Things had calmed down during the first part of the following year, with Gertrude’s forced absence from all extra-curricular activity, and the seeming turning over of a new leaf. Sonia and Jewel had kept to a regular routine of work and caring for Emerson, who thrived well and celebrated his first birthday with a cake I had baked and sent as a present from his other godfather and our family, and Jerome’s opening a bank account in his name with a generous deposit.
Shortly after the birthday, Jewel had asked me for the parcel she had put in my safe-keeping, confiding that she had heard from Lucille that it was now all right to wear the gift from her father, with Abelino’s blessing.
She had told me on that occasion, also, about Safira’s coming to stay with them and to work at the public library as a junior assistant librarian. Safira was seventeen and recently graduated from high school. Jewel had described her little sister as a bookworm who, from a very early age, had been invited by Miss Millicent to organize her father’s library when she had shown a keen interest in reading and had taken care of books loaned to her. One thing had led to another and, eventually, she had begun to participate in library training whenever the service had been offered in the district during the long vacation periods.
I was very proud and happy for Lucille and her husband’s achievements in working their way from poverty to produce children of such calibre as Jewel, Alvin and Safira, with the two others right on track behind them. Alvin had completed high school two years before Safira and, after working with his father on their milpa (farm) for a year, had been given a job at the Government Agriculture Department and offered a one-year scholarship to their training facility.
Things were looking up for Jewel and Sonia, but now that their little family had expanded to four, they did not visit us as often as before, and I missed very much having them around, especially the conversations with Jewel. Still, I saw two or more of them in church every Sunday and sometimes Jewel would drop by the house for a short visit afterwards.
At work, Gertrude took to associating closely with Jewel, one of the few people who showed her any sympathy or kindness; and, although I was uncomfortable with their growing friendship, I had said nothing about this to Jewel, trusting that her good nature might influence Gertrude for the better.
In early April, Jewel had been assigned for three months to the public health clinic on the south side of town as one of the replacements for two members of staff on maternity and long leave, and I had breathed a sigh of relief at the interruption to Gertrude’s growing dependence on her.
Because of the shortage of staff everyone worked harder than usual; and during those three months I had seen Jewel only the middle and last Friday of each month when she came to collect her pay and on Sundays at church.
One day in mid-May, after collecting her and Sonia’s pay voucher from the office, she had dropped by my work station to say hello; and had expressed surprise at learning that Jerome was operating that Friday again, after spending regular operation days of Tuesday and Thursday, as well as part of Wednesday in the theatre. She told me that Sonia, who had been granted a day off, had been so tired that she had been unable to get out of bed that morning, and that she, Jewel, had had to prepare and take Emerson to day-care for her before going to her work. Now, here was Doctor St. John operating four days in a row, and she wondered how he managed without proper rest!
Seeing her concern, I had assured her that he was quite strong and could cope; but that women, especially after the physical and emotional experience of child birth, were more vulnerable than men, hence the effect on Sonia.
When she still seemed doubtful, I had joked that he was a healthy specimen who, from boyhood days, had been athletic, kept himself fit with exercise and a healthy diet, and did not drink or smoke. In short, the good habits he had acquired for pleasure in his youth he now maintained for the very purpose of performing his job efficiently. Looking back, I thought I sounded like an advertisement, when I had merely been being “big-sisterly,” since I admired his self-discipline.
You can imagine my dismay when, three nights later while dining at our house, Jerome had expressed annoyance at an incident that had taken place the morning before when he had entered the shop at the corner of the lane, near the church, to buy a bottle of alcohol, and had found himself standing behind Jewel.
Tunny, the shopkeeper’s youngest son, had been the only one on duty and had offered to attend to him. Knowing that Jewel had been ahead of him, however, he had pointed this out and Tunny had turned carelessly to find out what she wanted. When she had asked him to please break a ten-dollar note for her, he had rudely brushed her aside with the remark that this was not a bank! Surprised at his rough manner, Jerome had taken the note from Jewel, purchased the item with it, and passed the change to her along with his dollar note. She had followed him on the way out and thanked him for his kindness; and, observing that she was on the way to church, he had lightly requested that she remember him in her prayers. He said that he had been taken aback at the cheekiness of her reply that she certainly would, as he was in need of them!
I had told him that I was sorry that he had viewed her remark in that light, but had assured him that, far from being cheeky, her concern for his well-being, in the light of his heavy operating schedule, had been her motivation, and related our conversation of the past Friday.
Acknowledging his mistake, Jerome had apologized for misjudging my protégé, and had asked my opinion as to the reason for Tunny’s behaviour towards Jewel, who was such a nice girl; and, upset by that young man’s cavalier treatment of her, I had replied that for the Tunnys of this world, “nice” was not a high enough qualification. With that young fellow’s many hang-ups, it could be because Jerome was an adult male and Jewel only a young woman; he was a doctor and she only a nurse; he was brown-skinned and she dark; he had money and she was poor; he was self-assured and she was meek; or, being female, she was just fair game!
The truth is that I did not appreciate Tunny’s patronizing manner to all females, regardless of age, when unaccompanied by a male, having personally experienced his attempts at taking hold of my hand when I passed cash for a purchase or received change from him, regardless of the fact that the hand he tried to hold had a wedding ring on its finger! To confirm my belief, I had asked Nigel one day to come with me into the shop, on which occasion the young man had displayed unbelievable solicitude and respect for someone’s wife, and the Hospital Administrator’s at that, in contrast to his usual offhand treatment of me!
Antonio “Tunny” Zelaya was the youngest of three sons of the senior Zelaya, and, named after him, had been given the nickname, (his rendition of it when he had first begun to speak at one year old), to differentiate between them.
There were eight years between the second and third child and, as often happened in a late and unexpected arrival, the youngest and last child was given special treatment. Tunny grew up to believe himself special, not only in relation to his older brothers, but to everyone else, and behaved accordingly. His father had schooled the two older sons in the proper treatment of customers, but seemed unaware of his youngest son’s deficiencies in that area. I had expressed the hope to Jerome that someone would call the attention of the senior Zelaya to the damage his youngest son was doing to his business, as I knew of others who shared my feelings.
When Jerome had commented that he was surprised I had not already done so, this with reference to my “put-to-right” reputation among him and my brothers, I had answered that I had been awaiting further evidence with which to approach the senior Zelaya, whose response to any complaint affecting good customer relations would have then been assured.
When the three months were up and Jewel had returned to the hospital compound in July, she had been assigned for six months to the combined Male Pre-and Post-Surgical Ward along with several others, including Gertrude. My heart had sunk when I had heard the news and I had had a premonition of disaster.
For the first month things had gone well, and Jewel had told me how the sister in charge had arranged for herself and another nurse to cover the left side of one of the two-roomed ward, while Gertrude and another covered the right, this being a loose arrangement to assist in controlling the rather large area.
In the following month a different sister had been in charge, who had instituted slight changes in the arrangement, with three nurses covering alternate sides of each of the two rooms, starting at different ends. Again, things had gone smoothly, although there had been some overlap, until the middle of the month when a staff nurse, who was getting married shortly, had been put in charge of the ward at night and the same nurses changed to night duty after a day off.
And here is where the trouble had begun. This staff nurse was well-known for her charm, as well as for self-indulgence, lack of self-discipline and for dodging responsibility. It was one of her habits to disappear for long periods of time without notifying anyone about her whereabouts. Additionally, she was a glamour-girl who spent most of her earnings on clothes and, thus, had been a regular customer of seamstress Gertrude, who was known to pamper and cater to her customers.
Most of the inmates in the post-surgical area of the ward at the time were at different stages of convalescence, many of them soon to be discharged, except for a health inspector who had been brought in late evening after emergency surgery.
As it happened, Jewel was working the right side of the post-surgical room while Gertrude looked after the left; and just before switching sides the health inspector had called to Jewel on her way out and asked for a drink of water. She had spoken to him explaining that he would not be given anything by mouth while he was still being medicated and fed intravenously; and after checking his temperature and blood pressure had found them both to be below normal.
Aware of Jerome’s ruling that he be contacted immediately there was any uncertainty about a surgical patient’s condition, she had brought this to Gertrude’s attention, suggesting that she call the staff nurse to deal with the matter. Everyone who worked in these wards also knew of Dr. St. John’s rule that if the senior person in charge of the ward was not available for whatever reason, the nurse dealing with the case should make the call. Thus, after updating Gertrude and receiving her assurance that she would place the call if she couldn’t find Nurse Wagner, Jewel had moved to the other end of the post-surgical ward for half an hour, then, in keeping with the ongoing arrangement, had taken a fifteen minute break.
Gertrude, after making an unsuccessful search for the staff nurse, had delayed contacting the surgeon for fear of putting her customer on the spot. In the meantime, Jerome, as was his habit, had dropped in on his patient unexpectedly and, noting his low temperature and other signs, had closed the curtain around his bed and called the nurses on hand to assist in attending to him. As if by magic, the staff nurse and Gertrude had appeared from different directions at the same time and had joined the surgeon at the patient’s bedside, so that when Jewel had returned from her short break it had been to find a crisis situation.
When calm had been restored to that area of the ward and the surgeon had left, the staff nurse had confronted Jewel, officiously informing her that she was seeing the CSO at 7.00 o’clock the next morning and that she and Nurse Atkins should see him in his office an hour later.
At about nine o’clock the next morning, Nurse Gertrude Atkins had burst into my work cubicle dramatically with the words: “I know that he is your close friend . . . or family, Sister, but I have to tell you that tha’ man no have any heart! As cool and as calm as ever, you know what he said to me? ‘Nurse Atkins, for your part in this you will be penalized by one week’s suspension without pay and banned from the surgical wards for six months!’ And why? Because I couldn’t find Nurse Wagner anywhere to get her to do her job and make a report about a patient’s serious condition; and when Dr. St. John dropped in unexpectedly he found out for himself. And who got the blame? Me! Now what you think about that! How will I make up for one whole week’s pay? You know how much frock I have to sew to earn that amount? Some people just don’t care how hard others have life! And you should hear him! Cool as ever: ‘Perhaps this will spur you to more careful attention to duty in the future,’ as if I could help it if others dodge work!”
Before I could comment, who should turn up but Jewel, in a mood I had never seen before; opening with the challenging remark addressed to Gertrude in a cold but quiet tone of voice: “I hope you told Sister the whole story; how you involved me unnecessarily in your problem by what you said to the Chief Surgical Officer. My name didn’t have to come up at all!”
From what had followed, I had gathered that when they had met with the CSO earlier, he had invited them to decide who would do the speaking. Jewel had indicated that Gertrude should speak, being then unaware that the staff nurse, in trying to shift blame from herself, had informed the CSO that Nurses Choc and Atkins had been left on duty when she had gone to consult with Matron about a problem, and had heard that the CSO was asking for her.
(Chapter 32 will continue in Friday’s Amandala.)