The blast of warm air was welcoming on Lorraine’s chilled skin. She felt her body relax as she queued to give her details at the reception desk. It was flu season and the doctor’s surgery was filled to capacity. Her shopping was heavy and she looked around hoping a seat would be available once she’d checked in. She’d stopped off at the supermarket first, in case there was a long wait at the surgery and she was right. By the looks of things it’d be lunch time before she was out and for the first time she was glad. It meant not waiting around in the biting cold and the ready made sandwiches she’d purchased meant her children would’ve something to fill them.
. One bar glowed on the gas heater at the top of the room, but with the overcrowded conditions it was enough to ensure those who waited grew uncomfortable. It also increased the stench of the body odors and she tried not to breathe too deeply, especially when the man beside her started to cough as through his lungs would soon follow the whooping from his chest. All around her patients sniffed and sneezed and she fumbled in her coat pocket for a tissue and brought it to her face. If anyone noticed her actions they’d imagine she was patting her nose and not trying to ward off the swarming germs. The last thing she needed was the flu on top of everything else. Her ribs ached from the beating and the cut on her lip stung. Holding her purse tight against her body, she closed her eyes and tried to relax. The hum of conversation soothe her and her lids became heavy.
The crowd thinned out and the constant blast of cold air from the opening of the door gave some respite from the heat. It was noon and she’d been sitting there for over an hour and a half. If the doctor gave ten minutes to each of the remaining patients, she’d be out about quarter to one. This gave her plenty of time to walk to the school before the lunch break and while she didn’t relish the idea of Abbey’s accusing stares, it gave her comfort her children wouldn’t go without food. The piles of dog eared magazines meant to help pass the time looked dirty and uninviting so she settled back and closed her eyes.
She nodded off, because the next thing she felt was a hand on her arm.
“Is that you?” A man nodded towards the secretary who waited.
“Sorry,” Lorraine got up. “Did you call me?”
“Yes,” the woman scowled, before walking away.
For a moment Lorraine panicked when she realised her purse was missing. To her relief she found it under her chair. It fell while she slept and she picked it up along with her two shopping bags.
“Thank you,” she smiled at the men who woke her.
“No problem, love,” he said. “The heat makes you nod off.”
“Ah, my old friend,” Dr Miller smiled when he saw Lorraine then creased his brow as he looked down at the cut on her lip.
Depositing her load beside his desk, she sat and fumbled with the buttons on her coat.
“There’s no need to ask what the matter is,” he tilted her face towards him.
She didn’t answer and allowed him to examine her lip.
“Any more surprises for me? He asked.
“My ribs,” Lorraine mumbled.
“Pop up on the couch.”
Slipping off her coat and shoes she did as he asked.
“When did this happen? He felt along her stomach for any sign of damage.
“Last night, ouch,” she groaned, as his fingers traced a path along her ribs.
“Sorry,” he finished his exploring. “You can sit up.”
She was glad of the hand helping her up. The snap of latex gloves hung in the air as she made her way back to her seat.
“I’ll tape it up for you,” he nodded at her lip.
“Thanks,” she tried not to wince as he pulled the cut together and placed small strips across it.
“What am I going to do with you? He looked down into her eyes and she saw concern reflected in his.
“Please don’t be kind to me,” she was afraid she’d cry.
“How much more can you take?” He asked. “I can bandage your ribs, but one day he’ll do some lasting damage.”
“I know,” she whispered.
“Look, Lorraine,” he ran his hand through his hair exasperated. “There’s no point in us going over the same old thing. You won’t leave and I’ll keep patching you up until one day…”
He left the sentence hanging, but she knew he meant one day he’d be called to view her body.
“I need a prescription for the pill,” she said.
He added this to the painkillers he was prescribing. The next few minutes were spent wrapping her aching ribs in bandages. They made small talk about the cold and the dark nights. Lorraine dug her nails into the palms of her hands as this kind man touched her with a gentleness she’d forgotten.
“Come back in a week and I’ll make sure you’re healing ok,” he said.
“Thanks,” Lorraine shrugged on her coat and picked up the shopping bags.
Inside the surgery Dr Miller peeped through the window blinds and watched her go. He had hundreds of patients, but this young woman touched him more than any. He saw terrible suffering on a daily basis and there was something almost regal in the way Lorraine Ryan dealt with her pain.