I began my first shift as an assistant healer without much instruction. Madame Arnata glanced up when I entered her office. “Good, you are here. There is your assignment list.” She pointed to a wooden board the length of my forearm. “Pick out a uniform from that closet there and get to work.”
Before I could pick up the board, Madame Arnata stood. Briskly walking around the end of her desk, she gathered up an armful of boards similar to the one she had indicated I was to take. She shifted the pile to a nearby shelf on her way to the open door.
“Kaitera, the new volunteer is here!” she called out into the hall.
By the time I had retrieved a crisp red overtunic from the closet, Kaitera appeared. She smiled brightly at me. Her deep dimples emphasized her toothy grin. She showed me a room filled with open nooks and hooks for storing cloaks and personal items. As I changed, she chattered away.
“So you are Defender Ilar? Welcome to the healer’s hall. Madame Arnata said your skills will be well suited for the mind-patient ward. That is a good thing. We need the help. The Elitists kept our beds full, but now with this war, we are bursting with needy patients and lacking in qualified staff. All of our defender-trained healers were called to attend the injured at the front. Since then, we have been unable to help the mind-sick patients.”
Kait, as she insisted I call her, continued to fill me in on exactly how the ward functioned as I pulled my new healer uniform on over my dark blue defender tunic.
“You will probably want to leave that back in your rooms next time.” Kait gestured to where the taller blue collar poked out from beneath the red scooped neck. “Things can get a bit messy, especially when you are first starting out. Madame Arnata believes everyone should start out at the bottom. You will be emptying chamber pots and waste buckets for the first few days. Nothing more humiliating than cleaning up after other people.”
She held the door for me. The corridor echoed with her chatter. Thankfully, her voice was pleasant to the ear. Her verboseness covered up my reticence neatly. However, it made the silence all the more noticeable when she finally left me in the midst of a cavernous room filled with row upon row of silent patients.
Bright with sunlight and airy despite the occupants’ state of health, it still smelled of lime and the stale scent of sickness. I hung my board on the belt around my waist and set to work emptying bodily waste into the provided wheeled bin. The motions soon became a rhythm, something my defender training had taught me to appreciate and exploit.