Walking Wounded

Headley Court Military Hospital

England

“Hey there,” the soft feminine voice said. “Would you like a sip of water?”

Terry half-turned his head, but his body remained still. Only after he stared for several seconds did he focus clearly on the young woman.

“Yes—please,” he croaked.

“My name’s Cheryl. I’ll moisten your lips first, so keep your tongue in for a moment. She reached across the bed from where she stood and dabbed the dampened pad on Terry’s lips.

He nodded his appreciation but didn’t speak. Cheryl looked about his age.

“Take it easy with this now,” Cheryl said. “Try sips, and give your mouth a rinse. You’ll feel a lot better.” She held a glass with a straw up to the patient’s mouth. She watched his lips work, and his throat expanded in a regular movement.

“Thank you.” Terry looked at the pink blouse and blue jeans. “Are you my new carer and reason to cheer up?” His voice was monotone and dripped with sarcasm. “I don’t usually get to see you guys in your Civvy clothes.”

“I can leave you on your own if that’s what you want,” Cheryl said. “Was I wrong to think under the bandages and bad temper there was a decent guy in there?”

Terry scrutinised his visitor. Shining auburn hair draped over her shoulders. Brown eyes with long dark lashes and tiny dimples on her cheeks accentuated her ever-present smile. Her smile looked natural—not strained.

“I’m sorry. My name’s Terry Connor. I’d shake your hand, but I still can’t move my arm. I can’t tell how much of me they’ve had to remove.” He looked down at the way the bedding was held up by a large frame over the area of his legs.

Cheryl glanced at the tented area of the bed and then turned to look at Terry’s face.

“I can only feel bloody pain.” The soldier turned away to look at the ceiling.

Cheryl nodded silently.

Terry glanced down at his left arm which ended at the elbow, and then his right, which was bound from shoulder to wrist. His right hand was in one piece, but hard to move. He closed his eyes briefly, and then looked at the ceiling again.

“Sandy told me you were having issues,” Cheryl said. “I asked if I could pay a visit.”

“Who’s Sandy?” Terry turned towards his visitor.

“She’s the tall, blonde nurse who’s had to deal with your acid tongue since you’ve been awake.”

“Is she one of the corporals who tends me?”

“Yes, Corporal Sandy Shaw. Her real name is Caroline, but I’ve always known her as Sandy. She’s a good friend of mine. We met during our early training and we’ve run into each other a couple of times.”

“So, are you a corporal as well, cos’ like I said, I don’t normally see you guys in your own outfits?”

“Yes, I’m still a corporal at the moment, but I’m doing a resettlement course because I’m leaving the uniform behind soon.”

“You’re leaving the uniform, but you’re continuing to work for the army?”

“Yes.” She laughed. “It’s not that unusual you know.”

The pair chatted for fifteen minutes and Terry cheered up. A glance to an area behind his visitor changed his demeanour and his tone.

“I suppose that thing’s for me when I can be helped out of bed?”

Cheryl glanced over her shoulder at the wheelchair against the wall. “Maybe you should close your eyes and try to relax.”

“Yeah, perhaps I’ll close my eyes and relax with my bloody nightmares.” He turned to stare at the ceiling again.

“Do you remember how many guys were in your vehicle?”

“Four of the others were from my unit, and we had a driver.”

“How many survived the explosion?”

“Only me, apparently.” He swallowed and tears tracked silently down his face.

“What age are you, Terry?”

“Age?” He laughed as he turned to stare at her. “I’m twenty-three—and my life is over.”

“Two damaging emotions evolve in cases where soldiers survive an incident like yours.” Cheryl’s smile was gone, but the brown eyes stared down at Terry. “One of those emotions is guilt because you survived while others didn’t.”

Terry swallowed hard but didn’t speak.

“Post-traumatic stress creates self-pity, which is another, and it must be handled head-on. The best way is with honesty, humility and bloody gratitude.”

Terry’s blue eyes were glazed as they turned away from the nurse’s stare.

“Gratitude,” Terry croaked. “Yeah, I guess I’ve got loads to be grateful for—let’s see … I’ve lost half of one arm, and I’m not sure how active the other one will be. Oh, and let’s not forget I might have to lose both legs from the knee.”

“Sometimes when you wake up, you’ll wish you’d died with your mates, but you have to fight. For their sakes; be grateful you survived.”

Terry stared hard at her, but his gaze softened at her next words.

“I’m sorry to be so blunt Terry, but I was in Afghanistan too, and I lost friends. I know how you feel, but we must fight on.”

“Could I have another drink, please, Cheryl?”

There was a ghost of the previous smile as she lifted the glass and placed the end of the straw between Terry’s lips. Again, she watched as his mouth and throat worked.

“I’m leaving you shortly,” Cheryl whispered. “I’m staying until I know you’ve dozed off again. Okay?”

Terry appraised her from her lovely face, past her well-developed bust to the brown leather belt on her tight jeans. He swallowed hard, glanced at the ceiling and then turned back.

He said, “Would you come and visit me again?”

“You’ll have Sandy coming in, as usual, this afternoon.”

“I’d rather.” His lips almost formed a smile. “I’d really like you to visit if you would.”

“Okay, but with two provisos.” Cheryl glanced at the door. “You don’t tell Sandy you’d prefer me, and you shut your eyes and rest now.”

“Thank you.” Terry closed his eyes but opened them again. “Cheryl.”

“Yes.” She was still standing beside the bed gripping the rail at the edge.

“I know you won’t be interested in me,” he said. “Have you got nice legs?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I have to know because ….” He pursed his lips. “You’re really attractive, and—well, that’s all.”

“Well.” She leant forward onto the bed. “One of the officers in here told me the other day I had the best legs he’d seen for years.” She winked. “Now, close those eyes.”

* * *

“Three bloody hours,” Terry murmured when he awoke and looked at the clock on the wall. He turned to the right. Where the wheelchair had been, there was a small trolley. He lay back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling, unsure what he wanted to look at, or think about.

“Well, well,” a cheerful female voice said.

“Hi,” Terry said, as the tall blonde nurse approached the bed.

“You looked a bit more cheerful for a moment there. Are you disappointed it’s me?” She grinned at him, pleased to see his face colouring.

“No,” he lied. “I thought it might be—”

“You thought it might be my friend, Cheryl?”

“Well, I’ve only met her once.”

“You’ve only met her once, but you like her, don’t you?” Sandy raised an eyebrow.

“She tells it like it is, I suppose.” His mind wandered.

“I don’t suppose it’s got anything to do with her lustrous hair, big brown eyes, and a chest made to advertise large bras?”

Terry laughed for the first time since before the explosion. His body hurt in several places and he winced.

“You probably don’t remember Cheryl from the first time you met,” Sandy said.

“What do you mean, the first time?”

“I’ll let you have a drink before I explain.” She lifted his glass and held the straw forward.

Terry’s jaws and throat worked hard as his eyes met those of the nurse.

Sandy looked over her shoulder towards the door and then faced Terry.

“Please,” Terry said in a friendlier voice than Sandy had heard from him.

“How much can you remember from the incident?”

“It comes back like a horror movie. It’s almost as if it happened to somebody else.” He looked away for a moment. “We were driving along a dirt road. There was a massive explosion, which threw the truck into the air. I remember men screaming, shouting, and then I felt extreme pain. Everything went black when the pain got worse.”

Tears rolled down his cheeks. He blinked rapidly but said nothing as Sandy reached forward and used a tissue to wipe his eyes and face.

“Your patrol vehicle was hurled into the air, and it landed in a minefield.” Sandy said. “Two armoured ambulances responded to the contact within five minutes. The first vehicle was torn apart by a secondary device at the roadside—rigged to catch rescuers.”

“What about the crew?”

“All three were killed instantly.” She paused. “The second ambulance arrived and the crew called for help to clear the minefield. One of the crew knew time was of the essence and crawled across the un-cleared area.”

“Please don’t tell me somebody else died to get me out.”

“No, your saviour didn’t die. She found you alive and bound up your legs and your left arm to stem the blood flow. Those actions saved your life.”

“Are you telling me a nurse saved me?”

“Once she got your injuries bound, she called for a rope to drag you out the way she’d crawled in. She moved a few feet away from you to grab the rope, and a mine took her legs.”

“Does Cheryl know about all this?”

“Yes. Out there we see as much of the horror as you guys. Why do you ask?”

“She asked me what I remembered. We got chatting.”

“Cheryl was smiling when she left you earlier, and you’re my worst patient.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Hey, I’m only kidding. Anyway, what did you say to my friend Cheryl?”

“I told her how pretty she was. I even asked if she had nice legs, ‘cos she was wearing jeans.”

“What did she say?”

“She said one of the officers told her she had the best legs he’d seen in years.”

“That sounds like the sort of thing Colonel Boddington would say.” Sandy laughed.

“Is this Colonel Boddington a bit of a womaniser?”

“No,” Cheryl said from the doorway. “He’s the specialist who replaced my legs from the knees.” She nodded to Sandy and propelled her wheelchair forward.

Terry’s eyes opened wide, but no sound came from his quivering lips.

“You and I came back on the same flight,” Cheryl said. “You spent the first three months in a coma.”

Sandy looked from one of them to the other. “I’ll go and fetch you guys a hot drink. I’ll close the door on the way out, so you can have a private chat.” She nodded to Terry, and as she turned, she winked at her friend. “You stay in the chair, this time, madam.”

“I knew you’d be worth saving.” Cheryl wheeled her chair closer to Terry’s bedside. She lifted her right hand onto the bed.

Terry’s right arm twitched. It moved under control for the first time since his arrival on the ward. He cried as he squeezed the tender fingers in his grasp.

The End

A Time for Courage: and other military stories

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