Ben woke with a jolt. He felt sure that someone had shaken the bed. The ward was very dark. It must have been the middle of the night. A dull, green light glowed in the corner.
“Hey!” The loud whisper startled him. It was coming from right underneath him.
“Who’s that?” Ben sat up and moved over towards the edge of the bed to investigate.
“You can’t see me. There’s no point trying.” Ben hesitated. He did not really want to look under the bed.
“They have forgotten your medicine, again.” The voice continued. It sounded like a boy, probably around Ben’s age.
“I don’t have medicine at night.” Ben whispered. He did not want to wake up any of the other patients.
“That’s because the night nurse is too busy. She always forgets.”
“No, I don’t think I am supposed to have it then.” Ben said.
“Yes, you are. You are supposed to have three doses a day. The last one is before you go to bed. Why do you think that you feel awful in the morning?”
He was right. Ben always felt rotten in the mornings. He felt sick. He was shivery. He did not want to get up. Ben’s Mum had noticed too. She said that he looked very pale, first thing. By lunchtime, he felt better and in the evening he felt fine.
“Go and ask for it.”
“I can’t do that.” Ben was too scared to go and ask the night nurse.
“Yes you can. Go and ask her. You won’t get better will you, if you don’t have your medicine?” The voice was insistent. “She is not doing anything important now.”
Ben frowned. The voice had moved. His eyes adjusted to the darkness. He could make out the other three beds in the room. Their occupants appeared to be sleeping soundly. He looked around. He couldn’t see anyone else.
“Go on! Go and ask for it!” The voice demanded. Now, Ben was sure that it coming from inside Mathew Matthews’ bedside cabinet.
Ben slid cautiously off the bed and straightened slowly. His tummy was still painful after the operation and it was uncomfortable to move around.
“Hey!” The voice was beginning to annoy Ben. He looked suspiciously at the small cupboard next to Mathew’s bed.
“Can you give Mathew a drink first?” Mathew moaned in his sleep and half turned over. He had broken his thigh and was in traction. There was an untouched plate of food on his tray. Beside it, were a full glass and a nearly full jug of water.
“What? Now? At this time of night!” Ben exclaimed.
“He hasn’t had anything to drink all day. He will get dehydrated.”
Ben went over. Mathew was only half asleep. Ben put his arm around Mathew’s shoulders to help him up. He brought the glass of water to his lips. Mathew took an initial sip then drank the rest gratefully. Once he had finished, Ben let him lie back down.
* * *
“I think you have forgotten my medicine.” Ben approached the nursing station nervously. Sister Sandra Salter looked up and frowned.
“I don’t think so.” She spoke confidently and quietly.
“I haven’t had any tonight.”
“No-one has medicine at this time in the morning.” Sister Salter glanced at the clock. “Do you know that it is 3 o’clock?”
“I was supposed to have a dose before bed . . . my antibiotics.”
“I don’t think so.” Sister Salter looked back down at the notes she was writing and waited for Ben to go back to bed.
Ben shivered. He was about to turn away. The fluorescent light flickered and there was a loud electrical crackle. He thought he heard an irritated whisper, from up near the light. Sister Salter looked up and muttered to herself.
“Will you just check my chart?” Ben asked.
“Can’t you see I’m busy?” Sister Salter spoke with a hint of annoyance. She hated being interrupted while she was working.
“It won’t take a minute. Just check it for me . . . please.”
Sister Salter tut-tutted. She got up and went to get the folder of drug charts. She flicked quickly through them.
“Ben Brenfield . . . here we are . . . right, let me see . . . 10pm . . . nothing . . . nothing . . . oh, hang on . . . Cephalexin mixture 500 milligrams . . .” Sister Salter looked up
at Ben. “ I’m very sorry. You are right . . . and look . . . you didn’t have it on Tuesday night, either.”
Sister Salter went through to the fridge and found Ben’s medicine.
“Here we are . . . Cephalexin 500 milligrams . . . that’s two teaspoons.” She carefully measured out the medicine. Ben swallowed it.
“Right, back to bed then. We won’t forget tomorrow night.” Ben thanked Sister Salter and started on his way down the corridor.
* * *
“Hey!” The voice was overhead. Ben looked up impatiently. He was tired.
“Can you check on Nina Newington for me?”
“I want to go to bed. I’m exhausted.” Ben started walking more quickly towards his own bay.
“It won’t take a second. She is in a lot of pain.”
Reluctantly, Ben went over to Nina’s room and opened the door. She had left her night light on. Nina was awake. She was crying quietly and holding her tummy.
Ben sat down by the bed and took Nina’s hand. She smiled briefly, then her body stiffened with another sharp spasm of pain. She started sobbing loudly.
“I’ll get the nurse.” Ben reached over to the call-button and pressed it.
“I’ve tried. It doesn’t work.” Nina was right. There was no sound when Ben pressed the button.
“Don’t worry. I’ll go and get Sister Salter.” Ben hurried back to the nurses’ station and explained that Nina was in a lot of pain. He was pleased to see that Sister Salter got up and came to see Nina straight away.
Ben sat with Nina until the doctor arrived and gave her a strong, painkilling injection. Shortly after that, she fell asleep.
* * *
“Hey . . . Hey!”
Ben groaned as he woke up. “I have had my medicine tonight.”
“I know, but Colin Coleman has fallen in the toilet. He can’t get up.”
“Why don’t you go and help him?” That seemed the obvious solution to Ben.
“What do you mean? You can’t?” Ben raised his own voice slightly.
“I just can’t. I don’t know why.”
“Listen . . . who are you . . . and what are you doing here?” Ben peered into the darkness but could see nothing.
“I am a boy like you, I suppose. I just keep an eye on things.”
“Are you a patient? Are you ill?” Ben continued.
“Haven’t you got anything better to do?” Ben could not understand why the boy was here, in the hospital.
“No, not really.”
“Haven’t you got any mates to hang around with?”
“Well, aren’t you and I friends?”
“No.” Ben answered the question very quickly. He frowned.
“Look, I’m sorry for bothering you. I thought you could help Colin get up.”
“It’s not my job to pick people up.” Ben pulled the covers over his head and shut his eyes tightly.
“What is your job then?”
Ben was exasperated. “ It’s pointless trying to explain anything to you. I meant that picking patients up is the nurses’ job. I don’t have a job, obviously. I am too young.”
“Everyone else is busy. Just go and have a look. He’s stuck.”
Colin had been injured in a car crash. He had been knocked out and had fractured his skull. He had also bruised his knee. He was quite unsteady and he limped badly. He kept falling over. He was supposed to get one of the nurses to take him to the toilet, but was usually in too much of a hurry and tried to go on his own.
Ben was annoyed that he had had to get out of bed for the second night in a row. He made his way slowly to the toilet.
Colin was lying on the floor laughing. “My flipping knee gave way again. I can’t get up. Give us a hand.”
“You should have called the nurse,” said Ben abruptly.
“They’re busy. They’ve got an emergency.” Colin explained, cheerfully.
“Well, you’re an emergency now!”
“Not really, I haven’t hurt myself.”
“Come on, then.” Ben took Colin’s hand and pulled him up. It was a bit of a struggle because Colin’s foot kept sliding on the slippery floor. Eventually, he managed to stand up. He steadied himself against the door frame.
“They say this dizziness will settle in another week. I keep asking about my knee, but no one will tell me what’s wrong with it. They only seem interested in my head . . . are you still having headaches . . . do you feel sick . . . can you see double . . . they ask every day, twice a day sometimes.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“They are just checking for brain damage, that’s the most important thing.” Ben explained.
“If they sorted my knee out I wouldn’t keep falling over,” said Colin.
Ben helped Colin walk back to his bed.
“Thanks Ben,” said Colin. “I’m sorry I got you up.”
“That’s alright. Look, let me know if you want to go again. I’ll help you.”
Ben walked around to Nina Newington’s room and quietly opened the door. She was sleeping comfortably. On his way back to his own bed, Ben stopped by Mathew Matthews. Mathew had eaten some supper tonight and drunk half a jug of water. He was still awake and he grinned. Ben stuck his thumb up.
* * *
“You look better, today. Doesn’t he Bernard?” It was visiting time, and Ben’s Mum and Dad were sitting by his bed.
Bernard Brenfield nodded his head in agreement.
“I feel much better.” Ben’s colour had improved. The shivering had stopped. He was getting stronger.
“I have been very worried about him.” Mrs Brenfield looked anxiously at her husband.
“You worry too much, Brenda.” Bernard Brenfield had been very concerned himself but, in general, he preferred to hide his feelings. “Anyway, he is a lot better now. He should be able to come home soon.”
“I was still worried, Bernard, and you never know with Halloween Hospital.”
“I have always thought that it was an entirely proficient hospital.” Bernard Brenfield reassured his wife. Several of his relatives had been patients in the hospital over the last few years. “I have seen nothing wrong with the children’s department since Ben has been here.”
Ben hadn’t told them about the missing doses of medicine.
“What about that little boy who died last year?” Brenda Brenfield said this very quietly. She looked over her shoulder to make sure none of the staff were nearby.
“I am sure that was a few years ago, Brenda.” Bernard spoke in his normal loud voice. He had no qualms about being overheard.
“Maybe it was the year before last.”
“What happened to him?” Ben asked, looking up from his magazine.
“I don’t think we should tell him, Bernard. It is too upsetting, especially while he is in hospital.” Brenda was ready to change the subject.
“Don’t be silly, Brenda. Ben is a young man now. You can’t keep treating him like a child.”
“I can’t remember the details, myself” Brenda spoke quickly. “What would you like to do when you come home, Ben? We thought we might go out for a nice meal.”
“I remember reading the story in the local paper,” Bernard continued, ignoring Brenda’s attempt to distract Ben. “It even reached the nationals. What was his name?” He paused to think and rubbed his chin. “I think he was a welsh lad . . . yes . . . Ryan . . . Jones . . . that’s right. He was twelve years old: a year younger than you, Ben.” Bernard looked up at his son. “Ryan had been in Halloween for a week before he died. He was in this very ward.”
“What happened to him?” Ben asked. “Why did he die?”
“I am not sure what was actually wrong with him,” said Bernard, “but I think it was his kidneys. Apparently, he wasn’t being monitored properly and they let his drip run too quickly. He was overloaded with fluid. By the time they realised, it was too late. It said in the paper that they had “drowned him” in saline: that’s salt and water.”
“Didn’t they sack some of the staff, Bernard?” Mrs Brenfield interrupted anxiously.
“Yes they did, Brenda. They sacked one of the consultants and suspended a nurse.”
“Oh Bernard, what a terrible tragedy!” Mrs Brenfield gasped. “What would we have done if Ben had died?”
“Mum, don’t be stupid!”
“Brenda, these things happen from time to time in every hospital. It does not mean that Halloween is worse than any other hospital. I remember Dr Dennis saying to me that,
if there was one thing that he had learnt in all his years as a general practitioner, it was that diseases are there to catch us out. Illnesses are not straightforward, Brenda.”
“That was because he completely missed your gallstones, Bernard. Didn’t he say you had wind?”
“Yes, but the symptoms are often very similar.”
“I said you had gallstones from the very beginning, Bernard. It stated that quite clearly in our Atlas of Family Health. But, you wouldn’t listen to me and neither would Dr Dennis.”
“You know how much he hates it if relatives interfere.” Bernard knew from experience that it was one of those things that particularly irritated Dr Desmond Dennis.
“Why don’t you tell Ben what else he said?”
“Yes, he said I came to see him too quickly after the symptoms started. I had not given the illness time to develop properly.”
“Bernard, that is ridiculous, completely ridiculous.” Brenda Brenfield was shocked every time she heard this story. “The sooner you see the doctor the better. That seems obvious to me.”
“My feelings exactly, Brenda.” Bernard Brenfield seemed resigned to agreeing with his wife on this particular point.
“I am sure that you would not have had half as much trouble with those little gallstones if Dr Dennis had sorted them out straight away.”
Bernard Brenfield looked offended by this comment. “Two of them were quite large, Brenda.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Bernard. I think I am getting your gallstones muddled up with Mrs Lewis’. All of hers were small. They disappeared on their own.”
* * *
The last two days of Ben’s stay in hospital were uneventful. There were no more night-time disturbances. Nina Newington improved quickly and was discharged home the day before Ben. Colin Coleman remained unsteady, but made good progress. Mathew Mathews was moved to the orthopaedic ward. A new boy, Barry Barrat, was admitted to Mathew’s bed. He was suffering from pneumonia.
* * *
“Right, have you got everything?” Brenda Brenfield had come to the hospital to pick Ben up.
Ben felt strange about going home. He had hardly been off the ward for two weeks. He felt apprehensive.
“Yes, I have got all my things ready.” He tried not to let his anxiety show.
“Your spectacles?” Ben’s Mum liked to double-check.
“Yes, I said I have got everything!” Ben was beginning to get impatient.
“Have you said goodbye to all your friends?” Brenda asked.
“What about the new boy?”
Ben looked over at Barry Barrat. “No, he’s been asleep all morning. I don’t really know him, anyway. He only came in yesterday.”
“He looks very ill.”
“Yes, he has got a serious case of pneumonia. I heard the doctors discussing him this morning.”
Barry was sleeping heavily. He looked hot and flushed. His forehead was wet and shiny with sweat. He was breathing quickly. He had been restless and his oxygen mask had slipped down
Ben went over to the sink and rinsed the flannel. He moistened Barry’s forehead and cheeks with the damp cloth. He lifted the oxygen mask up so that it covered Barry’s nose and mouth correctly. He tightened the strap slightly. He switched the fan back on and adjusted it so that it blew a refreshing stream of cool air in Barry’s direction.
“He seems boiling hot.” Ben went to the bottom of the bed and picked up Barry’s temperature chart. He looked at it carefully.
“His temperature was 38°C, first thing this morning. I am sure he is much hotter now.” Ben looked at his Mum. “I think I will tell the nurses?”
“Yes, they better have a look at him,” said Mrs Brenfield. “Go and have a word with them and then we’ll go home.”