It took a week to turn this installment out. My goal is to write two more installments, finishing this chapter, by Monday night next week (which conveniently is a holiday for me.) If I can do that, it's still possible to finish Volume One in January. If not... It's likely to spill into February.
Today's installment returns to Natalie, who is studying to become a Red Cross nurse in Russian Ukraine, despite difficulties both with one of the doctors instructing her and Madame Luterek.
After this chapter, there will be three shorter, one installment chapters to wrap up the volume. Those will take us to the end of 1914. However, keep in mind that this is Volume One of a trilogy. I have the next to volumes, and be assured that there is a clear end. This will not turn into one of those "trilogies" with five and counting volumes. But we have a ways to go. When I close this volume, as preview I'll put up the teaser summary for Volume Two.
Kiev, Russian Ukraine. November 19th, 1914. “Sestritsa, a drink of water.”
The soldier’s face was red and flushed against the white of the pillow case. Natalie pulled back the cuff of her wool dress and pressed the inside of her wrist to his forehead. Hot. Infection was setting in.
“Sestritsa, please!” His voice was hoarse, little more than a whisper.
“I’m sorry.” She took his hand and felt him squeeze back tightly. “It’s still another day until you can have water. I know it feels terrible, but the drip they give you every morning will keep you hydrated.”
This last clearly meant nothing to him. He shook his head and licked already chapped and bleeding lips.
“Water. Please, Sestritsa.”
She felt his forehead again. Yes, very hot. The long ropes of intestine which Doctor Natov had so carefully clamped and stitched at each perforation must still have become infected, and if this soldier was like the others who took infection after such an operation he would likely die within a few days. And yet the instructions were strict: no food or water to be taken for seventy-two hours after the operation to give the intestine time to heal.
The bottles of saline solution would keep his body from dehydrating; it was the lack of something to wet his mouth that was causing his misery. Natalie fetched a few squares of gauze from the bandaging supplies, dipped them in water, and gently wrung them out.
“Here.” She put the little wad of dampened gauze into the soldier’s mouth. “Suck on this. It will help you feel better.”
She sat and held his hand. His mouth and throat were working, drawing what little moisture there was from the gauze.
“I know it’s hard, but try not to lick your lips. It only dries them out more.”
The soldier nodded, continuing to chew and suck on the gauze.
What harm would there be in giving him water if the fever was already setting in? He would feel better now and he would be dead in a few days anyway. But no, she must not allow herself to think that way.
Gradually the soldier subsided and his eyes began to close.
“Let me have it back, soldier. You don’t want to choke on it.”
He turned his head and let the wad of gauze fall from his mouth, then settled back into the pillow. Natalie picked the gauze up and took it to the waste bin, then continued her progress down the line of beds in the enlisted men’s ward. Some needed to use a bedpan. Some needed a drink of water. Some needed to be shifted on their beds to relieve cramps and prevent bedsores. Each man needed some little task for his health or comfort. And all the time she was glancing at the clock, waiting for two-thirty when the time she hoped for and dreaded must come.
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