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Protocol at the Northern Punjab Clinic for Pregnant Girls and New Mothers by Kaye Linden

Doctor Singh, head of the Northern Punjab Clinic for Pregnant Girls and New Mothers wore her green taffeta sari with a saffron shawl draped around her eighty year old shoulders. She unlocked the clinic door, closed her dripping yellow umbrella and welcomed the first round- bellied patient of the day. Torrential rain spat through gaps in the broken shutters as increasing numbers of girls in various stages of motherhood-to-be squashed together under the shredded awning, laughing and coughing as they waited their turn.  Humid air hung heavy with curried sweat and estrogen.  Voices babbled in Punjabi, rising to a crescendo, down again, up again, down.  Faded prayer flags whipped in the wind.  Long wet hair trickled water onto concrete, snotty babies screamed and a skinny mutt skedaddled through the clinic and under a bench.

“Give this girl a shot of B12,” Doctor Singh said to the new nurse who fingered a tiny syringe the Doctor had placed in her hand. The nurse glanced at the patient whose arms folded across her impending largeness as she waited in a corner of the room.

“How much?” the nurse asked.

“Two ccs should do,” Doctor Singh replied in a low voice.

“This syringe is too small,” the nurse said with a frown.

Doctor Singh guided the nurse by the elbow into the washroom. “We’ve run out of medicine. Tell the patient her nausea will go away with this shot.  I added normal saline to the remaining supply. Just fill the syringe.”

The nurse raised her eyebrows and nodded. She sat next to the patient, drew the pale fluid into the tiny syringe, wiped a patch of alcohol over the patient’s arm, jabbed in the needle, injected, withdrew the needle and placed a band aid with smiley faces over the spot.  “This will make you feel better,” she said.

“I feel better already,” the girl said with a smile, placed her palms together as in prayer, bowed her head and left.

The nurse flushed with guilt.  She turned to Doctor Singh whose weathered hands worked up and down her long white braid.

“You and I both know,” Dr. Singh said.  “It is not the medicine that makes a patient better.”

She pointed towards the sky.   “He makes the patient better.  Do you understand?”

“Yes,” the nurse said with a slight bow and beckoned to the next patient.  “Same dose, Dr. Singh?”

Doctor Singh nodded.  The nurse took a deep breath and drew up the next dose of saline.

Kaye Linden has an MFA in fiction from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island. Kaye is the short fiction editor of the Bacopa Literary Review, an annual print journal and teaches short fiction at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. Kaye has signed with to publish a collection of tales from Australia: “Fifty Tales from Ma’s Watering Hole.”