The final day of the epic slog came and went, according to the will of Sod’s Law.

“Morning, Frank,” says the sister, “You’re working in the big bay today. There’s just been a death – you’ll need to get the body ready for the morgue.”
“Oh,” is all I manage as the tea which has replaced my brain attempts to make sense of the situation.
“You’ll want to be quick though before things freeze as they are.”

I used to want to be an undertaker. Not so much because I have a fascination with corpses, but because I wear a lot of black, look positively miserable even when I’m smiling, and am a huge fan of the large, shiny cars which tend to lend themselves well to hearses. Even after Wednesday morning’s first encounter with a cadaver, I reckon I could do it because that’s what undertaking is all about. The body didn’t frighten me or anything, it was just pretty upsetting because the person in question had given me the biggest smile imaginable not 12 hours earlier, simply because I snuck them an extra biscuit.

Hospitals are strange places at the best of times – stuffed full of people in a sort of purgatory. They’re all waiting for something – test results, life affirmation, death, drugs, lunch breaks and the tea rounds – so it’s always unsettling when something absolute happens. Even, dare I say it, when someone is cured and goes home, there’s a strange atmosphere which follows them. Certainty isn’t what hospitals are about.

We cleaned the deceased and the porters removed the body to the mortuary – which, for those interested in zombies is actually below the biochemistry and microbiology labs – then drew the curtains around the bed space again because waiting was more comfortable than action. I’m usually of the opposite opinion and find it easier to do than to think – it’s why I love tea so much. Even when there’s nothing else to be done, you can still flick the kettle on. At work though, the longer something stays in limbo, the better. I guess that’s just because it’s normal.

Eventually the bed was needed and we set about stripping the sheets and removing all the instruments which had, until a few hours previous, been so vital to life. Grouped together, around the cot with its deflating air mattress, they looked sinister – grim markers that we had failed. Dispersed, back onto the rest of the ward, they seemed more at ease, as though we’d managed to dissipate the certainty of the ending our patient had been prey to. We made the bed, completing the illusion that no one had been there and finally, with a great deal of effort I rubbed the name from the board.

It wasn’t the death itself which was tough – it was that we had to go on afterwards. And as always with Sod’s Law, things kept getting harder – confused patients, paralysed patients, patients whose urine was dangerous to our five pregnant nurses… and on went the list. As we struggled to cope, the rest of the hospital continued to overflow into our usually sedate little ward until handover came and I fled to the quiet of my car.

I turned off the radio for the first time ever and drive home in silence, concentrating on the pool of light cast by my remaining head-lamp bulb. It was only the following morning that I managed to regain the presence of mind to assess the previous day, and collect enough of my emotions together to cry.

Nursing is not for me. I don’t have the strength to do this job without becoming callous or crazy. I have always maintained that nurses are superheroes, but I’m just not of that stock. I’m good with people – I know that much – but I’m not that strong. I’m glad I learned this now. To those who can cope, I have nothing but the deepest respect for you.

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