez Spike and Cafe de Barnabas Collins?

It's wonderful. Yes, Bianca was probably trapped in the "officially hot" guise, and has a lot more to her. It's always neat when you get a glimpse at the actual person behind the mask.

And why the apology for the last post?

*Sometimes (not often, but sometimes) I'm bright enough to pick up on your references.

3:51 AM  
Blogger Chade said...

Love and Tragedy, with a pinch of hope. Sounds like a great recipe.

9:19 AM  

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