K (Chapter 9, page 1 of 9)


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Chapter 9

Sidney never forgot her early impressions of the hospital, although they
were chaotic enough at first. There were uniformed young women coming and
going, efficient, cool-eyed, low of voice. There were medicine-closets with
orderly rows of labeled bottles, linen-rooms with great stacks of sheets
and towels, long vistas of shining floors and lines of beds. There were
brisk internes with duck clothes and brass buttons, who eyed her with
friendly, patronizing glances. There were bandages and dressings, and
great white screens behind which were played little or big dramas, baths or
deaths, as the case might be. And over all brooded the mysterious authority
of the superintendent of the training-school, dubbed the Head, for short.

Twelve hours a day, from seven to seven, with the off-duty intermission,
Sidney labored at tasks which revolted her soul. She swept and dusted the
wards, cleaned closets, folded sheets and towels, rolled bandages--did
everything but nurse the sick, which was what she had come to do.

At night she did not go home. She sat on the edge of her narrow white bed
and soaked her aching feet in hot water and witch hazel, and practiced
taking pulses on her own slender wrist, with K.'s little watch.

Out of all the long, hot days, two periods stood out clearly, to be waited
for and cherished. One was when, early in the afternoon, with the ward in
spotless order, the shades drawn against the August sun, the tables covered
with their red covers, and the only sound the drone of the bandage-machine
as Sidney steadily turned it, Dr. Max passed the door on his way to the
surgical ward beyond, and gave her a cheery greeting. At these times
Sidney's heart beat almost in time with the ticking of the little watch.

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