“Alright! Let’s have a look, shall we?”
The nun’s chipper tone seemed forced even when coupled with her wretched smile. I searched her face for clues. What did it look like under there? The fake happiness was disconcerting. Solemnity would have seemed more apropos.
“Yes, fine,” I replied, hoping that I sounded braver than I felt.
I had not yet seen what was beneath the bandages. It had been two weeks since the infection had started and I had not been aware of my surroundings most of that time.
Candlelight flickered golden from the table, creating more shadows than it eliminated.
Slowly, the sheeting was wound around my hand, peeled off in bloody layers. The closer we came, the more it hurt. Nothing severe, but each tiny movement sent shock waves up my arm. The final layers stuck at some points, glued to the flesh with dried blood. I realized I was holding my breath as I braced myself for the searing pain that never came. This burning was nothing compared to what I had felt before in childbirth or from that arm in the haze of my unconsciousness.
The sister whispered, “So sorry…” and “Excuse me…” with each gentle tug.
And then, the last layers were off.
I felt dizzy.
It is one thing seeing gruesome wounds on others but another thing entirely when it is your own body that you are staring at. You can no longer disconnect yourself from the horror.
There was exposed flesh, pink and red, stretching across my palm. Necrotic tissue had been filleted, exposing muscles beneath. Some of it had been closed with sutures, two smaller areas had been left open to drain. Apparently, tendons or nerves had also been severed as I was unable to flex my thumb or index and middle fingers or my hand itself. The last two fingers had some movement but they were stiff and weak. There was wasting and atrophy of what muscles remained in the palm. Contractures had already started to contort my hand into an unnatural shape. A claw.
I was crippled.
In the open areas, granulation tissue had begun to form. No signs of infection remained.
“That should heal up nicely, Evelyn.”
I glared at her in disbelief, willing her tongue to rot. Look me in the eye when you say that!
Her attention was on my hand, readying the new bandages. I stared again at the unnatural thing that was now attached to my body.
“There was a man that came a few nights ago.” She was still not making eye contact. “He said he was a doctor.”
I sat up straight, the icy grip of panic clutching at my chest.
“Who?” I demanded.
But I knew. I had seen his shadow limp through the darkened doorway in the flash of lightening. I had thought it to be a dream. It had not been.
“I forget his name. He was a patient, wounded at Sebastopol.”
“Wounded in the leg?” I asked.
“Yes.” The sister paused as she tied off the bandage. Shrouded in white, it was now my ghost hand. “He was leaving for Scutari.”
A sob caught in my throat. He was alive. But lost to me, again.
The sister patted me reassuringly on the shoulder then gathered her things into the basket in order to leave.
She leaned in close to me. “He said you were his guardian angel,” she whispered softly, as if to keep the Virgin ears on the wall from hearing. “Truth be told, he begged to be allowed to stay, to sit with you, but that would have been improper. In the end, he was stable enough for transfer, so away he was sent.”
“Thank you,” I whispered back, forgiving her for everything that had gone before.
She nodded an acknowledgment. Then was gone.
He knew about my hand, what state it was in now. No wonder he had not fought the transfer to Scutari. I was a shadow, an imperfect, distorted reflection of the original.
Why had I not just died?