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A MEMORY BETWEEN USA Novel
By SARAH SUNDIN
RevellCopyright © 2010 Sarah Sundin
All right reserved.
Chapter One2nd Evacuation Hospital; Diddington, Huntingdonshire, England
March 3, 1943
Lt. Penelope Ruth Doherty braced open the window and drank in cool air to settle her stomach. "There, gentlemen. Isn't it nice to have fresh air in here?"
In the bed next to the window, Lieutenant Lumley snorted. "Ma'am, I'm from Arizona. To me, this soggy English air is more lethal than Nazi bullets."
Ruth smiled at her patient, who had broken an ankle when his P-38 Lightning crashed on landing. "Good air circulation is important for wound healing." And for clearing the nauseating smell of breakfast sausage from the tin can of a ward.
"Say, Red, you know what would heal my wounds?" The new patient, Lieutenant Holmes, pointed to his lips and dropped Ruth a wink.
Ruth gave him a sweet smile. "You'd like another dose of castor oil?"
"And it's Lieutenant Doherty to you." Ruth's medic, Technical Sergeant Giovanni, set his supply tray next to Lieutenant Holmes's bed. "Now, time to swab your wounds." A German shell had filled the navigator's back with shrapnel.
"Besides, her hair is more auburn than red." Lieutenant Lumley's gaze had a softer cast than usual. Thank goodness, he was due to be discharged.
"I'll be back with the morning meds." Ruth passed one of the potbellied coal stoves in the aisle.
"Ouch!" Lieutenant Holmes cried out.
"Whatza matter? Does it sting the widdle baby?" Sergeant Giovanni's voice oozed fake sympathy.
"Better not be iodine. Makes my throat swell up something fierce."
Ruth's feet stopped along with her heart, and she slowly turned to her medic. Sergeant Giovanni's burly face stretched long in horror. Of course he was using iodine.
Anaphylaxis. She needed to act quickly without alerting her patient, keep a level head, and control her emotions as she had been trained. Panic would make his condition worse.
She returned to Lieutenant Holmes's bed and put on her cheeriest smile and voice. "What would feel good on those wounds would be a nice rinse with cool water. Sergeant, would you please fetch Dr. Sinclair? I'd like to discuss Lieutenant Lumley's discharge with him." She locked her gaze on her medic. "Now," she mouthed.
"Sure thing, boss." The sergeant strode for the door.
Ruth grabbed towels from the drawer in the bedside table and braced them on either side of her patient's torso, and then gently poured water over the brown stains and dabbed them with another towel. Too late, but she wanted to reduce the amount of iodine in the poor man's system. "Now, doesn't that feel nice?"
"I'd rather have a kiss."
"And I'd rather have a million dollars, but neither is going to happen."
"I don't know about that. I can feel that kiss already. My lips are all tingly."
Ruth's hand tightened on the towel. He was going into anaphylaxis, but where was Dr. Sinclair? Only he could give the adrenaline needed to save this man's life. "Excuse me. I'll be right back."
At a fast clip, Ruth went to the medication room, where Lt. Harriet Marshall was completing her narcotic count from the end of her night shift. "Excuse me. I need to get some adrenaline and morphine. Lieutenant Holmes is going into anaphylaxis."
Harriet's elfin face blanched. "Oh no. Thank goodness Dr. Sinclair is on the ward."
"Not yet." Ruth grabbed a tray and put two sterilized syringes on top.
"So-so why are you already getting the meds?"
"I want to be ready when he comes. I can't waste any time." One vial of adrenaline.
"But he hasn't ordered them yet."
Ruth leveled a look at the girl. "I know the treatment for anaphylaxis."
"That-that's presumptuous of you. You'll make the doctor angry."
Ruth pulled a vial of morphine. "I don't care about the doctor's feelings; I care about my patient's life." She ignored Harriet's gasp and returned to Lieutenant Holmes's bedside.
He stared up at her with wild eyes. "My throat-it itches, it's swelling up. Was that iodine?"
"Yes, sir, it was, but Dr. Sinclair is on his way." She gave him her most soothing smile. "Now, let's get you in a more comfortable position." Ruth patted his back dry and helped him roll over.
Lieutenant Holmes clawed at his throat. "I can't-I can't breathe." Red hives dotted his fair skin.
"Sure, you can breathe. Stay very calm. Very calm, and think about something else. Where are you from, Lieutenant?"
"New-Hampshire." His chest heaved out the words.
Ruth filled a syringe with adrenaline. "So you're used to this cold weather, unlike Arizona over there. Me too. I'm from Chicago. In fact, this must feel warm and balmy to you."
The patient's only response was a series of raspy, labored breaths. Where on earth was that doctor? "Lord, help me," she whispered.
Ruth pulled up a dose of morphine and chattered about the way the snow filled the streets of her slum and made them look clean for a change, until the thaw made them look worse than ever. But as Lieutenant Holmes gasped for air, all she could see were Pa's last breaths as the blood clot settled in his lungs and Ma's wheezes as she wasted away with pneumonia.
As a nursing student, she couldn't help her parents, and now as a nurse, she couldn't help this young man. She glanced at the clock on the wall. If Dr. Sinclair didn't come in the next sixty seconds, she'd give the adrenaline herself.
And lose her position? As the oldest of seven, she had a responsibility to her brothers and sisters. How could they get by without her support?
Images of those beloved faces swam before her-her purpose, her joy. Why did it always have to be this way? Why did she have to choose between doing the right thing and protecting her family?
Dr. Sinclair burst through the door, his white lab coat flying, and Ruth let out a deep sigh.
"Lieutenant Doherty, get me some adrenaline."
"Right here, sir." She handed him the syringe.
He stared at it. "Three two-hundredths of a grain?"
His jaw jutted forward, but he administered the dose and followed it with morphine.
Within the course of an hour, they had stabilized Lieutenant Holmes. Ruth cleansed his wounds, replaced his dressings, and changed the wet bedding. Then she took the empty syringes and vials back to the medication room, where she dropped the syringes into a pan filled with blue green bichloride of mercury solution.
"I suppose I should be mad at you." Dr. Sinclair leaned his tall frame against the open door.
Ruth shook the pan until the syringes were submerged. "My job is to care for the patient."
"And to anticipate my needs. I'm flattered."
"Don't be. I know proper treatment."
"You should have been a physician."
Ruth shook her head. If he only knew what she had to do to scrape up money for nursing school. "Too smart for that."
His chuckles drew nearer, and Ruth stiffened. She didn't feel like fending off another pass from this man.
"I know this great restaurant-"
Ruth turned and glared at him. "How would your wife feel if she heard you talk like this?"
Dr. Sinclair lifted one salt-and-pepper eyebrow. "Come on, Ruth. There's a war on. All the rules have changed. Besides, you talk one way, but I see it in your eyes. You're just like me."
Ruth clamped her teeth together. "No, sir. I'm not."
"Heart of iron." He thumped his fist on his chest. "You have one too."
She stared into his chilly blue eyes, and the cold seeped down to her toes. How did he get so close to the truth? Long ago she'd clamped an iron shell around her heart and nothing and no one could pry it loose, but deep inside, the tender flesh still beat.
"Come on, Ruth." His gaze settled on her mouth. "Just one kiss. I can't resist those lips one day longer. You must be a great kisser."
Her insides shrank into a squirming mass. She had listened to Eddie Reynolds when he told her she was the best kisser in the whole eighth grade, with that great boyish grin and that sheet of brown hair flopping over one eye, but she would not listen to this poor excuse for a physician.
Dr. Sinclair put his hand on her waist.
Ruth's lungs collapsed under the weight of memories. She slapped away his arm. "Don't touch me. Don't ever touch me."
"Oh, come on-"
Ruth shouldered past him and out onto the ward. Her breath returned in little bursts, and white sparkles appeared before her eyes. She made her way down the long semicylinder of the ward. "Sergeant Giovanni, I need-I need a short break. I'll be right back."
"Good time to do it while the doc's here."
Ruth grabbed her blue cape from the hook by the front door and stepped outside. After she swung her cape around her shoulders, she braced her hands on her knees and forced slow, even breaths.
She couldn't work with Dr. Sinclair, but what could she do? Should she talk to the chief nurse? Would it do any good?
Ruth straightened up. Her vision was clear and so was her course of action. A discreet talk with the chief and a transfer to another ward. She just needed to get away.
She marched down the muddy road flanked by the corrugated tin Nissen huts that served as wards and into the administration building. Lt. Vera Benson's door stood open, and Ruth stepped inside.
The chief nurse held a phone to her ear. Ruth backed up to exit, but Lieutenant Benson motioned for her to sit down.
"I'm so sorry, Agnes. Already? Three nurses PWOP?" She arched a strawberry blonde eyebrow at Ruth.
Pregnant Without Permission-the easiest way for a nurse to be relieved from her commitment to the military.
"Yes, that does create a problem. I'll see what I can do. We don't have our full contingent of nurses here either, but I'll talk to the girls."
Lieutenant Benson hung up the phone. "Now, how can I help you, Lieutenant Doherty?"
"Was that another hos-I'm sorry. It's none of my business."
Lieutenant Benson tilted her head and smiled. "I invited you to eavesdrop, and yes, it's our business. The 12th Evac is setting up in Suffolk. Horribly short-staffed. Even more so than we are."
"I'll transfer, ma'am."
The chief tilted her head in the other direction. "Excuse me?"
A smile floated up Ruth's face. How often did a solution come so quickly, so neatly? If she didn't know better, she'd think God was on her side. "Please, ma'am. A transfer is just what I need."
Excerpted from A MEMORY BETWEEN US by SARAH SUNDIN Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Sundin . Excerpted by permission.
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