The Night Vigil

Joe Lanzon

It’s the last day of March and the cold is still biting as Matron Peters closed the door of her house behind her. Tired and exhausted from a hard day at the hospital, she fell into the armchair immediately. She was not young anymore. Now close to forty-five years, thirteen of which she spent working at St Mary’s Hospital in the London suburb of Wimbledon.

She was so exhausted that she did not even reach for the local evening paper that lay spread out on the coffee table in front of her. Matron Peters raised her heavy eyes but before she had time to read the headlines, they dropped again. With apparent effort she lifted them once more and, as her eyes followed the words in the heavy type, a faint gleam of recollection spread over her. Thirteen years ago ……


She recalled clearly that day. She was barely out of her teens, shortly after she had started as a substitute nurse at the emergency ward of the local hospital. It was evening. She had just come in for her night shift. There was a commotion in the hall. The ambulance had brought a seven-year old boy who had serious head and limb injuries following a fall from the window of his home.

He was rushed to the emergency section and given immediate attention. After a thorough examination of the boy’s injuries, Dr Williams grimaced. He turned to Nurse Peters by his side. “It’s not a simple concussion. His spine is injured. The fall had impaired his brain …… I’m afraid there is little we can do! But keep vigil over him, just in case he becomes conscious.”

The boy’s name was Walter Adams and he was still in his Chelsea football strip. Nurse Peters unwound the soiled bandages off the little boy’s head. He was obviously in pain. A tear escaped her as she caught a glimpse of his limpid blue eyes that, for a moment, lighted his features.

She put an ice-bag on his head and hot water around his limbs. Then she sat down beside his bed and every now and then bent over him looking for any sign of consciousness.

After a while, Nurse Peters heard steps and stood up. Dr. Williams was calling again. He bent over the little patient, took his pulse in one hand and pressed the stethoscope on his chest with the other.

Nurse Peters wished that she could read his mind. She felt an empathy with the boy and prayed that his position would improve. Impatiently she asked. “How is he doctor? Is there any hope?”

Dr. Williams shook his head and moved away from the bed. “I don’t think that he’ll survive till dawn!” She felt so sorry for little Walter. He’s such a fine boy. What a pity.

As the doctor went to see to other patients, she stayed with Walter through the night, praying that he would survive his ordeal. It was so unfair for one to die so young. She kept looking at him for any sign of consciousness, a sign however small, that he was coming back.

Then, while her eyes were resting on his face, she saw his eyelids flicker, just a little but they did move. She jumped from her chair beside his bed and called Dr. Williams on the buzzer. “He’s gaining consciousness doctor, I just saw his eyelids flicker, please come quickly and see.”

He was in Walter’s room in seconds. He looked at the patient but saw nothing. He felt his pulse and stared at him again for a few minutes. There was no movement whatsoever. He turned to Nurse Peters and in a vexed tone muttered. “You’re imagining things nurse. He’ll not make it, I’m afraid. Even if he does, he would go through life as an idiot. He would be better off dead, in my opinion.” He patted her on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, very sorry”, he said. “But we cannot do anything for the poor boy!”

As Dr Williams left the room, she was again alone with Walter. There was nothing for her to do, except wait and pray. The night was long. She was thinking. ‘Will he live or will he die?’ Suddenly she felt cold all over and glanced around the room.

The rain-drops were tricking on the window panes. She rose from her chair, strode towards the window and brought down the blinds. The soft pattering of the rain could still be heard but the room now felt more secure. At that moment her imagination ran loose.
‘An idiot! He would depend for his living on charity! He would be teased by other children, scorned by society or, worse still, confined to an asylum – living in perpetual hell!’

She looked at Walter. She could not accept what the doctor had said – that if he survives, he would be better off dead. She wished him so much to live and to lead a normal life like any other child. She moved slowly towards the window, lifted the blind, gazed at the street below, dawn was breaking, soon another nurse would come to relieve her.

The soft patting of the rain had ceased. She went back to stay by Walter’s bed and looked at him with pity in her eyes. Then, all of a sudden, it happened! She saw his body quiver and a pair of heavenly blue eyes looked, for a moment, into hers. Was she seeing right? Has he gained consciousness at last? She panicked, buzzed Dr. Williams again and shouted for assistance.


The sharp ringing tones of the telephone brought Matron Peters from the past back to the immediate present. She had been reliving an episode that happened during her first days at St. Mary’s Hospital.

As she lifted the receiver to her ear, the large black headlines of the newspaper spread in front of her, caught her eyes.

Adams scores winning goal for Chelsea
In FA Cup Final at Wembley

A wide smile spread across her face. It was nearly thirteen years since little Walter Adams, in a Chelsea football strip, had been given up for dead, except that she did not give up. He had come a long way, becoming a football hero for his boyhood football team.