All Stories, General Fiction

Mercy by Diane M Dickson


Phillipa had always known that she would be a nurse. The admission tests for University were easy because she was confident, no panic or night-time angst for Phillipa. She was born to be a nurse.

The University was attached to a teaching hospital with a world-renowned reputation. It would look great on her CV as she climbed the career ladder. She was a little regretful that they weren’t required to wear caps, crisp white aprons with scissor chain attached and black tights, but she made a supreme effort with the trouser uniform and always appeared smart, clean, fragrant and fresh.

At last, at the end of the Preceptorship, which of course she had zipped through in the shortest time possible, Phillipa felt that she was at last truly “Nursing” and was joyfully taking her turn at being “Nurse in Charge”.

The medical unit was suitably provided with Consultants, a range of junior doctors in the approved state of exhaustion as befitted their status, nurses of various sizes and types and of course a complete range of competency. Add to the mix several therapists of different orders, clerical bods, caterers, cleaners and management types who were best avoided but at all costs kept sweet. There we are, a veritable little township of infirmation.

The only fly in the sparkling bottles of well-kept ointment were the patients. When Phillipa was little her dollies had slept in serried ranks their eyes closed their nighties clean and all their coughs and splutters imagined. Now though in this well- appointed modern unit there were flesh and blood people who were inconveniently incontinent, disappointingly disturbed and even on occasion impatient as patients. They wouldn’t stay in bed, they wanted to sit in chairs, walk about, eat biscuits. They wore an assortment of ill-matched garments. They littered lockers and tables with their crap.

Phillipa was convinced the reason for this was shoddy management. Patients were after all only sick people, people reacted to authority and the “Nurse in Charge” was that relevant authority. It was unreasonable that patients were allowed to please themselves as to their conduct as if they were in some rather mediocre hotel.

She silently judged the smiling ward supervisors and found them wanting. They didn’t mind when the patients kept bits of their lunch “for later” instead of allowing the kitchen staff to clear it all away. They didn’t bother when patients wandered around sitting on each other’s beds and leaving newspapers lying about. This was not the way a hospital should be run.  But, being newly qualified she was pretty much the lowest of the low and could do very little to knock things into shape. She did her best, tidying, clearing and regulating until she exasperated the patients and irritated the other nurses who were quite happy to work amongst what she could only think of as chaos.

Her first night duty was better.  It was hushed if not exactly quiet and the patients, though not all sleeping, were at least confined to their beds. The staff staggered their breaks and ultimately she found herself alone. Sitting at the central desk she surveyed the unit under her care, lights were dimmed and the white sheets gleamed spectrally. The beds were tidy, one or two of the older women snored but that wasn’t too much of a disturbance, at least they were neat. All except for the blasted old biddy in the corner.

She had been in the ward for over a week, was very cantankerous and immensely demanding. She had no nightwear of her own and was dressed in the hospital issue. She refused to fasten the ties and the gown flapped around her wrinkled and wasted limbs exposing glimpses of her belly and hips. She drooled and spilled her food, the nightgown was marked and stained and rancid. In short she was a blot on the landscape of the unit.

She was snoring now, a wet rattling sound accompanied by a faint whistle through the toothless gums. Phillipa drew near. The hospital gown gaped at the neck displaying wrinkly grey skin at the throat and just a glimpse of saggy, dessicated breasts. As she leaned over to draw the covers up Pippa was overwhelmed by the smell; it took her breath away and made her gag. There was an undertone from the spilt tea time casserole drying on the covers and overlaying that was the unmistakable stench of urine and yes, faeces. Mrs Bowling had become doubly incontinent, had stained and soiled the bed and was fast asleep in the middle of it all.

Phillipa looked on this vision of personal chaos and contamination. This was unacceptable, not at all how a hospital should be. She turned to make her way to the linen room for the wherewithal to change the bed and make all sweet and fresh again. Well as sweet and fresh as it was possible to make this malodorous and unwholesome old lady. She paused and looked back at the bed. Was there any real point to it? In no time at all it would be creased and stained and messy all over again.

Mrs Bowling must be so unhappy, so uncomfortable. All wrinkled and furrowed up and if she could just see herself, drooling and snoring. It just wasn’t fair to leave her like this poor thing. Surely no-one would ever want to end up like this.

Phillipa stole closer, she glanced around the four bedded cubicle. Two beds were empty and the patient in the other was heavily sedated. She glanced at the clock.  The other staff would be coming back soon. She reached out and picked up the spare pillow that was resting on the chair.

When the others came back she had already rung for help dealing with the removal of the deceased and between them they were washing and tidying. Poor old Mrs Bowling they all agreed. Then again she had been very poorly and lonely and what was there for her to carry on for with no relatives and nobody to take an interest. No all in all her death was probably for the best and as for Nurse Phillipa, well she had found a solution to one of the problems with modern health care now hadn’t she.

Diane M Dickson

14 thoughts on “Mercy by Diane M Dickson”

  1. Quite a dilemma. You are very skilled at coming up with these tales of morality. Good job on this one, as always, Diane!


  2. Diane, I consider this to be a perfect short story for readers like myself who thrill to chills! Nurse Phillipa will be hard to forget. A fine piece of writing! June


  3. Hi Diane, an easy read with lots of hooks. However the conclusion left me feeling uneasy to the fact that health professionals ready believe they have such power. But then again Nurse Phillipa should marry an undertaker and then they’ll make a killing, financially. James.


  4. Clear and easy to read, as always, Diane, though with a wayward speech mark and some missing commas! We need to set high standards here, don’t we? I’ ve read about nurses etc having to take difficult descisions in extreme circumstances – The Warsaw Ghetto, the camps – but it is quite another thing for such actions to be even considered in our hospitals. A provocative piece!


  5. I remember at the old place, you, Jay and myself were big on grammar etc, at least before the stream of submissions became an unedited torrent! I wonder if we may see Jay here…now that’s a case in point: I consider that a statement, not a question hence the lack of question mark. Others see it differently! And the good doctor, remember him, John Latham? I spoke to him on his blog site after he left the old place and I looked for his site again recently to tell him about LS2014, but couldn’t find him. Will try again.


    1. Yes indeed one must try one’s best and of course all the work is read over and over before we are ready to publish but I suppose it is inevitable that things sneak through. It’s great that you are standing as grammar guard. Yes, I remember Jay but I don’t know that she would approve of some of the work and we are trying to have the widest range including things that, on a personal level, may not be exactly to our taste. That is the great thing about having a team of editors we can argue and disagree and then reach an understanding. Of course there are times when we all agree right from the word “go” as well.


  6. There’s something about introducing dark humour into a moral dilemma that screws with my brain (in a good way). This one leaves me with plenty to think about even after several reads – so job well done I’d say Diane!


  7. Hi Diane, a story that is a horror, even more so as it has been proven that there are so many people in certain positions who think it is their right to play God (?) Darkness, in my opinion is what you do best.


  8. Hi Diane,
    Just found this, again amazing well up to your usual standard. The tale itself though dark and scary and predictable was still a riveting read. Nurse Ratchett, Dr. Shipman watch out Phillipa’s on the prowl tidying up.
    All the best, yours Sandy W


  9. Am I too late? The last time I was hospitalized for an extended period I was stuck in bed with two ivs if I remember. I was tortured by a lack of mobility, just so my life could be saved. I got some revenge by fouling my miserable abed nd bathroom. It didn’t seem like enough.

    Speaking for myself as an old person, it seems fair that we should make room for young people, except for their crappy music and cliches.


  10. Hi Diane,
    A cracking choice from Leila and introduced with her usual brilliance!
    No matter how long it has been since I have read your work, it only takes a paragraph or so and the story comes flooding back.
    I think that is a good thing…A very good thing!
    Sadly this is still a very relevant story which I was happy to revisit.



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