When AJ Cronin was a young doctor, he was appointed a medical officer in a fever hospital in a solitary district of northern England. One winter’s night, soon after his arrival, a boy of six was admitted suffering from Diphtheria. He was so seriously ill that only am immediate tracheotomy would give him even a slender hope of life. Painfully inexperienced, Cronin had never attempted that crucial operation.
As he stood, and now I am following his own story, “In the poor lamp lit ward and watched the old sister and the only nurse, a junior probationer, place the gasping boy on the table he was trembling. He felt cold and sick. Still he was determined to do his utmost with the operation and with the operation successfully completed he went back to his room glowing with satisfaction. Four hours later at 2.00 am the young nurse came knocking frantically at his door. She had dozed off by the child’s bed and had awakened to find the tube blocked. She had lost her head and panicked. When Cronin got there the child was dead.
There was a sense of loss and the failure of the nurse overwhelmed him and his anger blazed forth. ‘I will put in a report’, he said. A little later he sent for the nurse and read the report to her. She heard him in pitiful silence. She was thin, anemic, under nourished and half-fainting with shame, fright and misery. ‘Have you anything to say?’ Cronin demanded. She shook her head and then suddenly stammered, ‘Give me another chance.’ This was something that Cronin had never thought about. She must pay for what she had done. He dismissed her curtly and signed the report, then went off to bed.
Off to bed but not off to sleep for all through the night, echoing, drumming in the ear, was the plea, ‘Give me another chance.’ In the morning he tore up the report. That was a long time ago. She, the nurse who had erred so fatally became the matron of the largest children’s hospital in Wales. Her career was a model of competence, service, devotion and she was loved to the point of worship by successive generations of children. If she had not been forgiven and treated with tenderness and kindness she would have been lost to her profession, but she was given another chance.
Source: A J Cronin, Adventures in Two Worlds.
Photo: A J Cronin