(This story came to me in a dream last night and I just had to write it! Please correct me if my French is wrong! I have left translations at the bottom)
Lena had been making herself a cup of coffee when they arrived.
It was the beginning of the night shift, something Lena still hadn't grown accustomed to yet, and she relied on strong coffee to get her through it. Though this job had been a dream come true for her, she still wasn't used to it. Sometimes, she had to take a quick breather in the form of a cigarette break, just to get back on her feet. Working as a nurse could be tough, especially when you were tending to the kind of injuries you only ever saw in films. But she always made it through the day, often collapsing onto her bed into a cacophony of night terrors when she returned home.
“Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait.” She yawned to Gaspard, a man who had started work at the same time as her. He was rifling through the cupboards where the coffee Lena very much needed was kept.
Gaspard stepped back “Ah, Désolé Lena, vas-y!” Scratching at his head, he turned to look out of the staff kitchen, down the hall. Dozens of nurses and doctors were suddenly running towards the double doors that lead out into the ambulance dock. There was a sense of emergency in the air, and intrigued, he tapped Lena on the shoulder and pointed down the hall.
“Où penses-tu qu’ils vont?”
With her limited knowledge of the French language, Lena simply shrugged and responded in her best attempt at an accent “Arrivée d’urgence?” before taking two spoonfuls of rich smelling ground coffee beans and dropping them into her cup. Gaspard, with his pale green eyes, was still staring down the hall, watching as even more staff- people who weren't even medically trained- rushed out of the doors. A man whom he recognised, a junior doctor named Émile, came running up the corridor towards the kitchen where Gaspard and Lena stood.
“Que se passe-t-il?” He called as Émile approached the door “Où vont-ils??”
The junior doctor had an expression plastered on his face that Gaspard could only describe as absolutely horrified. Lena turned round with her freshly made coffee and saw the expression too. It had been the expression her own face had made on her first day here, when she'd had to administer anaesthetic to a boy who'd somehow fallen face first onto a live chainsaw. For weeks afterwards, all she saw when she closed her eyes was the split open skull that hadn't stopped screaming the whole way through the operation. Both of them now knew why everyone had been running towards the ambulance dock.
“Toutes les infirmières sont nécessaires, maintenant. Allez, allez!” The urgency in his voice terrified Lena, enough to make her slam her coffee onto the counter without even taking a single sip. She pulled at Gaspard's arm as she brushed past him.
“Allez!” She urged him, and he snapped out of his slight trance. Were either of them ready to face whatever had arrived out there? The look on Émile's face had told him no, but Lena practically dragged him out of the kitchen. The hallway seemed to stretch out for miles ahead of them as they quickened their pace. There was a feeling, set deep inside Lena's stomach, that she had only ever felt twice before. The first time was when she saw that poor boy with his face split in half, and the second when she'd received the phone call that her brother, Marek, hadn't survived the fatal bus crash that also took the lives of several important Polish politicians. Marek had been working as a secretary for the prime minister at the time, and had been so excited about it. The feeling in her gut was bringing back memories Lena had tried to repress months ago. Suddenly, she couldn't bring herself to push open the doors and came to a halt right in front of them. Gaspard pulled his arm away from Lena's grip and went to open the door himself.
Lena stood still as Gaspard made his way out into the dock and over to several of the doctors and nurses who were already there. She watched as an ambulance, with it's siren blaring, backed up next to one that'd arrived just moments before. A team of paramedics flung open the doors and lowered the ramp in the fastest time she'd ever seen, and two gurneys practically flew out of the back. From where she was standing, Lena could barely make out what she was seeing. All she knew was that whatever it was had been completely burned. She wasn't even sure if it was human.
It was then that the stench hit her nose. It was unlike anything she'd every smelt before, and she could only compare it to someone leaving several sausages on the grill at maximum heat for hours and hours. But even that description didn't come close to the scent that forced it's way down her throat.
“Dégagez le passage!” Came a voice from outside, and Lena jumped to the side of the hall, making way for the first gurney. It slammed through the doors with a force she'd never seen before from the doctors and nurses here, and she found her eyes glued to the shrivelled and blackened body of what must have been a young girl. What was left of one, anyway. Lena saw her chest rise as the gurney turned the corner towards the operating theatre. She was still alive.
A second gurney slammed through the doors, and the man laying on this one had significantly less burns than the girl. In fact, the only place Lena could see that had been horrifically burnt was his hands. They didn't even appear as hands any more, just the charred remains of bones. The man was conscious, and he was screaming out in English.
“THE LITTLE GIRL STAYS WITH ME! THE LITTLE GIRL STAYS WITH ME!”
Gaspard burst his way through the doors after the man “Lena, fais-toi utile!” He commanded, pointing after the gurney which had now turned to corner towards the operation room. Lena looked at him, pleadingly, with her eyes wide. She was just a nurse, newly qualified too; she couldn't even attempt to tend to wounds like the ones she had just seen. But she nodded to him, noticing the third ambulance that had parked beside the previous two. She couldn't bear to see any more victims, and so she turned and ran after the man and the little girl.
The operation room smelt worse than the hallway, and Lena instinctively grabbed a cloth mouth guard from the hook on the wall and pulled it onto her face. The man was in the far corner, with four doctors around him, and the girl was in the middle of the room under the bright light, with at least seven around her. Lena almost couldn't bring herself to leave the comfort of the wall, but told herself that this was her job; to save people. Or at least try.
She couldn't bring herself to even look at the poor girl, so she set her eyes on the man and crept across the room, hand shaking as she pulled on a pair of plastic gloves from her pocket. The material slapped against her skin, echoing throughout the room. No one paid attention to it, and Lena doubted anyone even heard; they were, of course, too busy attending to the wounds. The man's eyes were wide open, and Lena found her self staring directly into them as she approached the gurney. He tried to raise his arm towards her and his mouth contorted in pain.
“The little girl stays with me.” It came out more like a whisper, this time, and he winced on almost every word. His tone was so desperate, and as Lena drew closer to his side he repeated himself again “The little girl stays with me.”
With out a second thought, she placed a hand on his shoulder and responded “I promise.” Her English was a lot better than her French, and her Polish accent was almost undetectable. The man nodded and then let his hand drop limply to his side. Lena could see a strip of gold that had melted itself into the skin that remained on his right hand; a wedding ring. One of the doctors turned her head round to Lena and said something in French. Lena stared back at her blankly, not having the willpower to translate it in time.
“Scalpel, hand me the scalpel!”
Lena fumbled with the tray that sat next to the gurney and finally picked up the scalpel, handing it to the doctor, but not before pricking the end of her index finger on the sharp blade. The pain didn't phase her, because she was too preoccupied with the pain that seemingly radiated from the man. It wasn't just physical, but mental and emotional too. It was taking up a large amount of her effort to stop herself from simply breaking down in tears, or throwing up. She hadn't even noticed the three more gurneys that had arrived in the now overflowing room, and as she turned her head she was reduced to a gasp. The people laying on the gurneys were even more burnt than the girl who was still breathing in the middle of the room. Their chest's heaved under charred and cracked skin, and eye's rolled back into their heads as they screamed out, exposing more than Lena wanted to see. She spotted Gaspard in the far corner of the room and made her way over to him, careful not to bump into any of the doctors who were busy trying to save at least one life.
“What happened?” She choked, unable to comprehend any French in the moment. It took Gaspard a moment to respond.
“Gas explosion,” His English pronunciation was not the best, but Lena could understand him just fine “In the hotel, few miles from here. Fifteen survived, thirty four did not. It blocked all the roads to the bigger hospital. We don't have enough, er, supplies.”
More doctors rushed into the room, white coats flowing around them like capes. There was no more room for any gurneys in here, and they were shouting in French about death. Gaspard translated it for her.
“If any are dead, get them out of here. We need more room.”
Almost immediately, the doctors working on the young girl started shouting for people to move out of the way. They hadn't been able to keep her stable; her burns were too severe. The man in the corner screamed at the top of his lungs. It didn't sound human, a blood curdling, banshee screech that turned the heads of everyone in the room. He tried to sit up, struggling with the tubes that were keeping him alive, but his hands were useless- just bones. The doctor pushed him down onto the gurney but he fought back, some how managing to swing his legs over the side and onto the ground.
“THE LITTLE GIRL STAYS WITH ME!” He cried out, his words bubbling in his throat. A spurt of blood sprayed from his lips onto the floors as he tried to stand, and the doctor desperately tried to pull him back up. His knees buckled underneath him and Lena saw that his injuries were worse than she'd first thought. The flesh on his back had been almost completely torn off- something that didn't fit with the rest of the injuries caused by the fire- and it exposed several bones that were sticking out from his spine. Lena was surprised he was even able to move, let alone heave himself off of the gurney. He kept shouting, trying to crawl across the floor after the girl.
“THE LITTLE GIRL STAYS WITH ME! THE LITTLE GIRL STAYS WITH ME!”
Gaspard left Lena's side and hauled the man back onto the gurney himself, his white coat now dampened with blood. The man tried to hit back at him but his hands would not co-ordinate with his brain. Lena couldn't take it, and she made her way out of the room, squeezing past more patients that she didn't dare look at.
The kitchen was void of any staff and she slipped inside, ripping off the face mask as she did so. Her coffee was on the side still, cold now, but she let her hands wrap round the familiarity of the cup in an attempt to comfort herself. It had all happened so fast, and she could barley comprehend it. She took a sip of the cold coffee and rested her back against the wall. They were fine without her in there, she reassured herself, she was just a nurse, newly qualified and not ready to deal with complicated procedures like the skin grafts the doctors had already begun.
A woman walked into the room as Lena took another sip of coffee. Her name was Jakobina, and she was German. They'd studied at nursing school together. She looked exhausted, and her hands were slick with blood. Fumbling with the taps, she tried to rid herself of the stains that covered her hands, the water running in red swirls down the drain.
Lena worked up the courage to say something “What's going on out there?”
Jakobina, her hands still under the tap, twisted her head round to face Lena “There's fifteen of them, all being worked on. The only death so far is that little girl,” Despite her thick German accent, her English was almost impeccable due to several years spent abroad in Britain as a child “But they don't just have burns, Lena, they have injuries I've never even seen before. Whole pieces of flesh missing. Gone.”
Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait --> Excuse me, please
Ah, Désolé Lena, vas-y! --> Ah, sorry Lena, go ahead!
Où penses-tu qu’ils vont? --> Where do you think they're going?
Arrivée d’urgence --> Emergency arrival
Que se passe-t-il? --> What's going on?
Où vont-ils? --> Where are they going?
Toutes les infirmières sont nécessaires, maintenant. Allez, allez! --> All nurses are needed, now! Comeon, come on! (Alternatively Allez could mean "go!"
Dégagez le passage --> Clear the passage
Lena, fais-toi utile! --> Lena, make yourself useful!