Burn Unit II

Read the first part of this story here.

There were so many things that happened the first day, so naturally at the end of my shift I felt a little overwhelmed, but not discouraged. I returned very early to the unit the next day, being polite with the nurses (since I had no intention of making enemies there), and beginning my work without wasting any time.

After checking what patients were recently discharged and admitted — some of which were still asleep, others saying good morning and asking my name — and calculating some nutritional information for their diets, I had some free time, so I took advantage of it to see Amber, the girl who had been dodgy and silent the day before. The child from the other bed in her room had already been discharged, so it was just her and me.

-Hello, your name is Amber, right?

-Yes, how do you know? — she answered with a sleepy voice.

-There’s a paper with your name written at the foot of your bed.

-And what’s your name? — she asked me with an air of mistrust.

-I am R., nice to meet you and I will be in charge of taking care of what you are going to eat for the whole month.

-But I’m not very hungry…

Little by little, she began to leave her shyness behind and told me she had been hospitalized since mid-December; all of this started when she went to the bathroom with a candle (there had been a blackout) and left it on the floor, but the candle accidentally fell on her pants, which explains the bandages on her thighs and calves. She had spent Christmas and New Year by herself in the hospital — and this was what hurt her the most — because she missed her family a lot, especially one special member of it.

-I’m going to introduce you to Pablo, my brother.

From beneath her pillow she took out a picture of both of them, together and smiling, in happier times. She could not hold back the tears when she talked about him, and how much she missed him.

-He can’t come to visit me. The hospital doesn’t allow children to visit, and I miss him so much.

I don’t remember exactly if such outburst of tenderness and sincerity happened one day in particular or as the days went by; I would go for the latter, since my memory fails me sometimes.

I usually had the most interesting conversations with the older children. I remember Ainhoa and Eduardo as well, two siblings who came from Iquitos (a city in the Peruvian rainforest) with third degree burns. Ainhoa was already 15 years old and Edu was only two years younger than her. Days later I would find out a gas leak was the cause of the explosion in their kitchen, and the parts of their bodies covered with clothes were the only ones that did not suffer burns. The accident took place during the summer.

-R., do you think they can bring me a ceviche? I haven’t eaten ceviche in a while.

-I’m going to ask Mrs. P. if it’s possible, but I’ll do everything in my power.

-Please! Please! — he asked me with a big smile. Edu didn’t lose his sense of humor despite everything.

Kelly was a cute two-year-old little girl from a district on the outskirts of Lima, who fell into a pot of boiled water, and had about 70% of her body covered with burns. She had a very sweet face and a voice that matched it. She didn’t talk much, but she was already able to say some relevant words. Her favorite phrase was “cover me”.

The rooms for the smallest children (under two years old) were located near the end of the unit. Carla and José were the eternal inhabitants of the unit, with no one to look after them except for the volunteers — ladies dressed in white and red, usually in their 40s or 50s— who went daily with donations and toys just for the two of them. Beyond their disfigured faces you could perceive the innocence and tenderness natural at that age, although certain things that Carla said some days later, would make me feel very doubtful and worried. She was a very bright child for her age, but also, she was older than the rest of the children in the room. José imitated almost everything Carla did or said.

Days later, Jefferson, a very calm and cute eighteen-month-old boy, arrived to that room; he was so cute that Marilyn, the physical therapy intern, and I, joked that “I saw him first, he is my little son and not yours “. When we had time to rest, Marilyn and I would talk a little about everything, and — oh, what a surprise — she told me she liked Mario, my classmate in charge of the Gastroenterology unit, and she thought that maybe I could be able to introduce her to him one of these days. I remember the first year we started at university, about six or seven girls in the class liked Mario, so that wasn’t something new to me. Curiously, Mario would end up “falling in love” with Jefferson as well, because the following month he would be in charge of this unit.

Dr. G. — a man in his seventies or eighties with whom I never exchanged any word apart from a polite good morning — was one of the founders of the unit, who, despite not being the official doctor in charge of it anymore, was still performing treatments and skin implants along with Dr. T., whom he despised and dealt with rudely for her apparent inexperience (she told me that he once told her “who knows more about this, you or me, that I’ve been doing this more than 40 years?”), which kept her constantly stressed and sometimes on the verge of tears, but she tried to be still standing, always with a smile.

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