The New Sister Theatre

By: Lucilla Andrews

Chapter One


Sister Theatre came back into the theatre proper just after seven that evening. I was sitting on a high stool drying and polishing the great stack of instruments spread on the top shelf of the glass trolley in front of me.

‘My poor Nurse Lindsay! Still at it?’

‘And one more lot still to come out of the sterilizer, Sister.’ I eased my turban a little farther back on my head. ‘Those men must have used every single instrument in the General Surgical Unit Theatre to-day.’

‘I certainly got that impression handing them out.’ She looked round the quiet theatre, at the empty table, then up at the silent gallery. ‘It’s been one of those days. In a way I’m glad. I’ve had no time for “am-I-really-doing-the-right-thing?” thoughts. But how I am going to miss you all!’

She had been in charge of that theatre for the past ten years. To-day was her last day. Next week she was flying out to West Africa to take over the theatre block in a new teaching hospital. I had been one of her theatre staff nurses for two years; senior staff nurse for the last eleven months.

I said, ‘And how the Unit is going to miss you, Sister! This theatre just won’t be the same after to-day.’

‘That’s probably a very good thing, my dear,’ she replied briskly. ‘We’ve all been jogging along in a nice, pleasant rut. It’s time for a jolt. And having a new Sister Theatre from St Martha’s, across the river, will have everyone on their toes. You nurses will want to show Miss Davis that no theatre nurses are as efficient as those trained here in St Barnabas’ Hospital. Miss Davis will be just as determined to uphold her training school. It should all work out very well’ ‒ she smiled at my expression ‒ ‘once a few corners are rubbed off. As senior staff nurse, getting busy with tactful sandpaper will be your job.’

We had become great friends in the last eleven months. So I was honest. ‘Thanks very much, Sister. I can hardly wait.’

‘It shouldn’t be too bad, Lindsay. Miss Davis is a pleasant woman and an experienced Sister Theatre. Our Staff Nurse Brown may be a shade tricky at first, as she hasn’t attempted to hide her resentment at the job being given to a non-Barny’s nurse. She’ll just have to get over that. The fact remains that, with the exception of yourself, none of my other staff nurses have had sufficient experience, or ‒ in my view ‒ are temperamentally suited to taking charge of the busiest theatre in this hospital.’ She took a pair of sponge-holding forceps off my trolley, tested their grip reflectively. ‘I must admit that chip on Brown’s shoulder is very much larger than I had anticipated. I always wanted you to succeed me, but I am beginning to feel it’s just as well our Mr de Winter made you a far more attractive offer first. You could manage the work and administration perfectly, but Brown’s being only one year your junior would have presented you with no small problem in her present frame of mind.’ She put down the forceps. ‘It’s a very good thing that you are shortly to become Mrs Senior Surgical Officer. Incidentally, what news of that flat?’

‘We can have it from February. It’s pretty expensive. Joe’s brooding on it.’

‘He’ll come up with the answer you want. And I’m sure you’ll be very happy together. I mean that, Lindsay. Your clever young man has worked so hard during his time as S.S.O. He needs someone like you to look after him and stop him working himself to death. Also,’ she added slowly, ‘someone who will always understand how much his work means to him, and how much he’ll mean to Barny’s. I have not said this before, because it is not the kind of thing a theatre sister should say about one specific surgeon, and I don’t believe in using the word “brilliant” idly. I will use it now. I consider your young man the most brilliant young surgeon I have ever had in this theatre. I think he will be one of the great names of modern surgery, and that one day I shall say with tremendous pride, “I worked with Mr de Winter of Barny’s.” And after all that I must get off to supper or I shall be very late, and then you will be very late, and Sister Dining-room will be very cross!’

‘That would never do, Sister. And, Sister ‒ thanks.’

She did not answer. She just smiled and took herself off.

Alone again, I let myself think of my future with Joe. It was all so perfect that at times it scared me. My engagement ring ‒ as always on duty ‒ was pinned inside the big pocket of my uniform dress. I fingered it now through my theatre gown. It was real enough.

A theatre junior pushed in an empty metal trolley. ‘Sister asked me to tell you Nurse Brown is doing the autoclaving, and she has sent all the other nurses to supper. I am to go later.’