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Candy pushed open the double doors leading into the surgical theatre. The light from the sconce just a few feet down the hall seemed to end abruptly where the floor of the theatre began, almost like a wall of shadows. Rosa watched in horror as Candy boldly stepped into the darkness. There was a moment of resounding silence.
“C-Candy?” Rosa whispered.
Another second passed.
“Candy?” Rosa squeaked more urgently.
Rosa recoiled as the theatre lights came on, momentarily blinded and scared out of her wits.
“What are you going on about?” Candy said from just inside the doors, “Are you going to stand out there all night?”
A large table dominated the center of the room. It was fully adjustable and was still in the configuration it had been used in the day before for Lady Blakewell’s gynecological procedure. Candy wasted no time roaming about the room while Rosa stood near the operating table watching her. Rosa hadn’t noticed the broad covered trolley at the head of the table but Candy had and wasted no time yanking off the sheet. Both girls gasped at the site of the monstrosity of chrome, glass, and black rubber that lay beneath.
It was the anaesthesia machine; a rack of six gas bottles across the back of it colored two green, two blue, one orange, and one black. Lengths of corrugated black hose were draped across the small counter top, two sections connected to different parts of the machine. A bank of knobs and gauges labeled: Oxygen, Nitrous Oxide, Cyclopropane, and Carbon Dioxide. On the side of the machine was a large black rubber bladder to which one of the hoses was attached.
“Good God!” Candy exclaimed, extending a hand towards the controls.
“Wait a minute…” Rosa began.
“I’m beginning to regret inviting you along,” Candy huffed.
“What are you going to do?” Rosa took a small step back.
“Haven’t you ever wondered what it was like?” Candy stepped to the other side of the machine then quickly opened one of the drawers.
“You mean the gas?” Rosa whispered.
“Of course I mean the gas,” Candy laughed and reached into the drawer.
Rosa gawked as Candy produced an ominous black rubber facemask and proceeded to fondle it. Rosa shuddered when she thought of all the patients who’d had that awful mask clamped to their faces. She had caught a whiff of the gas’ odor once before when a patient had briefly struggled free and knocked the anaesthetist’s hand awry. It was musty, cloying. Awful. Oh yes, and then there had been that time…NO!
Candy had different feelings about the mask. She remembered having her appendix out only seven years earlier when she was 17. She remembered the mask. The smothering mask and the acrid chemical fumes. She had been a brave girl, breathing deeply as instructed in spite of the terrible smell. The anaesthetist had been a handsome young resident. She had kept her eyes open as long as she could, staring up into the baby blues that gazed down caringly at her even as his hand gripped the mask more tightly to her tender young face. Roaring oblivion had followed.

“Oh, I think all this anaesthesia stuff is fascinating,” Candy said with a broad smile. Her eyes turned to the machine.
“You wouldn’t!” Rosa exclaimed.
“Just one little whiff won’t hurt,” said Candy, inching towards the machine, “And besides, I’ve watched them work this thing. It’s not so hard. Keeping the patient alive is the hard part.”
Before Rosa could say anything else, Candy was at the controls, her fingers touching each of the knobs under the flowmeters.
“Be careful!” Rosa blubbered, looking back over her shoulder nervously.
Candy switched on the oxygen first. There was a faint crackling noise as the circuit filled with fresh oxygen. She picked up the hoses, attached at a t-piece, and connected the mask to the circuit. A steady hissing began to issue from the mask as Candy brought it up just a few inches from her face. A steady flow of oxygen blew against her chin and lips.
“Now for a little gas,” Candy tittered, bringing the mask closer but not yet in contact with her face. She switched on the nitrous oxide next, balancing the mixture the way she had seen them do dozens of times; 30% oxygen, 70% nitrous oxide.
All she could really smell was the rubber of the mask at first. With a giggle, she pressed the mask over her nose and mouth, taking a deep breath. The rubber smell was pungent, like an old tire, but there was also the mild sweet odor of the nitrous oxide. Exhaling, she saw the rebreathing bag flutter as her breath filled it. She breathed deeply again. Her fingertips were feeling tingly, her knees a little wobbly. Another breath out and the bag swelled even more as the gas mixture flowed into it. Suddenly she pulled the mask away and gasped.
“Are you alright?” Rosa asked, fear replaced with professional concern. She stepped up and put a hand on Candy’s shoulder.
“I’m OK,” Candy sputtered, smiling, “I just didn’t think it would be that intense!”
Rosa ogled the hissing mask, still in Candy’s hand. Again, before Rosa could react, Candy had replaced the mask to her face and was breathing deeply from it. But now Rosa reached up and pulled the mask away.
“Are you crazy?”
Candy blinked dumbly at her, thoughts somewhat fuzzy. Then her eyes cleared.
“Look, Rosa, I’m not leaving her until I’ve had some of the real gas!”
“Not the cyclo…” Rosa began.
“Yes…the cyclo!” Candy said, reaching for the controls again. Rosa intervened again, grabbing Candy’s wrist.
The women glared at one another, suddenly unsure of what would happen next. Candy’s expression was almost one of hurt while Rosa’s was clearly of horror.
“What’s the matter, Rosa,” Candy mewed.
Rosa shut her eyes for a moment, sighing.
“Its…its just that I had a bad turn with the gas once…”
Rosa hadn’t wanted to remember. She tried to keep her thoughts about the matter as professional as possible. Now it was impossible to keep the memory out.
“What happened?” Candy prompted.
“It was in nursing school,” Rosa said, “There was a doctor named Abbott…”

Shadows, part 2
Rosa’s Story

There were seven of us. As part of our training we were given a crash course in anaesthetics. The other girls and I had thought we were going to witness an induction, and we were right…only it would be each one of us! It was considered essential that we all experience anaesthesia from the patient’s perspective. Of course, we didn’t find this out until the day of the course.
We assembled in one of the training theatres where the chief anaesthetist, Dr. Abbott, was waiting with a trolley very much like this one. None of us said a word as we stood waiting as Dr. Abbott fiddled with the controls on his gas machine. Matron was standing nearby, knowing what would soon unfold. Finishing his adjustments, Dr. Abbott turned to us and began his speech:
“Today, each one of you will be given a firsthand experience with the gas machine. In turn, each one of you will lie down here on the table and be anaesthetized for a few moments so that you will know exactly what the patient is experiencing…”
We began to whisper among ourselves nervously when Matron stepped in:
“Quiet now, girls, this is something I want you to remember and remember well!”
Gladys was first. She bravely stepped up to the table and reclined, but you could tell she was scared. We all were, except maybe for Ursula. Abbott clamped the rubber mask over Gladys’ face.
“Breathe slowly and deeply…”
After she had taken three or four nervous breaths, he said:
“How are you feeling?”
“Sleepy…” Gladys had mumbled under the mask.
Abbott’s hand went to the machine and twisted a knob. Gladys’ eyes fluttered open for a moment, widened, then closed tightly as she took another breath. They fluttered once more, then closed. Abbott withdrew the mask.
“As you saw, it took only about a minute to fully anaesthetize this young woman. A beginning mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide sedates the patient before introducing the volatile agent. In this case, Cyclopropane.”
Abbott switched off the gas and turned up the oxygen then placed the mask back on Gladys for a few breaths. Her eyes opened slowly and Abbott removed the mask.
“Good girl, you’re done. Who’s next?”
Matron helped Gladys off of the table and into a one of several chairs that had been set up across the room.
“I’ll go next,” Ursula had said, stepping forward.
Matron grimaced, but said nothing, Gladys slumping in her arms.
Ursula climbed onto the table and smiled up at Dr. Abbott. The anaesthetist smiled back and plopped the mask over her incredulous face. Again he said:
“Breathe slowly and deeply…”
Ursula complied, eyes wide and bright as she took her first breaths of the nitrous oxygen mixture. We watched the rebreathing bag, almost hypnotized by its rhythm. Just as before, after a few breaths, Abbott switched on the Cyclopropane. You could see his fingers gripping the mask, sealing it more tightly to her face. But unlike Gladys, Ursula didn’t go right out. Her eyes stayed open as she breathed in the potent gas. Then as if a switch had been flipped, Ursula’s eyes shut.
“There is always someone who thinks they can fight the gas,” Abbott chuckled, “The gas always wins.”
He lifted the mask to reveal Ursula’s slack-jawed condition then replaced it as he flushed the mask with oxygen. Ursula came too, shaking her head weakly as if to dislodge the mask. Abbott removed the mask and Matron stepped up to the table to assist the befuddled girl. Ursula mumbled something incoherent as Matron guided her toward the chairs. Abbott swabbed out the mask as he smiled at the five of us who were yet to have the gas.
“You’re next,” said Abbott, pointing at a girl named Linda who I didn’t know very well, “It won’t hurt a bit.”
And so it went, without incident I might add, until all that was left was me. The six other girls now occupied the chairs in various states of disorientation, keeping Matron occupied as I stood there watching Abbott get ready to gas me. Something I couldn’t readily identify at the time nagged at the back of my mind. I just knew something bad was going to happen, but I had no idea what…or even why I should feel that way after seeing the other girls go through the process with no ill effects of note. I stood frozen until Abbott’s voice startled me back into focus.
“Come along then,” he said with the same tired smile, “You’ve had quite the show so far. Time for your moment of glory.”
I stepped forward but couldn’t take my eyes off of the gas machine. The closer I got the more sinister it appeared. There was no comfort in the cold metal and black rubber. A faint hissing issued from the mask as Abbott fiddled it around in his hands. After what seemed crossing a great distance I found myself at the operating table.
“What are you waiting for?” I heard Matron snap, “Get it over with!”
“It’ll be alright,” Abbott said, noting my obvious discomfort, “Just a few quick breaths and it will be all over. All you have to do is relax and breathe.”
I summoned up what courage I had left and crawled up onto the table. As I reclined, I couldn’t help but stare again at that horrible gas machine. Then Abbott’s hand was at my chin, gently but firmly turning my face upright. Abbott was staring down at me…and so was Matron! I felt terribly alone in that moment.
“She won’t be any trouble, will you?” she said at me. Abbott raised a brow at this but made no reply.
The mask was in his hand, mere inches above my face. It seemed so much larger than it had before, as though it would engulf my whole face. It seemed as though he were lowering the mask ever so slowly, as if everything were suddenly moving in slow motion. Closer and closer it came…the hollow hissing sound from the depths of the mask grew louder and louder…
I guess I had known I was claustrophobic, but had never made the association with something like surgical anaesthesia. Even as the soft cuff of the mask first made contact, I could feel my breath being sucked away into the machine. I gasped, tried to say something in protest, and drew in my first breath of the gas mixture. Whether or not he started off with the nitrous-oxygen combination or went straight for the Cyclopropane I never knew. The smell was cloying, if nothing else residual from the previous gassings, rubbery and cool. It was an effort to exhale, and then I took in another gulp of gas. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe…
Matron’s arms were across me, holding me down as I began to panic and struggle. I heard her say: “Just put her under…they all get the same treatment!”
There was only the horrible, smothering gas. Even the slightest inspiration brought a jet of gas into my lungs…I fell into whirling darkness with a scream on my lips…

Shadows, part 3
Matron’s Tale

Matron Eleanor Crane was oblivious to the events that were unfolding one floor down from where she was now. She had gone to the supply room to see a parcel that had arrived for the chief of anesthesiology, Dr. Barlow. Her visit was unofficial, but no one would question her presence there or her business.
The parcel had been sent from Paramour Industries, a supplier of a wide variety of medical equipment and accessories. In this case, since it was intended for Dr. Barlow, then it almost certainly had to be anaesthesia sundries. Eleanor quickly opened the cardboard container after giving it a quick shake. Tossing out the paper wadding, she smiled when she saw the selection of brand new anaesthesia masks, sizes 2 through 5. There was also a leaflet that described the new design and its benefits.
“Contoured inflatable cushion,” Eleanor read aloud, “Anti-static black rubber molding…”
Eleanor picked up the size 5 anaesthesia mask, her fingers tracing the gentle curves of the inflated cuff. It was a nice piece of work. Lord only knew how many times had she used masks similar to this one to render patients unconscious, clamping it to their incredulous faces, seeing their eyes widen as the first pungent fumes of ether entered their nostrils. Many had resisted, struggled to be free of the mask’s embrace…
“You’ll just smell a little bit of rubber,” she would tell them, or: “A few quick breaths and you’ll be fast asleep…”
Of course, it took more than a few quick breaths of ether. Thankfully the hospital’s anaesthetists had taken to using nitrous oxide to render the patients senseless before introducing the ether. The inductions were much quieter now, and most of the patients tolerated the nitrous oxide without much fuss. Now a few breaths of almost pure nitrous oxide would put the patient to sleep in only a minute or so. And she had heard of the newest anaesthetic compound to be introduced recently, Cyclopropane.
She recalled the hysterectomy she had undergone two years ago. The anaesthetist had discussed the procedure with her and informed her that they would be using gas to put her sleep. Eleanor had administered gas hundreds of times in her career but had never experienced it firsthand as they made the nurse trainees do now. As a young woman she remembered seeing the ether cones and the patients who struggled so violently, screaming as the ether was dribbled slowly onto the gauze.
She had asked the anaesthetist about an alternative to the ether, or at least some kind of sedative ahead of time.
“Its our policy to give patients some preoperative sedation. And I won’t start you on the ether until after I’ve eased you out with some nitrous oxide.”
She had known about the properties of nitrous oxide. A weak compound, not unpleasant to breathe. It certainly had to be better than the awful ether. The anaesthetist had patted her hand and told her he would take good care of her in surgery the next day.

Rolling down the corridor to the operating theatre, Eleanor remembered the overhead lights passing like bright, square clouds. The two orderlies who attended her chatted away as they passed through the double doors into the induction room. She had been amused at seeing this room from an entirely new perspective. The opiate they had given her earlier added a somewhat psychedelic aspect to the moment. One of the orderlies patted her thigh and winked down at her.
“Here ya go then, love. Have a nice nap…”
A nurse shooed the orderlies then proceeded to tuck Eleanor’s arms tightly under the sheet that covered her. The nurse only looked down at her once, face void of emotion. Eleanor imagined that she was looking up to see her own face staring back. Then the anaesthetist’s face swam into view.
“You are going to be just fine, Eleanor,” he said, smiling, voice warbling in the haze of the sedative.
She heard the squeak of coaster wheels and shifted her head to see the attending nurse pushing the anaesthetic trolley up next to the gurney. Eleanor mused on the machine’s menacing appearance. She had always found the black rubber somewhat intriguing. The smell and feel of it were like nothing she had ever known before. Her eyes followed the lengths of corrugated tubing from their connections at the gas bottles and rebreathing bag. The tubes met at the bulbous, pear-shaped mask where Eleanor now concentrated her gaze. The anaesthetist’s hand went to the controls and turned some knobs. She watched the bobbers in the nitrous oxide and oxygen flowmeters come to life, followed by a faint hissing from the mask. Then he picked up the mask.
“Here we go, Eleanor,” he said, bringing the mask up next to her face.
“No ether…” Eleanor had mumbled; seeking out the vaporizer with her eyes to make sure she hadn’t been tricked.
The looming black shape brought her back, just in time to see it descend over her nose and mouth. The anaesthetist held the mask gently by the tubing, letting it rest on Eleanor’s face rather than grasping it in place. The smell of rubber was almost overwhelming. Eleanor gasped softly at the astonishing odor then took a more relaxed breath. There was a sweet taste, obviously the nitrous oxide, nothing like the cloying ether. A gentle fluttering sound told her the rebreathing bag was in motion as she exhaled. Another breath and she had felt as though she was melting into the gurney. Her hands and feet tingling, Eleanor breathed in deeply, unafraid.
The anaesthetist was saying something, but Eleanor couldn’t make out just what. The sound of her own breathing was a roar in her ears through which she could clearly hear the whish-whoosh of the bag. As all senses faded, Eleanor’s last memory was of the first traces of ether fumes.
She had woken up sick and remained so for another day. The ether may have been an excellent anaesthetic but the side effects were positively awful.

Eleanor held the mask in front of her face. She wondered what the new Cyclopropane was like. She had smelled it in theatre before; a pungent, fruity odor. The patients didn’t seem to mind it. It was quick enough. It usually required just a few breaths before they were out.
She had wanted to try out the anaesthetic machine for a long time now, but professionalism and no little element of fear had dissuaded her so far. Tonight she knew would probably be her best chance for months to come. The staff was at the bare minimum since many were away at a convention. Even if discovered, she would be able to avoid a scandal.
“Number 5 small adult face mask,” she said, drawing the mask closer until she could just smell the rubber, “You and I have a date in theatre tonight…”

Shadows, Part 4

“If you want to get screwed up on gas then go right ahead,” Rosa exclaimed, turning away.
“I’ll need your help,” said Candy sheepishly.
Rosa spun around and gaped at her obviously troubled companion.
“You want me to…to help?”
“I might fall down and hit my head,” Candy smiled, “That cyclopropane is some pretty potent stuff…”
“What do you expect me to do?”
“I’ll lie down on the table and you hold the mask on me until I lose consciousness,” Candy said matter-of-factly, “Simple as that!”
“Simple? You’re crazy!”
“It’ll only take a few seconds. Then we can get out of here, OK?”
Rosa looked at the machine as if it were a snarling dog. She knew Candy would have her way regardless of whether Rosa helped her or not. Rosa didn’t want to see her friend get hurt and it would be over and done with quickly enough. Rosa bit her lip then nodded in acquiescence.
“Great!” whooped Candy. She sprang to the machine’s controls and began fiddling with the flowmeters.
“Lets see,” she said thoughtfully, “I’m pretty sure they keep the cyclopropane/oxygen mixture at around 10%…”
Candy picked up the facemask and held it in front of her face.
“Here goes…”
With a quick motion Candy opened the gas circuit once again. There was a click followed by a faint, steady hissing. After taking a quick sniff, Candy handed the mask to Rosa. She reached slowly for the mask then snatched it out of Candy’s hand. With a giggle, Candy hopped up on the operating table. She winked at Rosa then reclined into position.
“Come on then!” Candy laughed, “Bring on the gas…”

Matron Crane stepped out of the stairwell and almost at once heard voices coming from the surgical theatre. Startled, she dropped the size 5 mask she had been carrying then quickly scooped it up before tiptoeing down the hall. The voices were loud and clear, and soon she recognized them as the voices of Nurses Candy and Rosa. What could they possibly be doing down here at this time of night? Then she looked at the mask in her hand and shuddered. Could it be that Candy and Rosa were doing the very thing she had contemplated doing herself? The fools were liable to kill themselves if they mishandled the cyclopropane. She could just see the headlines: Nurses Blown Up In Anaesthetic Mishap!
She was just outside of theatre now. Candy and Rosa had been arguing, so Matron assumed, over who would get the gas treatment first. Well, Matron was going to see that they got everything they were hoping for and a little extra. Tucking the mask into her apron pocket, Matron Crane casually stood in the doorway.
“Late night, girls?” she said menacingly.
Rosa had been just about to anaesthetize Candy, the mask mere inches from her overly cheerful companion’s face when she heard Matron. She spun around, dropping the hissing mask as Candy sprang up from the operating table.
“My God! Matron Crane!” Rosa almost shrieked.
“Matron…” Candy began.
“This is absolutely outrageous,” Matron growled, “Exactly what do you think you’re doing? Have you lost your minds?”
“We…we were just…” Candy sputtered, standing now.
“You were just about to lose your jobs!” Matron finished for her, “Never in all my years have I witnessed such an idiotic display by two supposedly professional nurses!”
Matron Crane strode into the room, Rosa and Candy backing away from the operating table like scolded dogs. The fruity aroma of the cyclopropane was noticeable now. Matron picked up the hissing mask then quickly shut off the gas machine.
“Cyclopropane is highly flammable. You could quite easily have blown yourselves up. Help me to understand why you are doing this!”
“We…I just wanted to know what the gas was like,” replied Candy, hanging her head in despair, “Rosa just came along to make sure I didn’t hurt myself…it’s not her fault…”
“Is this true, Rosa?”
“Yes, ma’am…I couldn’t just let her do it alone…”
“You’re both fools,” Matron scolded, eyes now turning to the gas machine, “The very least you could have done was come to me about this.”
Candy looked up, astonished at Matron’s statement. She noticed the strange lump in Matron’s apron pocket.
“I never thought you would understand…” Candy said, despair now replaced with moderate confusion.
“I understand more than you give me credit for,” Matron said, moving the gas machine closer to the head of the operating table, “I too have had some questionable thoughts…”
Now Candy was really confused. Rosa stood by, face blank as she was equally confused by what was unfolding.
“I have a feeling that you won’t be satisfied until you had a chance to try the cyclo,” Matron said as she turned the anaesthesia machine back on and flooded the circuit with oxygen, “Come on then…up on the table, Candy…”
The young nurse’s mouth hung open as she assimilated what she had just heard.
“You mean…”
“That’s right. Now up you go.”
Matron tried hard not to smile, the edges of her mouth twitching ever so slightly. The more she thought about the situation, the funnier it seemed. True, they were taking a risk but it was a small one, no more risky than getting poked by a contaminated needle. Again, Matron’s seniority would allay any scandals if they should be discovered.
A smile broke out on Candy’s face while Rosa just stood there with her doe-eyes.
“You’re OK, Matron,” Candy said as she climbed back onto the table.
Matron turned her attention to the gas machine, switching the oxygen to 100%. Candy had once more reclined on the operating table and was watching Matron’s activity with great interest. As the gasbag filled, Matron took the mask in hand and turned back to Candy.
“I’ll give you some oxygen at first to clean your system out.”
Matron applied the mask gently to the young woman’s face, watching for any reaction.
“You know the routine, Candy…deep breaths…”
Candy inspired the pure oxygen with enthusiasm for a minute or so before Matron reached for the gas controls. Candy turned to watch again, mask still in place.
“Just a little cyclo at first…let’s go with 3%…”
The gas circuit crackled as the cyclo joined the oxygen in the gasbag. Candy inspired deeply, her head swimming as the potent cyclopropane rushed to her brain.
“Easy, now…just breathe normally…”
Candy relaxed, wanting the experience to last as long as she could hold out. Matron increased the cylco to 5%, now placing a stethoscope on her fading charge. Her pulse was strong and steady, color good.
“See how far you can count,” Matron instructed, keeping a straight face as her professional demeanor kept her focused.
Candy’s eyes were already beginning to close and she smiled under the mask. This stuff was pretty quick. The rubbery smell of the mask was gradually replaced something akin to the odor of a felt tipped pen…not unpleasant, really, but sharp.
Matron turned the cyclo up to 10% now, knowing that only one more breath of the mixture would take Candy under. Sure enough, Candy inhaled, eyes fluttering. The last thing she saw was Matron’s face swirling down into a black hole as her consciousness evaporated. Her head slumped to the side, Matron holding the mask in place for a few more breaths.
“She’s alright, isn’t she?” Rosa muttered.
Matron had almost forgotten she was there.
“Of course she’ll be alright,” Matron withdrew the mask and switched off the gas and oxygen flows, “She’ll come around in a few minutes.”
Just for good measure, Matron applied a blood pressure cuff to Candy’s arm and checked her vital signs once more.
“She’s a healthy girl.”
Candy began to stir after another minute, licking her lips as she mumbled nonsense. She waved her hand in front of her face as if searching for the mask.
“Am I asleep?” she slurred, a trickle of drool at the corner of her mouth.
Rosa stepped up to the table, concern still etched on her face. Then she looked up at Matron.
“I hope you don’t expect me to get up there.”
“Come on down…” Candy tittered, raising her wobbling head to look around.
“No. I wasn’t going to force you into anything, Rosa,” Matron smiled, “I thought it was best that Candy’s curiosity be satisfied rather than have her sneaking around to get her kicks. She’ll know I’m watching now.”
“Wow,” Candy rubbed her eyes as her senses returned, “Nitrous oxide is nothing compared to that cylco. I mean, the nitrous takes a while and you can get a really good buzz, but the cyclo is like a freight train…you’re out before you know it.”
“I’ve never heard it put that way before, Candy, but you’re basically right,” Matron was still in professional mode, “It’s a dramatic improvement over ether or smothering someone out with pure nitrous, but it is still very flammable.”
Candy grinned at Rosa.
“Not bad, eh?”
“I said it before, I’ll say it again: You’re crazy…” Rosa shook her head.
Candy turned to say something to Matron and caught her with her hand in her apron pocket, fondling the lump Candy had noticed before. Matron blushed, then smiled sheepishly. She pulled the brand new size 5 mask out.
“OK, I admit that I was coming down here to, ahem, check the system and see if Dr. Barlow’s new masks fit properly.”
The masks currently in use were egg shaped and made of relatively stiff rubberized material. The new masks were anatomical, more pliable with a thick inflatable cuff. Whereas the old masks had leather clip on harnesses, the new masks had rubber harnesses that attached to a hook ring where the mask attached to the circuit.
“Go ahead,” Candy coaxed, “Try it out. We might as well make the most of this, don’t you think?”
“My god, you are crazy,” Matron said with a grin. And maybe she was a little crazy at that moment too.
She detached the old mask, laying it at the head of the operating table then proceeded to attach the new mask. Candy picked up the old mask and gave it a sniff while Rosa could only look on and wonder what on earth she was doing here.
“This mask smells like an inner tube,” Candy gave it another sniff.
Matron now had the new mask attached and held the it just in front of her face. The smoothly contoured maw of shiny black rubber seemed almost big enough to cover her whole face. A steady wash of oxygen blew into her face.
“C’mon, chicken…” Candy was giggling, still a little drunk from the cyclo.
Closing her eyes, Matron pressed the mask to her face, feeling it seal as the pressure equalized within the circuit. The rush of oxygen was exhilarating and she opened her eyes in brief astonishment.
“She likes it,” Candy tittered on.
Matron withdrew the mask, turning to Candy.
“I think you need this more than I do.”
Matron shoved the mask onto Candy’s grinning visage, grabbing the back of her head to steady her.
“Take a couple of nice, deep breaths…”
“This one smells like an old tire too,” Candy mumbled into the thick rubber. After three breaths of the pure oxygen it was obvious that her head had cleared. She reached up and held the mask herself, Matron helping her to sit up on the table.
“That’s a girl…take it easy…”
After another minute, Matron took the mask away and turned off the machine.
“Now get yourselves in order and get back to your rooms,” Matron said as she straightened up the operating table, “Let’s just keep this between us, ladies…and maybe we can do it again sometime if the opportunity presents itself. I’ll finish up here…now SCOOT!”
Rosa took Candy by the hand and all but dragged her out of the room.
“You should give it a whirl sometime, Rosa,” Candy was saying as they moved out of sight, “You need to loosen up a little…”
Alone now, Matron went to the gas machine and made sure nothing was amiss. She cleaned the old mask and returned it to its drawer. Just before cleaning the new mask, she held it against her face one more time. The rubbery smell tickled at the back of her nose.
“Old tire? Indeed,” she said out loud, wiping the mask clean then putting it back in her apron pocket. She looked back one more time as she switched off the lights and saw only shadows…

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