‘come back’

‘come back’

July the Sixth, Monday morning, 8am.
Connie walked briskly along the pristine corridors of Long Island College Hospital, excited at the prospect of meeting Professor Greene’s friend. She was also thinking with pleasure about the last few days. She had met lots of friendly people in the student residency. Some of them had taken her on a whirlwind tour of the sights of New York and later to a grand party in the main hall to celebrate Independence Day. She had a sense of the strong contrast between this 4th of July celebration compared to the July 12th celebrations back home where someone of her religious background would not be welcome at all. After the main festivities she had sat up most of the night talking with her new friends. The young men amongst them were fascinated by her wavy flame red coloured hair and flirted outrageously with her, trying to mimic her Belfast accent.
‘That’s the Kearney attraction’ she had said of her hair ‘I take it from my grandmother’s side of the family’ and told them that, ‘in their day her grandmother and mother were considered to be as stunning as any of the great Hollywood actresses.’ This led to a conversation about films and Ireland and, inevitably politics. The Vietnam War was debated long and the Civil Rights Movement and the African American people. Professor Greene had mentioned the Vietnam War and that work in the hospital was related to some of the most complex cases arriving back from Indochina. Coming from a working class Catholic community in the Belfast Markets area, Connie was well aware of civil rights issues. Northern Ireland was struggling itself to provide an identity for all its’ people, and not just one that served only the Protestant majority who felt a strong allegiance to Britain. Since the creation of the state in the 1920s, the Catholic minority had their rights consistently trampled upon to the extent they felt totally isolated from other communities in the island of Ireland.
Connie’s new friends were captivated as she continued talking about the experience of, being second class citizens and how difficult it was to get jobs and proper housing. In her mind the partition of Ireland had a lot to answer for. Connie, like her parents, believed that education could change things and it was important for her and her family. Bigotry, ignorance and intolerance were evils which no democratic society should tolerate for they undermined and even destroyed any good in that society.
By 5am everyone was talked out and Connie went to bed with her head still full of thoughts about wars and the fall-out from wars. Even in the ‘Land of the Free’ life was not perfect. She had overslept and had missed breakfast and lunch. Probably the travelling and time difference had caught up with her, and when she finally wakened it was well into Sunday afternoon. She spent the rest of the day snacking and catching up on the information folder she had been given about the hospital and its protocols.

Dave Warnock was the kind of surgeon every nurse and indeed every female patient dreamed of being examined by – tall and handsome with a loose, athletic build. He reminded Connie of how a caged tiger might stride after it had been released from captivity. His smile was totally disarming and for Connie the thought of working close to him for the next three months was totally intoxicating.
Dave soon dispelled the romantic aura. His manner was brusque and businesslike. As Connie entered his office he offered his hand
‘Hello Connie. I’m glad you‘re here, you‘re very welcome. Charlie has told me all about you. Now you have only got three months so let’s get cracking.’
He then swept past her and at a fast pace set off along the corridor to start his ward rounds, talk to his patients and interrogate the student doctors who were shadowing him.
Over the next three months completing these rounds with the other students Connie was to be put on her mettle as she was given many opportunities to voice her opinion and to observe and work closely with Dave Warnock and other members of his team. In future Connie would look back on the summer of 1964 as the time when she became more convinced than ever that orthopaedics would be her chosen specialism.
Long hours were standard and Connie loved it. Never one to shirk hard work she was always in the thick of things, wanting to learn more. One of the most challenging places of work was the emergency room and she frequently volunteered to help out with casualties to understand how the system worked.
It was a Saturday night when Connie was about to go off duty when reports came in of a major riot in the Harlem district of New York. All staff had been asked to stay and other staff that had finished earlier shifts were asked to be on standby. As yet nobody knew what the casualties were and other hospitals in the city were also put on alert.
Everyone waited to see what the fall-out was going to be.
A black youth had been shot dead by a white police officer and the community of Harlem had reacted in a violent way. For them, enough was enough. The rioting that ensued lasted for two days with many casualties. On the second day it had spread from Harlem to Brooklyn’s Betford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. It was here that Paul Deehan had stepped in to help a neighbour whose hardware store was being looted. A Second World War veteran, Paul could not stand by and let the youths, who were now taking advantage of the anarchy, to steal whatever they could. Paul had reached the store just as the youths were clearing out boxes of electrical equipment. He saw his neighbour, lying inside the shop. As he attempted to help him, he was knocked on the head from behind and fell to the ground unconscious.
When he finally came to, the first thing he became aware of was an accent that he felt was familiar but struggled to place. As he tried to focus his eyes, he could vaguely see a head of wavy auburn hair. He fell asleep again with the reassurance of the familiar voice saying,
‘Doctor Richey says he’s badly concussed but he should be OK. He has a broken collarbone from the fall. We’ve put a figure eight splint on it and it’ll probably heal completely in about twelve weeks.’
Paul Deehan came fully awake about twelve hours later and the first thing he asked of the nearest nurse,
‘Where’s the redhead?’
‘Sorry Mr Deehan, the redhead?’
‘Yea, she must be a nurse or a doctor or something. Either that or I imagined the whole thing.’
‘Don’t know of a redhead but then I only do nights so I wouldn’t know any of the day staff.’
Paul rubbed his chin and thought, ‘well, maybe I imagined it.’

It was Wednesday when Connie arrived with the group of other students and Dave Warnock for an update on Paul’s shoulder and general condition. Dave had sat on the edge of the bed beside him. One of Dave’s greatest skills was his ability to put patients at ease. He could be brusque with colleagues and equally terse with his students, but when it came to his patients, his voice softened, concentrating intently on the patient and they were left in no doubt that they were receiving his undivided attention. He finished most of his talks and examinations with a gentle and reassuring touch on the arm backed up with words to reinforce the message that things would be fine. Because of Dave’s technique, Paul was not initially aware of the student group standing at the foot of his bed. As they turned to leave Paul gasped,
‘My God I wasn’t dreaming!’
A nurse at the other side of the bed asked if he was OK.
‘Sorry, forgive me, I thought I recognised someone I hadn’t seen for a while but it’s impossible.’
Paul settled back against his pillows and watched the Professor and his student troop complete the remainder of the ward round. When they had finished the Professor stood with the group asking further questions of his students. Paul asked one of the nurses if the girl with the red hair could come and see him. She explained that because they were trainees they generally were not allowed to engage with patients on their own, but the nurse promised to ask.
It wasn’t until later in the afternoon that Connie made her way back to the ward, curious as to why this stranger had asked to talk to her. A couple of her student friends had teased her and said,
‘Maybe he’s a rich sugar daddy wanting to spend lots of money on you.’
‘Yea, he’s certainly old enough isn’t he, but why me?’
They laughed, ‘We told you that Kearney attraction would get you into trouble. Anyway be wary of that Senior Nurse in the ward she takes a very dim view of any kind of funny business with her patients.’
When Connie approached the bed Paul was dozing. When he became aware of her presence Connie said.
‘I hear you wanted to talk with me.’
‘Yes, thank you for coming.’
He looked at her for a short while and then said
‘I bet you I can guess where you’re from?’
Connie was disappointed, he’s obviously asked one of the nurses and now this is his chat up line. Connie was about to turn away. She was used to being chatted up by men of her own age but she didn’t want this to develop into an embarrassing situation.
Realising that he was handling it the wrong way Paul quickly added
‘Look it was only when I had time to look at you when you were doing the rounds earlier that I had time for my brain to work properly. The bang on the head didn’t help. I thought I had been dreaming when I was drifting in and out of consciousness I heard this voice and I now know where I had heard it before. It was Belfast. Your hair was also a bit of a giveaway.’
‘So you know Belfast?’
‘Nah, not really. I was there a long time ago and met some really great people…’
At this point the Senior Nurse arrived behind Connie and asked what she was doing.
Paul interjected and told her that he had asked to speak with her because she had seemed familiar. Rather coolly the Senior Nurse informed him and Connie that the wards were not for socialising and if they wished to do that to take it out of the hospital. Aware of the hospital protocols, Connie apologised and extricated herself quickly with her cheeks flaming almost to match her hair.
The following week when Connie was part of the student group and back on that ward again the Senior Nurse had asked to speak with her.
‘That patient who was talking to you last week was discharged, but before he left he was most insistent that he get in touch with you. I don’t know what his motives were but I did not divulge any details about you. He seemed quite agitated.’
‘Did he leave a name or address?’
‘No he didn’t.’
‘Can you give me a name or address?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t.’
Connie had said thank you and left to spend a few hours in the hospital’s extensive research library. For a couple of days she had puzzled over why the old man was so interested in her but eventually dismissed it as simply an older man’s infatuation for a younger woman. As the summer progressed life in the hospital took on a faster pace and it seemed no time at all when Connie found herself again in Dave Warnock’s office, shaking his hand and thanking him for the opportunity of working with him.
‘Connie you have a gift, a way with people, very important for those who find themselves unlucky enough to be ill. When you complete your studies with Charlie and you’re qualified, give me a call if you’d like to come back here. You’re the kind of doctor we want in this hospital.’

The journey home had a different kind of excitement attached to it with the prospect of seeing her family again and telling them about everything she had seen in America. Neighbours as well as her family where there to greet Connie and a great spread of food had been laid out in the kitchen. The conversation was loud and lively with everyone trying to tell her what had happened in the last couple of months. Connie marvelled as always that her mother and grandmother seemed to be able to carry on a handful of different conversations at once. Eventually Connie was given the floor and for what seemed an age she regaled them with her American experiences. When she had finished her older brother asked her in a mock American accent if her Belfast accent was ever going to reappear. Everyone laughed and Connie had protested that it wasn’t that bad. Her youngest sister Maura suddenly exclaimed.
‘There’s a parcel, for you from America!’
‘From America? A parcel?’
Connie’s mum admonished Maura for interrupting but added,
‘Yes, a parcel arrived about five days ago from America. We thought you had sent it to yourself.’
Maura retrieved the parcel from the cupboard under the stairs and handed it to Connie. The wrapper with the familiar brown paper of the United Parcel Service Inc. now sat on her knee as Connie looked at it rather quizzically. She had left nothing behind and all the farewell gifts she had received were still in her case and anyway, how did it arrive ahead of her? Her mother reached her the scissors and as she cut along the sticky tape she started to experience a strange sensation that she didn’t quite understand.
Finally, when the paper was cut away there was an object wrapped in calico. As she opened up the calico, a polished but rather battered brown leather buckled belt with attached pockets was revealed. Connie opened her hands as if to say ‘What’s this? There’s nothing but this?’ As she held it up the room went quiet.
Connie’s grandmother crossed the room to stand beside her and with a smile beginning to spread across her face and a slight shake of her head, she touched the belt.
‘My God, my Bandoleer, it’s come back.’ Her eyes began to fill with tears.
‘What do you mean Gran, your Bandoleer has come back?’
In the silence that followed, Connie’s dad stepped across the room, lifted the Bandoleer and handed it to her Gran.
‘Many lives have been touched by this Bandoleer Connie. Perhaps now that it has been returned, through you, we’ll all hear the story of how this came into the family in the first place!’
Connie’s Gran sat down and placing the Bandoleer across her lap, caressed it, and began almost absentmindedly to play with the pocket flaps. She sighed, looked at the room of faces watching her,
‘The Countess, she was beautiful, …….a lifetime ago.’

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