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“Back home, the doctors weren’t sure about this procedure,” Mrs. Valdez says, turning to her husband and shaking her head quickly. She’s about to pull the plug on this whole thing.
I step forward and try to catch her eyes. I need her to listen to what I’m about to say. “I understand, but that’s because those doctors don’t have the skills I do. I’ve spent my entire career working on complex pediatric spine cases. This surgery is exactly what I’ve been trained to do. I promise your daughter is in good hands.”
There’s movement behind them, at the door of the room. It’s my nurse, Kendra.
“We’re ready,” she mouths while winding up her finger as if to say, Let’s get this show on the road.
I nod and inwardly sigh.
That means Bailey has finally arrived. Late on her first day.
I have another surgeon assisting me today, Dr. Collins. He’s a colleague I’ve worked with in the past. It’s a hassle coordinating our schedules, but he’s good, and for this case, I need all the hands I can get.
Unfortunately, that means Bailey has not only wasted my time, the patient’s time, and my staff’s time, but also Dr. Collins’. The operating room is booked up for the rest of the day. If this case runs late, that means the hospital is shitting money and we have an entire surgical crew pissed that we’ve eaten into their schedule.
I want to dismiss her on the spot, but I can’t. Right now, I have a seven-year-old girl who needs my full attention, so I compartmentalize my annoyance, reassure the family one last time, and then excuse myself from the room so I can find my colleague. He’s in a conference room, taking calls, and when I let him know we’re ready, he’s relieved.
“I have a flight booked at 3:00 PM, so I hope your staff won’t cause any more delays,” he says with a shake of his head as he stands to follow me to the OR.
“We’ll get you out of here in time.”
That’s all I’ll say. I like Dr. Collins because he’s a good surgeon, but he’s kind of a prick. We aren’t friends, and though he has the right to be upset, I won’t indulge him.
We scrub in side by side, and I watch through the window as they roll Fiona into the room and transition her onto the operating table. She looks tiny up there. They always do.
I can see the fear in her eyes. One of the nurses tries to make her laugh, but she won’t. Her eyes scan the room, trying to peek at the tools we’ll use on her, but they’re hidden on purpose.
She’s still looking around, trying to spot anything menacing, when the anesthesia takes effect. One second she’s awake, counting backward from ten, and the next she’s out cold.
It’s time to roll.
I press my back to the swinging door and enter the operating room to join the flurry of activity. In an effort to shield the patient from the worst of it, the instrument sets and tools aren’t arranged until after they’re asleep, but we’re also on a time crunch because we want her to be under for as little time as possible. This give and take means everyone is running around like a chicken with its head cut off. It’s a dance, one my staff is usually pretty good at, and today is no different—except for our new team member.
I see her across the room, assisting the device rep. He’s holding the instrument box while she carefully lifts the sterile set out. I scan her quickly, looking for blood or a newly placed cast—a legitimate reason for her tardiness—but unfortunately for her, she looks fresh as a daisy.
“Which one of you is to blame for holding up this surgery?” Dr. Collins asks the room.
Everyone freezes and then their gazes sweep to Bailey as she slowly turns around, steeling herself. With her mask on, all I can see are her worried brown eyes.
“I’m sorry about the delay,” she says, voice stronger than I expected it to be.
He points his finger at her. “You’ll be the one paying for my flight if I have to book a new one.”
Her eyes widen. He’s not being serious; it’s a threat in name only. He wants to let her know he’s pissed, but now I’m pissed. This is my goddamn OR and we have a patient who needs our full attention.
“I’ve already assured you you’ll catch your flight.”
With a wave of my arm as if to say, Let’s get on with it, my staff jumps back into action. There’s a rush of movement as everyone finishes setting up. Kendra hands Dr. Collins and me sterile towels to dry our hands then makes quick work of helping him with his gown. Meanwhile, Bailey’s taking too damn long with the instrument sets. I’m still standing here waiting for her help.
She leans in close to whisper something to the device rep.
I clear my throat. “Any day now, Bailey.”
She jumps out of her skin and twirls around to face me. “Dr. Lopez usually had his nurse help him with this gown.”
“Yes, well, my assistant helps me.”
She rushes over to take the gown out of the pack Kendra’s holding open for her. She holds it up. I step forward and slide my arms into it then turn so she can get to the top back button. She clears her throat and I bend my knees a smidge so she can actually reach it. I barely hear a quiet “Thank you” before she finishes. Then her hand skims inside the gown, along my waist so she can grab for the first of two strings that tie the sides closed. Her hand feels along the fabric of my scrubs and I inhale, hyperaware of her movements. I’ve never paid this much attention to a surgical assistant while they tied my gown. Her hand is small and it’s taking her thirty fucking minutes to find the damn thing.
“Do I need to have someone else do this?”
Without a word, she finds the string and its mate quickly, twirls them around one another, and pulls—tight, like she’s trying to punish me.
“Oops,” she says, docile as a lamb as she loosens it a bit and ties it in a bow.
The ridiculous holdups don’t stop there. When I move to the operating table, Bailey scurries over to stand at my side…and by my side, I mean halfway down the table. I’ll have to extend my arm and lean over just to reach the instruments she’ll be passing to me. On top of that, she’s short, too short for the height the table’s currently set at, and she realizes that fact at the same time I do.
“Dr. Lopez usually kept his table a little lower…”
Dr. Collins murmurs impatiently under his breath.
I turn over my shoulder and nod to a tech. “Grab some of those stepstools.”
A few moments later, they’re dropped next to Bailey’s feet and I sigh, trying hard to keep my cool after a hellacious morning.
“Bring them closer,” I bite out impatiently.
The tech scoots them right beside me and Bailey steps up and clears her throat. Now she’s closer to my height and not so far away.
Not wanting to waste any more time, I start the time-out, and each member of my team confirms they’re ready for the procedure to begin. The roll call circles back to the operating table, Dr. Collins introduces himself, and then it’s Bailey’s turn.
Part of me expects her to turn on the spot and walk right out of the room. Dr. Collins just publicly shamed her. She’s single-handedly wasted everyone’s time this morning. If she’s half the surgical assistant Dr. Lopez claimed she is, she’s likely beating herself up right now.
She looks over at me and so much of her is concealed beneath her scrub cap and mask—the freckles, the smile, the pale blonde hair. All I have are her eyes, and they’re staring up at me, revealing a mixture of emotion I can’t quite name. To the world, our exchange might be a millisecond, but between us, it feels like a long, contemplative pause.
My eyebrow quirks as if I’m asking, Well? What’ll it be?
She jerks her attention back to the table, and I stare at her masked profile as she says for the entire OR to hear, “Bailey Jennings, Dr. Russell’s surgical assistant. Everything’s set.”
Dr. Collins clears his throat, clearly annoyed he didn’t get a better chance to lay into her. Then I speak up, my voice booming over the quiet room. “This morning we’re operating on a seven-year-old female named Fiona Valdez. She and her family have traveled a long way to be here in our operating room. We’ll be performing a pedicle subtraction osteotomy in an effort to remedy and delay further curvature. We’ll take a posterior approach. Does everyone agree?”