For just a moment, Lena stared at Jakobina with a blank look on her face. This whole night felt so unreal, and she found herself longing for her deceased brother to be at her side. Marek always knew what to do; even as a child he had been a natural born leader. She remembered fondly about their childhood in Poland, where Marek would lead her around the rural area that they lived in, showing her all his favourite hiding spots. Years later, it had been Lena showing their younger sister, Zoja, the spots when Marek had left to study at university in America. If he were here now, he would reassure her that everything was going to be fine, and Lena would not need to be brave, as he would always be there to protect her. If Zoja were here now, Lena would have to be the brave one. On her own, she was just Lena.
“Lena?” Jakobina waved her now clean hands in front of Lena's face, freeing her from her trance “Did you hear me?”
She nodded, a strand of her dark hair escaping from her high ponytail as she did so. It fell down, sweeping across her face “I saw. The man- his back-” She took a deep breath, put her half-empty coffee mug down on the counter, and pushed the loose strand of hair behind her ear “It looked like someone had ripped his flesh off. Clean off, like, like-”
Whole body trembling, she looked away from Jakobina. Had the room always been this cold, or was she just suddenly getting a chill? It felt as though someone had left all the windows and doors in the building open; a quick glance down the hall told her that the door were very much shut.
“Like what, Lena?” Jakobina glanced down the hall too, unsure of what had unsettled her.
“I don't know, it's stupid,” She shrugged her shoulders, pulling her arms close around her. The tight white lab coat stretched at the seams, and Lena was sure she felt it tear “We should be helping, they need everyone they've got.”
“No- what were you going to say about the man?” Jakobina pressed on, her accent even thicker now she was slightly nervous. Her father had once told her that she had a way of getting people to talk, even if they didn't want to. Most of the time, she supposed it was because she was quite an intimidating woman- almost six foot, slightly overweight with short, choppy black hair and a very thick German accent. Puberty hadn't been kind to her, and her face was covered in deep scars from where she'd picked at her acne as a teenager. Lena found her eyes staring up at the scars when she turned to face the woman.
“It was as though- as though something had taken a bite out of him.”
The two women stood in silence for a couple of seconds before the atmosphere was once again unsettled by the arrival of a man in a suit. He peered round the door, and when he spotted Lena and Jakobina standing idly in the middle of the room he stepped in. Jakobina recognised him; Lena did not.
“Sorry to disturb, but your presence is requested in the- Oh, I don't know the English word for it. The little room with the chairs where families sit?” Lena guessed the man was Danish. She also could not remember the English name for the room, nor the French. Both her and the Danish man looked to Jakobina for her input.
“Waiting room?” The man nodded, and Jakobina flashed him a quick smile, revealing a gap where one of her front teeth should have been “I didn't know you were working today, Albin.”
“I wasn't meant to, but I rushed in as soon as I heard what happened. But really, they have asked for you two in the waiting room.”
The three of them left the kitchen, and Lena realised she still had her plastic gloves on. She quickly peeled them off, revealing the cut she'd made with the scalpel earlier. A small, crimson drop of blood splashed onto the blue tile beneath her feet, but she didn't stop to dwell over it. There were people dying that needed her attention, she figured. She'd been nothing but useless so far.
They entered the waiting room which was to the right of the kitchen, down another long hallway. It was a brightly coloured place, littered with toys for the children and magazines for the adults. Someone had knocked over the box that held the magazines, and they were strewn over the floor. One lay open to reveal an advert for an upcoming horror film; how appropriate.
Stood on one of the chairs, towards the back of the room, was Henri Du Gruy. He was the chief doctor, and Lena was surprised he wasn't working in the operation theatre- he was probably the most skilled person here.
After clearing his throat to quieten the room, he asked “Anglais ou Français?” The room responded with a soft murmur of both languages “I'll settle for English, then. I would first like to thank you all for your hard work so far, but there is a lot to do. So far only one patient has died, and I would like it to stay that way. Currently, eight patients are in the operation theatres undergoing surgeries that will either kill them, or save them. I would like it to be the latter. We will be working on skin grafts; you all need to get out there and help. Even if you are not properly qualified, just be of assistance. Talk to the patients, assure them it will be okay,” Henri pointed a finger at someone close to him “Cassidy, you will be in charge of the phone, along with Mr Clark there. Don't be persuaded by any press. Do not let them know what we are facing yet.”
Lena wondered why two doctors had to be in charge of the phone in a situation as critical as this, but she knew Henri must have his reasons.
“Ms Bryk?” Lena looked up at the mention of her name; she'd found herself staring at the fresh cut on her finger, irritating the skin by picking at it “I need you to stay with the fireman.”
“The man with the burnt hands- the one who keeps shouting. You have experience with those kind of patients, do you not?”
She nodded, though she was not wholly sure of what he meant. Those kind of patients? Patients who were conscious despite the severity of their injuries? He was right; she did have experience, but that didn't mean she wanted to be the one tending to him. Jakobina reassuringly rubbed Lena's shoulder with a firm hand.
With a slight harshness in his tone, Henri instructed Lena to go to the ICU ward, on the second floor “He will need constant care, Lena. Don't leave his room. I trust you.”
Why do you trust me? She thought to herself as she pulled away from Jakobina's grip and left the waiting room. Granted, she had always been the one people looked to when there was extreme injuries such as the one's the fireman had sustained, and she was very good at her job, but every night she would break down crying over what she'd seen. The boy with his face cut in two haunted her dreams almost every night too, with his one remaining pale blue eye hanging from its socket. Lena closed her eyes momentarily as she turned right towards the stairs, and the boy's face flashed behind her eyelids. She winced.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs, she paused for a moment before allowing her eyes to settle on the door that lead to the ICU. Across from her, the lift doors opened and a team of nurses wheeled a gurney out, another crispy patient curled up on top of it. The smell wafted over to her again, and she retched. Though it made her feel guilty, she wished death upon all the poor souls who's skin had been blackened by the explosion. Their quality of life would never be good again. Perhaps the fireman could heal from this, physically. Mentally, she wasn't so sure.
He was shouting now, and Lena took a deep breath, the scent of burnt human flesh once again ramming its way down her throat. This is your job, Lena, She told herself before approaching the door. Her fingers gripped the cold metal handle, and it took a further few seconds for her to build up the courage to actually open the door.