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In addition, there was the constant and pervasive anxiety the trainees shared about making mistakes. They all lived in fear of Sister Marjorie Drummond, of the menacing meager smile and softening of manner that preceded her fury. Briony knew she had recently accumulated a string of errors. Four days ago, despite careful instruction, a patient in her care had quaffed her carbolic gargle—according to the porter who saw it, down in one like a pint of Guinness—and was violently sick across her blankets. Briony was also aware that she had been observed by Sister Drummond carrying only three bedpans at a time, when by now they were expected to go the length of the ward reliably with a pile of six, like a busy waiter in La Coupole. There may have been other errors too, which she would have forgotten in her weariness, or never even known about. She was prone to errors of deportment—in moments of abstrac cheap max 1 tion she tended to shift her weight onto one foot in a way that particularly enraged her superior. Lapses and failures could carelessly accrue over several days: a broom improperly stowed, a blanket folded with its label facing up, a starched collar in infinitesimal disarray, the bed castors not lined up and pointing inward, walking back down the ward empty-handed—all silently noted, until capacity was reached and then, if you had not read the signs, the wrath would come down as a shock. And just when you thought you were doing well.
But lately, the sister was not casting he nike air max 1 red r mirthless smile in the direction of the probationers, nor speaking to them in the subdued voice that gave them such terrors. She hardly bothered with her charges at all. She was preoccupied, and often stood in the quadrangle by men’s surgical, in long conferences with her counterpart, or she disappeared for two days at a time.
In another context, a different profession, she would have seemed motherly in her plumpness, or even sensual, for her unpainted lips were rich in natural color and sweetly bowed, and her face with its rounded cheeks and doll’s patches of healthy pink suggested a kindly nature. This impression was dispelled early on when a probationer in Briony’s year, a large, kindly, slow-moving girl with a cow’s harmless gaze, met the lacerating force of the ward sister’s fury. Nurse Langland had been seconded to the men’s surgical ward, and was asked to help prepare a young soldier for an appendectomy. Left alone with him for a minute or two, she chatt nike air max 1 sale ed and made reassuring remarks about his operation. He must have asked the obvious question, and that was when she broke the hallowed rule. It was set out clearly in the handbook, though no one had guessed how important it was considered to be. Hours later, the soldier came round from his anesthetic and muttered the student nurse’s name while the surgical ward sister was standing close by. Nurse Langland was sent back to her own ward in disgrace. The others were mad cheap nike air max 1 e to gather round and take careful note. If poor Susan Langland had carelessly or cruelly killed two dozen patients, it could not have been worse for her. By the time Sister Drummond finished telling her that she was an abomination to the traditions of Nightingale nursing to which she aspired, and should consider herself lucky to be spending the next month sorting soiled linen, not only Langland but half the girls present were weeping. Briony was not among them, but that night in bed, still a little shivery, she went through the handbook again, to see if there were other points of etiquette she might have missed. She reread and committed to memory the commandment: in no circumstances should a nurse communicate to a patient her Christian name.
The wards emptied, but the work intensified. Every morning the beds were pushed into the center so that the probationers could polish the floor with a heavy bumper that a girl on her own nike air max 1 ebay could barely swing from side to side. The floors were to be swept three times a day. Vacated lockers were scrubbed, mattresses fumigated, brass coat hooks, doorknobs and keyholes were buffed. The woodwork—doors as well as skirting—was washed down with carbolic solution, and so were the beds themselves, the iron frames as well as springs. The students scoured, wiped and dried bedpans and bottles till they shone like dinner plates. Army three-ton lorries drew up at the loading bays, bringing yet more beds, filthy old ones that needed to be scrubbed down many times before they were carried into the ward and squeezed into the lines, and then carbolized. Between tasks, perhaps a dozen times a day, the students scrubbed their cracked and bleeding chilblained hands under freezing water. The war against germs never ceased. The probationers were initiated into the cult of hygiene. They learned that there was nothing so loathsome as a wisp of blanket fluff hiding under a bed, concealing within its form a battalion, a whole division, of b cheap air max 1 acteria. The everyday practice of boiling, scrubbing, buffing and wiping became the badge of the students’ professional pride, to which all personal comfort must be sacrificed.
The porters brought up from the loading bays a great quantity of new supplies which had to be unpacked, inventoried and stowed—dressings, kidney bowls, hypodermics, three new autoclaves and many packages marked “Bunyan Bags” whose use had n cheap air 1 ot yet been explained. An extra medicine cupboard was installed and filled, once it had been scrubbed three times over. It was locked, and the key remained with Sister Drummond, but one morning Briony saw inside rows of bottles labeled morphine. When she was sent on errands, she saw other wards in similar states of preparation. One was already completely empty of patients, and gleamed in spacious silence, waiting. But it was not done to ask questions. The year before, just after war was declared, the wards on the top floor had been closed down completely as a protection against bombing. The operating theaters were now in the basement. The ground-floor windows had been sandbagged, and every skylight cemented over.
An army general made a tour of the hospital with half a dozen consultants at his side. There was no ceremony, or nike air max 1 premium even silence when they came. Usually on such important visits, so it was said, the nose of every patient had to be in line with the center creasing of the top sheet. But there was no time to prepare. The general and his party strode through the ward, murmuring and nodding, and then they were gone.
The unease grew, but there was little opportunity for speculation, which in any case was officially forbidden. When they were not on their shifts, the probationers were in lessons in their free time, or lectures, or at practical demonstrations or studying alone. Their meals and bedtimes were supervised as if they were new girls at Roedean. When Fiona, who slept in the bed next to Briony, pushed her plate away and announced to no one in particular that she was “clinically incapable” of eating vegetables boiled with an Oxo cube, th nike air max 1 grey e Nightingale home sister stood over her until she had eaten the last scrap. Fiona was Briony’s friend, by definition; in the dormitory, on the first night of preliminary training, she asked Briony to cut the fingernails of her right hand, explaining that her left hand couldn’t make the scissors work and that her mother always did it for her. She was ginger-haired and freckled, which made Briony automatically wary. But unlike Lola, Fiona was loud and jolly, with dimples on the backs of her hands and an enormous bosom which caused the other girls to say that she was bound to be a ward sister one day. Her family lived in Chelsea. She whispered from her bed one night that her father was expecting to be asked to join Churchill’s war cabinet. But when the cabinet was announced, the surnames didn’t match up and nothing was said, nike air max 1 black and Briony thought it better not to inquire. In those first months after preliminary training, Fiona and Briony had little chance to find out if they actually liked each other. It was convenient for them to assume they did. They were among the few who had no medical background at all. Most of the other girls had done first-aid courses, and some had been VADs already and were familiar with blood and dead bodies, or at least, they said they were.
But friendships were not easy to cultivate. The probationers worked their shifts in the wards, studied three hours a day in their spare time, and slept. Their luxury was teatime, between four and five, when they took down from the wooden slatted shelves their miniature brown teapots inscribed with their names and sat together in a little dayroom off the ward. Conversation was stilted cheap air max 1 . The home sister was there to supervise and ensure decorum. Besides, as soon as they sat down, tiredness came over them, heavy as three folded blankets. One girl fell asleep with a cup and saucer in her hand and scalded her thigh—a good opportunity, Sister Drummond said when she came in to see what the screaming was about, to practice the treatment of burns.
And she herself was a barrier to friendship. In those early months, Briony often thought that her only relationship was with Sister Drummond. She was always there, one moment at the end of a corridor, approaching with a terrible purpose, the next, at Briony’s shoulder, murmuring in her ear that she had failed to pay attention during preliminary training to the correct procedures for blanket-bathing male patients: only after the second change of washing water should the nike air max 1 leopard freshly soaped back flannel and back towel be passed to the patient so that he could “finish off for himself.” Briony’s state of mind largely depended on how she stood that hour in the ward sister’s opinion. She felt a coolness in her stomach whenever Sister Drummond’s gaze fell on her. It was impossible to know whether you had done well. Briony dreaded her bad opinion. Praise was unheard of. The best one could hope for was indifference.
In the moments she had to herself, usually in the dark, minutes before falling asleep, Briony contemplated a ghostly parallel life in which she was at Girton, reading Milton. She could have been at her sister’s college, rather than her sister’s hospital. Briony had thought she was joining the war effort. In fact, she had narrowed her life to a relationship with a woman fifteen years older nike air max 1 who assumed a power over her greater than that of a mother over an infant.
This narrowing, which was above all a stripping away of identity, began weeks before she had even heard of Sister Drummond. On her first day of the two months’ preliminary training, Briony’s humiliation in front of the class had been instructive. This was how it was going to be. She had gone up to the sister to point out courteously that a mistake had been made with her name badge. She was B. Tallis, not, as it said on the little rectangular brooch, N. Tallis.
The reply was calm. “You are, and will remain, as you have been designated. Your Christian name is of no interest to me. Now kindly sit down, Nurse Tallis.”
The other girls would have laughed if they had dared, for they all had the same initial, but they correctly sensed that permission had not been granted. This was the time of hygiene lectures, and of practicing blanket-baths on life-size models—Mrs. Mackintosh, Lady Chase, and baby George whose blandly impaired physique allowed him to double as a baby girl. It was the time of adapting to unthinking obedience, of learning to carry bedpans in a stack, and remembering a fundamental rule: never walk up a ward without bringing something back. Physical discomfort helped close down Briony’s mental horizons. The high starched collars rubbed her neck raw. Washing her hands a dozen times a day under stinging cold water with a block of soda brought on her first chilblains. The shoes she had to buy with her own money fiercely pinched her toes. The uniform, like all uniforms, eroded identity, and the daily attention required—ironing pleats, pinning hats, straightening seams, shoe polishing, especially the heels—began a process by which other concerns were slowly excluded. By the time the girls were ready to start their course as probationers, and to work in the wards (they were never to say “on”) under Sister Drummond, and to submit to the daily routine “from bedpan to Bovril,” their previous lives were becoming indistinct. Their minds had emptied to some extent, their defenses were down, so that they were easily persuaded of the absolute authority of the ward sister. There could be no resistance as she filled their vacated minds.
It was never said, but the model behind this process was military. Miss Nightingale, who was never to be referred to as Florence, had been in the Crimea long enough to see the value of discipline, strong lines of command and well-trained troops. So when she lay in the dark listening to Fiona begin her nightlong snoring—she slept on her back—Briony already sensed that the parallel life, which she could imagine so easily from her visits to Cambridge as a child to see Leon and Cecilia, would soon begin to diverge from her own. This was her student life now, these four years, this enveloping regime, and she had no will, no freedom to leave. She was abandoning herself to a life of strictures, rules, obedience, housework, and a constant fear of disapproval. She was one of a batch of probationers—there was a new intake every few months—and she had no identity beyond her badge. There were no tutorials here, no one losing sleep over the precise course of her intellectual development. She emptied and sluiced the bedpans, swept and polished floors, made cocoa and Bovril, fetched and carried—and was delivered from introspection. At some point in the future, she knew from listening to the second-year students, she would begin to take pleasure in her competence. She had had a taste of it lately, having been entrusted with taking a pulse and temperature under supervision and marking the readings on a chart. In the way of medical treatments, she had already dabbed gentian violet on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on a cut, and painted lead lotion on a bruise. But mostly, she was a maid, a skivvy and, in her hours off, a crammer of simple facts. She was happy to have little time to think of anything else. But when she stood on her landing in her dressing gown, last thing at night, and she looked across the river at the unlit city, she remembered the unease that was out there in the streets as well as in the wards, and was like the darkness itself. Nothing in her routine, not even Sister Drummond, could protect her from it. ③

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