Meet Wendy Corbett, a dedicated nurse with a secret mission.
The First Rule shone bright in Wendy’s mind: Ease The Suffering. She nudged Mrs. DuBois into the right position. “There, hush now, I’ve made it better in here. You’ll see.”
For this occasion she had chosen a new method. The phenomenon was well known, but finding out exactly how to cause it had cost her many hours of study in medical libraries, blowing dust off old books about thoracic neurology and synaptic impulse and the chemistry of nerve conduction. Finally she’d found it for anyone to see on the Internet, of all places. She took up Mrs. DuBois’ thin wrist, feeling for the telltale drumbeat of life under her fingertips. There it was, a rhythmic surge of systole and diastole marking the precise flashes of bioelectricity that flexed the powerful ventricles and pushed blood to the very end of Mrs. DuBois’ wrist. The heart was built to be the most durable organ in the body, its electrical system practically unstoppable. Except during the 30 milliseconds when it was gathering strength for the next ventricular thrust.
Wendy reached over the bed and balled up her fist. “What are you –” Mrs. DuBois tried to demand, but she didn’t have the chance.
Pulse, rest, pulse. The next rest, then the barest edge of the next pulse. Wendy brought her fist down with a hard, sharp tap on the center of the thin chest. A light but fast blow, 40 miles per hour on impact for best results, stopped just short of bruising.
Mrs. DuBois’ eyes bugged out and her face flushed deep red. After a beat of complete stillness she caught her breath, shuddering in a deep lungful and wheezing out, “You – no, you’re trying to – nurse!”
Wendy gasped. Shame flooded through her; she had caused more pain with her bumbling. Of course, there was a momentary delay between the wrist pulse and the actual physical heartbeat. She’d been stupid. Before Mrs. DuBois could gather another breath she curled her fingers, carefully timed, and struck a second thump to the frail chest, again stopping short of leaving a mark.
Mrs. DuBois’ body jerked in a wave. Her eyes got large again, this time with the fixed stare of the final astonishment. No breath came to replace the last one. The thrum in the wrist was still.
Wendy’s compassion lit her up from the inside. She leaned close, beaming. “That’s better. You don’t have to suffer anymore, Mrs. DuBois. Good night now.” She watched as the body slowly relaxed. The eyes dropped, their last look of reproach a minor pain Wendy would gladly endure in the face of her great joy. The job was done, and none the wiser.
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