Valium

By , May 11, 2010 3:57 pm

“Give her some Valium,” I say.

“Really?”

“Sure.”  I look up from my page, and across at the nurse.  She looks at me blankly, shifting awkwardly from side to side.

“What for?”

“It’s a really good muscle relaxant.  Great for muscle spasms.”  Her eyes widen.  “It’s okay in a fifteen year old.”

Eric nods his head beside me in consensus.  With this, the nurse walks away to complete the order.

“Thank you, Sir Eric,” I say.

“As you wish,” he replies, without looking up.

* * * * *

Fifteen minutes later, I walk into the cubicle.  The first thing I see is the red markings on the teenage girl’s face.  There are layers of skin peeling from her forehead, down her cheeks, and off her chin.  My heart leaps, as I compute, attempting to understand why triage had neglected to let me know that this child’s face had been through a cheese grater.

A mother stands at the girl’s side, holding her hand loosely.  The girl is otherwise dressed in sporting gear, her singlet top and limbs free.  There is blood down her arms too.  The only thing left unstained is the white blanket;  a temporary bandage over gaping war wounds.

“Lauren?”

The girl smiles broadly, her glazed eyes trying to open.  The kid is stoned.  If I’d been given Valium at fifteen, I probably wouldn’t have minded my face being torn off either.  “How are you?”

“Pretty relaxed now, I think,” says her smiling mother.  She pats at her hand as only a parent can.  She turns back and looks at me, as proud as a soccer mum.

I stare back down at the record, checking that I’m in the right cubicle.  Right hospital.  Right planet.  In my world, Mum’s don’t smile when their daughter’s faces have been torn off.

I take another step closer, and Lauren grins widely.  Another bit of her face falls free.

“Is that?”  I can’t help but touch the bit that fell.

“Don’t,” warns her Mum, slapping at my wrist.  I recoil like I’m four.  “It’ll stain, and then you’ll never get it off,” she coos, her best impression of a Stepford wife.

“Right, right,” I say, rubbing absently at the back of my hand, “I get it.  What’s the name of your school house?”

“Red House.”  Lauren rubs at her face, some more war paint falling.  Literally.  It isn’t blood all over her, it’s coloured zinc cream.  “Have I still got some on me?”

“Just a little bit.  You look like you’ve been through a mincer.”

“You silly sausage!” her Mum says.  With that, she lets out a little yelp, puling her hand to her mouth, like she’s broken a self-imposed bad-joke ban.

“Is the diazepam helping?” I ask.

“I think so,” Lauren says, her falling closed, “I can’t feel the spasm anymore.”

“Can’t feel anything anymore,” whispers her Mum.  The hand returns to its rightful spot.

“So what happened?”

“Well, I was finishing the race, the fifteen hundred metres.”  Lauren stops to take a breath.  And I was coming up the straight,” she continues, her arms starting to pump, “and I felt pain down my side, all down here…”  She touches her right loin, the only part not covered in red.  “The pain just kept building, and building and building.  Until I collapsed.”

“DNF,” says her Mum.

“Right,” I say.  They both stare at me.  “Which is code for?”

“Did not finish,” says Lauren, yawning slightly.

“Bummer.”

“Yeah, bummer.  But it’s all good now.”

“I’ll bet.”  She looks at me and giggles.  “Let’s have a look at your side.”

* * * * *

I lean Lauren forward.   “Tell me where it’s sore.”

“Yeah, right there,” she says.  I notice her singlet, a synthetic thing – probably made of recycled plastic bags.

“Fancy looking singlets they get you guys in these days, aren’t they?”

“Nah, that’s not from school, that’s indoor-cricket.”

“Right.”  I look across at Mum, still smiling proudly.

“So what time did this happen?”

“About one-thirty.  Just after high jump.”

“Right.  Was that your only other event?”  Both of them laugh.  I stand back, waiting.  For the gold.

“Ummm,” says Lauren, scratching her head and grinning.  More red flakes fall.  “No, there were others.”

“Go on.”  Lauren looks at her Mum, who smiles politely.  Like it’s shrink wrapped on.

“The one hundred, the two hundred, the four hundred.”  She stops and thinks for a moment.  “The high jump, the long jump, the eight hundred.”  She looks across at her Mum.

“The discus,” she continues.  They both think for a moment more.  I expect Mum to pull out a list.

“Shot put,” Lauren says.

“And then the fifteen hundred.”

They look at me, like it’s my turn.

“Is that it?”

“Well, then this happened, she couldn’t go on.”

“No, I guess not.”  They frown with disappointment.  “I’m joking.”   Their eyes light back up.  Even Lauren’s.  “I think we know how you got the muscle strain.”

“How?” says Lauren.  I look at her, and after a couple of seconds, she laughs.

“Have you been hydrating today?”

“Yeah.  I had an apple and some chips.”

“You had an apple and chips?”  I hear the disbelief in my voice, but I can’t help myself.  “Deep fried chips or crisps.  Chips?”  She nods.  “When did you have time for chips?

“Just before high jump.”

“And then you did the fifteen hundred metres.”

“Yep.”

“Doesn’t anyone else at your school do sports?

“Yeah.”

“Are you the only one in your house, then?”

“No,” she says, laughing, “I just like sports.”

“You like sports?  Really?”  She breaks into a full Valium-giggle.  “What else do you do?”

“Cricket, and footy umpiring.”

“She wants to play football with Melbourne Uni,” says her Mum, suddenly officious, “but we’ve said she’s got to leave it to umpiring at the moment.”  I look at this slight girl, swimming around in an oversized tank top, her wiry frame falling against the bed, flakes of red peeling off.

“You want to play footy against fully grown women at university?”  She nods.  “I mean, these aren’t just fully grown women.  These are the ones who like to play football.”

“You should see the size of some of them,” says her Mum.

“I really don’t want to.  I see the size of you.  You’re fifteen.  Why would you want to play against them?”

“I like sports,” she says plainly.

All I can do is nod.


* * * * *

I walk into the office, where Eric looks up.

“This girl had a muscle strain after running the one hundred, the two hundred, the four hundred, the eight hundred, the high jump, long jump, discus and shot put.  She did it during the fifteen hundred.”

“She strained a muscle?”

“Yep.”

“Geez, that’s bad luck.  Some people are just unlucky, aren’t they?”

“It was just after she had a steak and chips.”

He stands up, looking through the window and into her cubicle.

“How big is she?”

“Fifty kilos.”

“Shot put?”

“Yeah, she was born to do it.  And she wants to play footy against Melbourne Unis women’s side.”

“Jesus!” he says, “they’ll kill her!”  He sits back down.  “I played touch-footy against a mixed team that included some of those women.”   He shakes his head with sorrow.  “They didn’t understand the concept of touch.”

I look around the office, and see the nurse heading our way.

“How’s she doing with the diazepam?” he asks.

“She’s flying,” I reply.  “I think it’s the only thing that will stop her from training tonight.

We both stand and look through the window, this mother helping her daughter with her stretches.

“Did you tell her to do that?” he asks.

“Absolutely,” I reply.  “If she ever expects to win, she’s got to get back out there and throw herself into it.  Kid’s these days, I don’t know.”

“Did she win any of the events?”

“Nup.  Best she did was a third in the shot put.”  He looks at me and frowns.  “I know, the girl who came fourth is also in the waiting room.”  He looks at me, daring that its true.  “The worst thing, though, is that this girl was winning the fifteen hundred.”

“Oh no!” he cries, “gutted!”  We sit back down, and the nurse walks past, watching Eric as we do.  I catch her, and she blushes.

Eric returns to his notes, oblivious to this interchange.  I do too.  We both write for a couple of minutes.

“How many instruments does she play?”

“Sorry?”

“How many musical instruments does she play?”

I smile.  “I haven’t asked yet,” I say, getting up, “I’ll go and find out.”

I walk out through the door.  “I’ll be back in an hour,” I yell, as it closes behind, leaving Eric and the nurse in the office alone.

* * * * *

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