White Sheets, White Lies

The neon white hospital beds stuck out from the grey foam floor of the hospital, making them look like rows of mushrooms reflecting the glare of the cold rising sun. Jan and Steve Loxton stood at the entrance of the ward, staring like zombies at the lines of beds and bustling nurses. The hospital was busy, and three nights without sleep meant that everything in the ward was starting to merge into a shifting haze.

I can’t see her. Are we in the right ward, hun? Jan looked at her watch, as she considered the possibility that she and Steve had arrived too early to collect Laura, but couldn’t focus on the hands of her watch, which also seemed to have gotten lost in the thickening fog, as the sun flared through the ward’s curtains and lit the rising dust so that there seemed to be a wall between Jan, Steve and the rest of the patients in the room.

This is it. They’re probably just checking her cast and making sure she’s good to go. Steve peered into the bustle and tried to catch the eye of one of the nurses, who was passing a small plastic cup with pills in it to a stirring patient. Sorry, we’re looking for our daughter, Laura. She’s being discharged today, we’ve come to collect her. The nurse, a quiet lady in her forties nodded, let me get the ward doctor for you. Stay here. Jan sighed, didn’t that nurse seem anxious to you? I guess they’re all so over-worked now that they probably don’t ever get a good night’s sleep. She smiled at Steve, I’m glad she’s coming home. Binx will be glad to see her as well. Should we tell her that he’s been dating her fluffy slippers whilst she’s been away? Steve and Jan laughed for the first time in three days; no, let’s make that our little secret.

When the ward doctor finally appeared, it dawned on both Jan and Steve that they had been waiting for some time. Steve suddenly felt frustrated; are you the ward doctor? Yes, I am, my name’s Dr Sinha. We’ve come to pick up our Laura, but she’s not here. We were told she would be ready to go home. What’s going on? The doctor, who was clutching a clipboard, pulled the clamped papers closer to his chest and straightened a little at the tone of Steve’s voice. I’m afraid you won’t be able to take her home today. We need to do some more tests on her arm. But you’ve put it in a cast. What can you do now? Jan instinctively reached out to stroke Steve’s arm. No, Jan, where’s our daughter? Furrowing what looked like his entire body, the doctor’s reply was curt; you can’t take your daughter home today. Please come back tomorrow. We’ll have more information for you then.

Can we see her? Jan managed to ask, despite the overbearing finality of the doctor’s reply. I’m sorry Mrs Loxton, that won’t be possible. The ward now seemed to be listening to their conversation and the haze which had separated them from the patients and nurses in the room suddenly lifted. The doctor, sensing the sharp closeness in the room, cleared his throat; let’s talk about this somewhere more private. Mr and Mrs Loxton, follow me please.

Leading Steve and Jan into a consulting room in the hospital on the same floor, Dr Sinha closed the door behind them and motioned them to sit down. The table was large and the synthetic wooden surface felt clammy and cold under Jan’s wrists and fingertips. She could see Steve wasn’t going to be able to control his temper for much longer. Dr Sinha sat down opposite them and placed his clipboard on his lap, face down. It was hard to tell whether his eyes were motionless from the late shift the night before or because he had no compassion left, after ten years of tending to sick people who couldn’t wait to leave the clutches of the hospital. The fracture in Laura’s arm needs to be re-examined. We think it may be non-accidental.

Non-accidental? Steve bellowed. What are you suggesting? Steve leaned into the table. I’m not suggesting anything. All we’re saying is that the fracture needs to be looked at again. Yeah? Well, what does that have to do with us being able to see our daughter? Come on Jan.

I’m afraid you can’t. Why the hell not? Because she’s not here.