For a moment it feels as if the metal rod is stuck, but then with an awful wet sucking sound the resistance is gone and it comes free. A single squirt of blood follows it, sending red specks across the front of my clothes and the floor. Lisa jerks violently. Her hand clamps down on my arm and her fingers dig in, her scream dying into a series of pain-wracked sobs.
I stare at the sharp metal spar I now hold in my hand. It's larger than I thought it would be, and the end is covered in a thick substance that looks almost too dark to be blood. I can't believe that I've done it. A wave of disgust rolls through me, but I damp it down. No time for that now. There's still work to do.
I seize one of the sterile dressings and rip it open. My hands are shaking. I grab Lisa's leg and hold it still, turning it a little so that I can see the site of the injury. The hole that's left behind is surprisingly small, but dark, and leaking blood in a very steady, unstoppable-looking way. I apply the sterile dressing to the wound and press down. Red splotches spread across the white of the dressing as the blood soaks through. Lisa moans shakily in pain.
"It's okay," I say. "It's okay. It's out now. That's the worst bit over."
She doesn't respond. I can hear her breath trembling in and out of her lungs. I try to concentrate, to work out what to do next.
"I'm just going to clean the wound," I say. "Then we'll be done."
I peel away the antiseptic dressing, now sodden with blood. As soon as it's out of the way the wound starts trickling again. Quickly, I rip open another dressing and use it to catch the blood as it spills away down Lisa's leg. With my other hand I grab the antiseptic spray, direct the nozzle towards the hole and squirt. Lisa gasps and hisses through her teeth.
Looking at the wound, I can't help but think that it needs stitching. But I know that I can't; even if I tried I'd only make it worse. I have to stick to what I know is right: keep it clean, keep it covered, keep it under pressure.
I take Lisa's limp hand and have her hold the dressing in place while I change my gloves and unroll a length of bandage. Then I pack a roll of dressings over the wound and wind the bandage tightly around her leg six or seven times, tying it off when it's near the end. The result is surprisingly neat. I use a couple of wipes to clear away the excess blood and to clean my hands.
"There," I say. "All done."
Slowly, her breathing still heavy, Lisa looks down at her leg. Her eyes are kind of unfocussed, whether from the pain or the drink I cannot tell. She nods, blankly.
"Try not to move it," I say. She nods again, and leans her head back against the wall as though she plans on going to sleep. Abruptly I feel quite useless. I clear away all the used wipes and dressings and then, wanting to give Lisa some space, I say, "I'll go and get you some water."
Before I can leave the room, though, Lisa opens her eyes. "Don't go," she says. "Not yet. Just...Just stay for a little bit. Stay here."
I stand for a moment, awkward, unsure. Then I go and sit down on the floor beside her. We listen to each other's breathing--mine calm, Lisa's ragged and wracked--for almost a minute before we turn to each other. I put my arms around Lisa's shoulders and hug her, tight. She feels so small.
It's been an age since I touched another human being. We stay like that for a long, long time.