She hadn’t slept well. Driving to work in a trance, she didn’t see the road; she didn’t see other vehicles on the road. All she saw was the map of her life with no exit route. Her job was structured to work four days in people’s homes with her community care patients and three days in the local hospital. She was on her way to begin a full day shift.
She went to the staff room and exchanged the usual greetings without any awareness of anything that she said. Smoothing down her uniform out of habit, she made her way to the nurse’s station for the shift handover. Charts and papers were thrust into her hand as Debbie, the previous shift staff nurse, took her through the night’s events and traumas.
‘Mrs Gleaston had a bad night, very restless and complaining of abdo pain. She’s been written up for an extra two milligrams of Diazepam and Voltorol four times a day. Mrs Beck, fine. Josie Taylor, fine. Mrs Davies, her wound looked a bit sloughy last night, swabs sent off and wounds re-dressed. We need to keep an eye on it. Beth? Are you okay? You seem miles away? Beth?’
‘What? Oh, yes, fine thanks; just had a late one last night. What were you saying about Josie?’
She managed to pull herself together for surgical rounds. Mr Bell, the consultant, demanded full attention and required all the ward sisters to hear what he said first time, every time. Her mind was back on the job and she was grateful for the distraction.
She wasn’t going to do it. She had no intention of jeopardising a fifteen year unblemished career. She had trained and worked hard to gain the position of ward sister. She was caring and compassionate, firm and strict with the junior nurses and respected and liked by every member of staff from the consultants to the ward domestics. In fifteen years on the job she had never stolen so much as a biro. She had never intentionally stepped out of line or had a discipline attached to her record. She knew the job and always did it calmly and patiently and with a sense of pride in doing what she had to do to the best of her ability. No freaky little Goth was going to change that. Beth could no more steal from the hospital or cause suffering to her patients than kick a dog in the street.
But… If Jennifer told her to kick a defenceless dog, would she?
All morning her mind played out how she could do it. The safest time would be during the night-time drug round, but her shift would be long finished by then, she was working until three o’clock. Morning drugs were hectic, but the lunch time round was usually fairly quiet. Some of the patients would have dozed off after their three course lunch and before their relatives came for afternoon visiting.
She began the drug round with Fiona working alongside her. She was another qualified nurse who would double sign for all the drugs dispensed. Her hand shook as she gave Molly Jones her two paracetamol, one diuretic and a measure of lactulose for her bowels. She couldn’t understand why she was shaking, she wasn’t going to do anything wrong.
‘We’re in a bit of a rush today, Fi. If you do the beds on that side of the bay I’ll take this side, it’ll be quicker and we can be finished up by two.’
She could have kicked herself for saying that. They weren’t especially busy, but Fiona was used to taking orders and didn’t question the request. Protocol decreed that they stayed together and both oversaw each drug administration to each patient, but when they were rushed it was common practice to split and take one side of the ward each. As they came back to the drugs trolley at the top of the bay, Beth would sign and Fiona would countersign for the next two patient’s drugs.
Annie Ryden in bed 1 was unconscious. She’d been in for three days after a nasty fall. They didn’t expect her to wake up, let alone recover. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully thanks to the morphine infusion being fed through her drip and replenished every four hours.
Beth looked around the bay. Ethel in the next bed was talking animatedly to the woman who’d come in for bariatric surgery the following day. The obese lady looked bored as Ethel explained, at length, how she’d come about her broken hip. Fiona hadn’t reached bed 6 yet. The lady from bed 5 was still telling her some tale about a flooded cottage at Newbiggin. Fiona had her back to Beth and looked as though she’d be awhile disentangling herself from the description of soggy carpets.
Beth placed the vial and the syringe on Annie’s table. She put on a pair of latex gloves and did Annie’s observations, marking the results on her chart. She hesitated for a moment and then wrote the patient up for her lunchtime dose of Morphine. She checked Annie’s canular, ensuring that the vein hadn’t tissued and that the flow of saline and morphine were getting through the thready old vein satisfactorily. She checked on the regulator controlling the speed that the fluid dripped into her arm. So far she had followed procedure to the letter. She hadn’t done a thing wrong.
She pulled the little wheel on the regulator down to the bottom of the slide; this stopped the fluid, holding it steady in the bag. She took the syringe pack and opened it releasing the sterile needle. Holding the vial of morphine upside down she inserted the tip of the needle into the circle of fine mesh on the top of the vial. Carefully she drew up half of the 25ml dose. Annie was kept heavily sedated and Beth prayed that half the dose would be enough to keep the old lady unconscious and free from pain.
Ward 4 contained six bays of six beds and four single private rooms. By the time they had finished their drug round she had used the other half of the first vile on another patient and had carefully added two more full vials of morphine to her uniform pocket by short-changing her patients.
She could feel them against her thigh as she walked. She considered taking her handbag from her locker and transferring the stolen drugs to that in the ladies toilet during her break, but she didn’t dare. If suspicion was aroused and anybody challenged her about the missing drugs she would stand a better chance of coming up with a plausible cover story if they were about her person. In her handbag, they were stolen; on her person, they were just not yet administered despite being signed off. Several times she heard the little glass jars clink together. To her ears the noise sounded like a church bell calling the faithful to worship, or a stolen parrot bell proclaiming her a thief. She was convinced that everybody on the ward could hear the almost imperceptible sound that they made. By the time her shift finished she felt sick.
Fiona asked her to wait while she got something from her locker, saying that once she’d got it she would walk to their cars with Beth. Beth didn’t want to walk out of the hospital with Fiona. She didn’t wait and rushed off down the endless corridors to her car. With every step she expected security to stop her.
She drove out of the hospital grounds with the vials of morphine still in her pocket. She took two left turns and then a right to envelop herself in a nearby housing estate in an attempt to shake off the security men that she was convinced would be following her. She carried on driving, turning here and there into the warren of identical streets. When she felt sufficiently far away from the hospital she’d parked alongside a children’s play area and, surrounded by the happy cries of children playing on the swings, she had transferred the stolen drugs from uniform pocket to a zip pouch in her handbag.
Lowering her head into her hands, she wondered what the fuck she was doing. She probably had just enough Morphine on her to kill somebody. Beth had always been content, her life had never been exciting or heady, but it had always behaved itself. She ran along neat, well tended tramlines and, if asked, would have said that she was happy with her lot... and then with one stupid advert in the local paper for a ridiculous date night, it had all changed. First she was a murderer, now she was a contemptible drug lord. Beth didn’t want to go home, there was no sanctuary there for her, but she had nowhere else to go.
For the second time in her life she considered suicide.