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I sigh and step back. “Your first case is Monday morning. Ask Patricia for the information and learn the steps of a pedicle subtraction osteotomy like a child’s life depends on it—because it does. I’m giving you one chance.”
Then, I turn and walk away.
It feels slightly unnerving turning my back on the enemy. I think she’s going to shout something at me in an effort to get the last word, but there’s nothing but silence as I head to the stairwell. I yank the heavy metal door open and disappear inside.
I know without a shadow of a doubt she’ll be there on Monday morning.
I smile as I take the stairs two at a time.
I just got myself a shiny new surgical assistant.
I arrive at work on Monday bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. My hair and makeup look flawless. My scrubs are starched and fit to a T. My coffee thermos is in hand and I sip from it until I have just enough caffeine to keep me alert, but not so much that I’ll have to run to the bathroom every five seconds. I make the kind of first impression people dream about. Dr. Russell pulls me aside after surgery to commend me on my work ethic, and his eyes look especially blue. What’s that? He’s going to give me a little smooch to show me his appreciation? This is totally unexpected, but oddly…thrilling. I want this kiss. I might hate his guts, but I don’t hate his lips, or his face, or his hair.
That arguing we did in the hallway on Friday was foreplay if I’ve ever felt it.
I want this kiss so badly. I press up onto my tiptoes, and when that’s not enough, I wrap my hand around his neck and tug down, down, down, then I pucker up and hold on for dear life.
Just before our lips meet, a loud pounding starts reverberating through the hospital hallway. I flinch and the dream disappears.
Josie’s banging on my door. “Wake up, you idiot! You’re going to be late!”
My eyes jerk open and I reach for my phone on the bedside table. It’s 7:27 AM.
Dr. Russell’s surgery is scheduled for eight o’clock, sharp.
I shove my blanket aside and leap out of bed.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU WAKE ME UP?!”
“Because I thought you were already at work! You’re never here at this time!”
“Shit! Shit! Shiiiiiit!”
I want to weep and stamp my feet and curse the gods for this injustice, but I really just curse Dr. Russell. This is all his fault. He got into my head on Friday, scaring me about being prepared. Learn the steps of a pedicle subtraction osteotomy like a child’s life depends on it—because it does. Oh, okay, no pressure or anything!
I had every step of the procedure memorized by Saturday night, but even still, I studied all day yesterday too. I stayed up late, reviewing the patient’s file and committing every detail to memory. The procedure is going to be difficult, ten times more so than anything I’ve done with Dr. Lopez. My nerves were getting to me, so I pushed through and kept studying until my sight went fuzzy and the lines of text on the page turned into inky blobs. I wanted to know the surgery forward and backward. I wanted to be able to identify every piece of hardware with my eyes closed.
By the time I finally went to bed, it was well into the early morning hours, and now look at me—I’M GOING TO BE LATE! I hop around on one foot while I tug on my pants. I put my jeans on backward. Only half my hair makes it into my ponytail.
I dart around for things I think I’ll need: keys, purse, phone, shoe. Where’s the other one?!
This isn’t happening. This is another dream. I’ve never been late. I’m not a late person. In all my years working with Dr. Lopez, this has never happened. I’m so totally screwed.
Josie chucks a wrapped-up muffin at my head as I run for the door. I catch it before it falls to the floor and stuff it in my purse.
“Don’t worry, I’ll start looking into other jobs for you!” she shouts at my back, and instead of rolling my eyes and thinking, That Josie is going to send me to an early grave, I think, Great! That’d actually be wonderful because I am 110% going to need it. Even knowing I’ll be jobless soon, I decide to splurge on an Uber and skip the bus, knowing I don’t have time for public transportation today. I’m shaking and on the verge of tears as we hit traffic.
Today of all days, the city streets are pure gridlock.
“Maybe you could just hop up on the sidewalk for a mile or two? Just to get around this wreck?”
The driver thinks I’m kidding and laughs heartily. I want to climb over the seat and shove him out of the way so I can get behind the wheel, Grand Theft Auto style.
I wonder how many years in prison you get for hijacking someone’s car.
My knees are bouncing like I’m ready to run, and I do as soon as the Uber pulls up to the hospital. I leap out of the back seat, dart through the lobby, run up the never-ending flights of stairs, and slide onto the fifth floor like I’m on ice. I’m so close to the finish line. I can see the operating room at the end of the hall, the one I should have started to prep about thirty minutes ago.
I’m breathing like an old geezer at the finish line of a marathon.
People unknowingly step into my path and I shout at them to get out of my way.
“Move! Watch it!”
I have time to recover, I tell myself. I won’t let this late start ruin my one chance to impress Dr. Russell. I’ve set up an OR quickly before, and I know how to kick it into high gear. I check the surgical board as I sprint past and confirm that yes, the surgery has been delayed by twenty minutes (Don’t panic!), but it’s still going to happen.
In room four, I’m expecting the worst: a messy, disorganized OR that needs to be completely overhauled, but fortunately, my luck turns. Dr. Russell’s nurse is already inside prepping the room. She’s tall, with extremely short hair and round, navy glasses. She’s older than most of the surgical nurses on the floor and when she sees me enter the room, I am fully prepared for her to chew me out for being late.
“Oh my god, I’m so sor—”
She holds up her hand and cuts me off. “If you want to survive your first day, you’ll stop right there, turn around, and go get changed into scrubs. I’ve got this. Dr. Russell knows you’re late. I couldn’t help that when he came in here and saw you were missing, but we can salvage this. Go. Hurry!”
My mouth drops open in shock.
I think…I think she’s my fairy godmother.
I bolt and do as she says, running straight for the scrub vending machine. It’s a hulking beast of a contraption at the very end of the hallway. It’s where we all grab our scrubs before every surgery, and it’s where we turn them back in when we’re done so they can be sanitized. I think of Dr. Russell’s stupid comment on Friday: Where do you even find scrubs that small?
Right here, you jerk.
Though, I do have to roll the elastic band a few times so they’ll fit snugly, but he’ll never know that.
I’m changed and looking the part when I rush back into the room, adjusting my ponytail so it sits a little higher on my head before I cover it with a surgical cap. I puff out a breath and prop my hands on my hips. I have dried tears on my cheeks and shaky hands, but I am so close to pulling this off.
“Where do you want me?”
The nurse nods toward the back door of the OR, the one that leads to the room where the hospital stores its clean instrument sets. “Go in and check that they have everything ready to go. The autoclaves were backed up earlier and I don’t want anything else delaying this case.”
I do exactly as she says and I don’t declare my love for her like I want to. There’ll be time for that later, like after this surgery goes off without a hitch. Ha. I’m going to buy her a gift, something epic, something with melted chocolate.
That is…if I survive the morning.
“We’re looking at a thirty-minute delay, nothing more.”
Mrs. Valdez is wringing her hands. Her husband is pacing. They’re both worried. Fiona should have been taken back to the OR already, but the surgical team hasn’t moved her. I understand their concern. They’ve traveled 1400 miles to be here today. Their daughter is about to have a major operation. Any number of things could go wrong. They won’t, of course—I won’t allow it—but her parents don’t know that.