The first time I set foot inside a real operating room, I was shocked by how little it looked like the ones on television. In reality, operating rooms were sterile and if you were lucky, you had some state-of-the-art equipment in them, but they certainly didn’t look the part of shiny modern marvels like the ones of those intricately designed sets for TV dramas did.
In the years since I popped my OR cherry, the surprise of what they really looked like had worn off, and the rooms—just the way they were—had become like a second home to me. I didn’t have much of a choice but to get comfortable in them, considering that I was now an honest-to-God heart surgeon. Surprise, surprise.
Even I wondered sometimes how that had happened. How I’d gone from the person I used to be to the guy everyone looked to in the OR. Thank God none of my patients knew my history, or they’d never let me hold the scalpel that was about to cut them open.
All they saw was a competent surgeon, one who moved seamlessly from patient to patient and operation to operation and still remembered everyone’s names. It had taken a lot for me to get to where I was. More than it did for most others, in my humble opinion.
Whatever my past, my present was a fucking great place to be. My ORs were my happy place. In many ways, I had become almost more comfortable in them than in my own house since I spent far more hours at the hospital than I did at home.
I knew every person in there with me by name, every sight I could expect to see, and every sound I routinely heard by heart. Which made me uniquely qualified to state uncategorically that the sights and sounds around me right now were not how things usually were.
Alarms were blaring and people were shouting. Machines were going mad and flashing lights I knew they could, but I didn’t see them in action very often. So in short, my surgery is going to hell in a handbasket.
The man on the table in front of me was in his mid-fifties and had come in for the most common type of heart surgery in adults, a coronary artery bypass. Many people still believed the mortality rate of this surgery was astronomically high.
It wasn’t anymore, though. Technology was a wonderful thing. It had made it a much safer, more efficient procedure with far fewer side effects than it had been at its inception.
Unless you were Mr. Murray, my current patient, who probably wouldn’t have two fucks to give about the mortality rate in general, because he was about to become a statistic in the something-went-horribly-wrong column.
Complete chaos had become of the calm order that had been my OR only moments ago, and I was the one everyone was waiting for to make the call. Everything had been going perfectly well just a minute ago, and now my patient was coding.
Fucking great. Time slowed down for me, allowing me to take a deep breath before I jumped into action.
Haste was one of a surgeon’s worst enemies. It was right up there with panic and jitters. I watched the mayhem around me and, as calmly as I could, tried to assess what was causing the incessant beeping of the machines that were signaling how close the circles Mr. Murray was making were to the drain.
I’d made the incision in the chest and temporarily stopped the patient’s heart. Cutting lengthwise through the sternum next, I’d spread it apart to expose the organ I needed to get to. After that, we’d inserted the tubes into the heart so that blood could be pumped through his body by a heart-lung bypass machine.
Everything had been going swimmingly until that point. Then all hell broke loose.
Studiously gazing down at Mr. Murray, I narrowed my eyes and searched for the cause of the code. For a second I didn’t see anything, but then my eyes snagged on a tiny stream of shiny fluid seeping into the space between the sac that encased the heart and the heart muscle. And there it is.
Cardiac Tamponade. Fuck, it had been a while since I’d last seen one of these. Knowing what I was dealing with now, though, I got to work.
“We’re going to have to drain that and repair the pericardium.” I turned to Edgar, my best friend and the best damn nurse we had. “Get me the needle. We need to do this fast.”
He nodded, his brown eyes dark and serious for once above his surgical mask. Edgar and I worked together like a well-oiled machine, at times not even needing words to communicate.
Anticipating my needs was one of Edgar’s superpowers, and they didn’t let him down today. People gave him shit about being a male nurse all the time. He had a good sense of humor about it, but he took his job very seriously. It wasn’t an accident that he became a nurse, and he didn’t see it as a stepping-stone to a higher position or anything.
Edgar’s mother had been a nurse and he’d grown up giving the noble profession the respect it deserved. When it came time to decide what he was going to do for the rest of his life, he chose nursing and never looked back. I thanked my lucky stars that he didn’t.
“He’s stable,” Edgar announced, standing beside me with his eyes darting between the monitors and Mr. Murray’s open chest cavity. “Okay, Superman. You’re good to go.”
I fought against the urge to roll my eyes at the nickname he’d given me about a year ago and wouldn’t stop using. “Thank you, Robin. Go give the family a quick update, would you? We’re out of the woods for now, but you need to get back here as fast as you can.”
“Robin was Batman’s sidekick, not Superman’s. How many times do I have to tell you this?” His dark eyes smiled, his lips hidden by his mask. “I’ll be back. Don’t kill anyone while I’m gone.”
“I’ll do my best,” I retorted, but I was already signaling for the scalpel I needed to be handed to me by another nurse.
Edgar was the only person other than myself who I trusted to speak to the families, and since I couldn’t exactly walk out during surgery, the others knew to step into the role on my right side whenever he had to leave. An update wasn’t strictly necessary at this time, but I knew Mr. Murray’s family would be watching the clock and anxious to know how it was going. I tried to be considerate to the families when I could, and this was one of those times.
The rest of the procedure went off without a hitch, and once Mr. Murray was being wheeled into recovery, I breathed out a quiet sigh of relief. “That was touch-and-go there for a minute.”
“You’re telling me,” Edgar agreed, walking behind me as we went to wash up. “Your record remains unblemished, though, so good job. Another day as the dude who’s never lost a patient.”
“Dumb luck.” I pushed through the door and started peeling off my surgical gown, discarding it with the remainder of the waste to be collected from the chamber beside the room. “Trust me, I’m nothing special.”
He barked out a laugh. “So you keep saying, but you’ve never told me why. I don’t even know how you got into this. I mean, it’s like it’s your calling. I just don’t know how you found it.”
“It called me,” I deadpanned, sticking my hands under the warm water to begin the rigorous cleaning-up procedure. Edgar did the same beside me, both of us now down to our scrubs again.
He shoved with his shoulder as he pumped antiseptic soap with his other elbow. “Fine, keep being coy and mysterious then. Just know that you don’t have to be that way with me to keep me interested. I don’t swing that way. If you want to tell me, you can. I’ll help you keep up the mysterious act with the ladies. They dig it.”
“I’m not being coy and mysterious,” I argued before mentally going over how many times he’d asked me those questions, which was when I realized that maybe it really did look that way. “It’s a not a state secret or anything, I just don’t like talking about my past. I had to change a lot of things about myself to get to where I am and to become the person I am today. I prefer focusing on the guy I am now.”
“Fair enough.” Edgar finished scrubbing his hands and rinsed them as I did the same. “We’ve all got periods of our lives we don’t like to look back on. Mine was my preteens. My mom cut a step in my hair and dressed me in these terrible denim overalls.”
My eyebrows pulled together as I laughed. “That was a mental picture I didn’t need. I’m never going to be able to look at you without seeing it now.”
He turned to face me, dragging a hand through his shaggy, dark hair before spreading his arms out to his sides and doing a ridiculous impression of a belly dancer. “What? How about now? Is this a better picture.”
I pressed the heels of my palms to my eyes and mimed scrubbing them as rigorously as we’d just scrubbed our hands. “It burns. I’d rather have had bleach poured into my eyes than to have seen that.”
Edgar laughed. I dropped my hands and jerked my head at the door. “I’m going to go track down the Murrays to let them know how it went and then grab a cup of coffee before rounds. Want one?”
He nodded solemnly. “One never passes on the offer of coffee.” Breaking out into a wide grin, he followed me into the hall. “As for the Murrays, they’ve gone to the waiting room between maternity and the cafeteria. Told me they’d only leave it to get food for the kids and then go right back.”
“Got it. Thanks. I’ll see you in few.”
Edgar and I split into different directions, him going to the nurse’s station on the second floor. He gave me a little two fingered salute and disappeared up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
Thankful that I had good news to share with the family, I walked to the waiting room at a clipped pace. Only when I got there, it wasn’t the Murrays filling the seats.
Instead the last person I’d ever expected to see holding a baby was sitting there with moisture in his eyes, talking to a few people who had to be his friends. Who the fuck handed Will Campton a baby?
Judging by the tears in his eyes and the way he was holding the child like it was his pride and joy, I realized that it may even be his baby. My eyes widened of their own accord. Will Campton as a father. Never thought I’d see the day.
Good luck, baby. Your daddy’s a good guy, but fuck if he’s going to have the first idea what to do with you.
Will and I had run together when we were younger. He was a part of that past I wished I could forget, but at the same time, I was nostalgic for sometimes. Unlike my feelings toward many of the others from back in the day, I genuinely liked Will and his foster brother Rayce.
We hadn’t spoken for a long time, though, and this hardly seemed like the time to catch up or reminisce. Besides, the last place I’d want to have a reunion was here at my place of employment. No way, Jose.
Instead of going over to my old friend and congratulating him, I merely gave him a small nod when he looked up as I walked past. Will did the same, relief clearly visible in his eyes and the way his shoulders, which had jerked up as soon as he saw me, relaxed.
As I zoomed out my focus on Will, my gaze caught on the girl sitting beside him. Maternity wasn’t my specialty, but I was pretty sure that she wasn’t his baby mama. She wasn’t moving in the right way to have just given birth and that baby was new newborn.
Satisfied that I wasn’t about to check out the woman who had just given Will a son—if the blue blanket was anything to go by—I let my pace slow down just a little bit, because holy fuck, there was no way I couldn’t check her out.
Long hair so dark it looked almost black fell past her shoulders in soft waves. Bright-blue eyes the color of the sky met mine, briefly, before dropping back down to the baby. In that moment that our eyes met, her full red lips parted and her tongue darted out between them.
There was nothing sexual about the move, but I’d be damned if my momentary focus on her lips and tongue hadn’t made parts of me rouse that shouldn’t rouse at work. She had a Snow White thing going on with the natural flush on her cheeks and smooth skin.
She wasn’t pale, but even her golden tan didn’t detract from the fact that she looked like a damn fairy-tale princess—and I didn’t even watch those kinds of movies. She was just that beautiful that it was the first thing that had sprung to mind.
“Dr. Page. How is he?” The sound of my name coming from down the hall drew my attention away from the gorgeous girl and back to reality, where Mr. Murray’s daughter was practically running in my direction.
Damn. Ah well, checking out the woman had been a fun distraction for a minute. But that wasn’t exactly what I got paid to do. “Anna. He’s out of surgery and he’s doing fine. Let me walk with you to the rest of your family and I’ll give you all the rundown on what happened during the surgery.”
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