Allan carried buckets of water, sacks of rice, whatever heavy objects needed moving. Nurses scurried from patient to patient, nervously alert. When the doctor was present everyone was a little bit sharper, tighter, with better posture, including those patients who were not permanently recumbent.
The epidemic had been spreading and Allan made sure always to wear the masks the nurses provided. Some of his fellow labourers, with whom he would meet in the dark of the evening, exhausted, for a pint of beer and some dried jerky, refused the masks, relying solely on their own hardiness to protect them. Faith is important, Allan thought, but he still wore his mask.
He brought the nurses fresh sponges, packets of gauze and bandages, whenever he had a spare moment. Some of his compatriots would slip away behind the wooden sickhouse for a puff of tobacco but Allan stayed on site, even when his regular duties were finished, in case the nurses needed extra help. Once, he had helped to subdue a thrashing man, holding down his frantic legs. It took all of Allan’s weight and effort to keep the man’s lower half still while one of the nurses administered an injection. Somehow the higher-strung patients never seemed to get so out of control when the doctor was on the premises. The nurses, who worked at the sickhouse every day, were subjected to the brunt of the patients’ bad behaviour.
Allan’s sedulity was rewarded by the doctor when he was tasked with bringing a heavy iron case from the laboratory of one of the doctor’s associates. The lab was miles outside of town and it would take Allan the better part of a day to fetch it.
“What’s in the case?” Allan asked.
“The cure,” the doctor said.
Allan rushed out of the sickhouse and didn’t pause once during his hours-long journey. He arrived at the laboratory, breathless and flushed, and when he had the iron case in hand he turned on his heels and hurried back, pressing the metal box to his chest to prevent its rocking too violently. Allan collapsed to the floor when he reached the sickhouse, once he had ensured the iron case was safely set upon the doctor’s desk. The doctor confirmed the vials within were intact, and Allan’s consciousness faded.
He awoke a few moments later on a sickbed with a damp cloth across his forehead. Several nurses were beaming, watching over him.
“The cure?” he asked groggily. “You got the cure?”
“We got the cure, dear,” one of the nurses said. “Thanks to you.”