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“Bailey, ten blade.”
This is ridiculous. I knew I’d suffer consequences because of my tardiness, but it must be my lucky day because I have to endure not only one crabby surgeon, but two. I thought Dr. Russell was bad, but he doesn’t compare to Dr. Collins.
Older, tall, in shape. In the five minutes I’ve stood at the operating table with him, he’s already mentioned the fact that he “cycles” twice.
I decide to ignore him as much as possible, mostly because I’m still reeling from the public scolding he gave me when he first entered the OR, but apparently my lack of interest needles him because right after the first incision, he meets my eyes over the operating table and sneers. “Y’know, Dr. Russell, I don’t know if I would put up with my surgical assistant holding up a quarter-million-dollar case like this.”
He says it just like that, while looking me in the eyes! My cheeks grow hot. I want to snap at him to drop it. Yes, I was late, but I’ve apologized and there’s nothing more I can do about it. Instead, I jerk my gaze back to the patient, knowing better than to respond.
“Well then it’s a good thing this surgery is coming out of the hospital’s pro bono budget,” Dr. Russell replies, his voice even colder than usual. “Bailey, pay attention. I need you to suction more.”
I jerk forward and shout at myself to stay focused.
A few minutes later, Dr. Collins decides to turn his attention back to me once again. Like a grade-school bully, he just can’t seem to get enough. “How long have you been on Dr. Russell’s team?”
Why, oh why did he have to ask that question?
“This is my first day,” I say, voice barely above a whisper. With my mask on, I doubt he can hear me, but he must, because he laughs like I’ve just said the most ridiculous thing in the world—and, well, I have.
“Not making a great first impression, are you?”
I want to tell him to fuck off, but I can’t. It’s not how this works. I have to sit quietly and stay focused. He can basically say or do whatever the hell he wants. Oh, the privilege that comes with a white coat.
Dr. Russell could speak up and come to my defense. He could tell Dr. Collins to shut his trap, but he doesn’t. He’s focused on the case. He doesn’t say a word unless he’s asking for an instrument or giving an order.
On the Worst Surgery Ever scale, I’m hovering somewhere near a 9.5, and then fate decides to ramp it all the way up to a perfect 10 when my stomach starts to growl. We’re only halfway through. I realize I completely forgot to eat the muffin Josie threw at me when I left the house.
For a second, I think no one heard it.
“Is that your stomach, Bailey?” Dr. Russell asks, accepting the pedical screwdriver I hand to him.
I swallow and am careful to avoid eye contact. “Yes.”
“Did you eat breakfast?”
I consider lying, but there’s no denying the very loud, angry noises coming from my stomach, so I sort of veer around the question. “I was in a hurry to leave the house.”
He nods and then with an even, hard tone that sends chills down my spine, he says, “Don’t ever step into my operating room without eating again. It’s careless. This is grueling work. You’re standing over a table for hours, retracting and cauterizing. If you pass out, you endanger my patient. Do you understand?”
“What is that, the second or third strike against you, Bailey?” Dr. Collins asks with a chuckle that slices straight through me. “Looks like you might be in the market for a new surgical assistant sooner than you thought, Dr. Russell.”
It’s not the worst thing a surgeon has said to me, I know that, but it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m not good at taking criticism. I thrive on positive feedback and try my hardest to be a good employee. I don’t like getting in trouble, and I definitely don’t like being scolded in front of my peers.
It’s too much. Maybe I can take one shot or even two, but I can’t stand in front of a freaking firing squad and pretend like I’m not getting destroyed. Worse, every person in this operating room has a front-row seat to my humiliation. I feel everyone’s eyes on me, judging. I know they feel bad for me, and then, because my brain loves me, it chirps up and reminds me there’s a whole slew of people up in the viewing gallery too. Wonderful.
I think of all the effort I put into preparing for this case. I didn’t want to let Dr. Russell down. I wanted to be better than all the failed assistants who came before me, but it turns out I’m worse.
I’m grateful for my protective glasses as a tear works its way down my cheek. It soaks into the corner of the blue mask covering my mouth and I scream at myself to get it together. Just like with baseball, there’s no crying in surgery.
Stop! Stop! STOP!
Except, the floodgates are now open, and sure, I’m not sobbing, but my eyes are welling with tears enough that I have to blink quickly to clear them away so they don’t obscure my vision. That’s just what I need: a tear dripping from my face onto the surgical field. I would melt into the floor.
In all, I think I’m doing an okay job of hiding my distress by spacing out a few necessary sniffs so they can be chalked up to nothing more than allergies, but I’m not.
“Do I need to have someone relieve you?” Dr. Russell asks.
I shake my head, knowing if I speak, an errant sob will sneak out. I won’t give either of them the satisfaction.
Dr. Collins is staring at me. He knows I’m crying, and his opinion of me has hit an all-time low. My eyes narrow on him, daring him to call me out.
“I need you to communicate,” Dr. Russell says harshly. “My attention is on my patient. If you need to be excused then say so.”
I want to scream at him to leave me alone, but I can’t. Instead, I take his angry, sharp words and use them to evaporate my remaining tears.
“I’m fine,” I bite out with a shockingly steady voice. “Would you like me to ask Kendra to start preparing tray three?”
That’s all. No Thank you for being efficient and attentive even as two overbearing surgeons berate you in front of all of your coworkers. No Thank you for salvaging this situation as best you could even though I’ve put so much pressure on you that you’re liable to have a nervous breakdown.
Though they’re both treating me like I am, I’m not an idiot. Just like Dr. Russell requested on Friday, I memorized every step of this surgery. I know every detail of Fiona’s case. I know her spine curves in a particularly difficult way, which is likely why Dr. Collins flew in to assist. I know why he’s chosen to shave off that specific section of vertebrae in her lumbar spine and why it’s imperative that Dr. Russell gets it exactly right, down to the millimeter. I know that even though this has been the most trying, worst day I’ve ever had in the operating room, difficulties aside, I’m enjoying the case. I’m completely enthralled by Dr. Russell’s skill and expertise, the detail with which he performs this surgery. It’s like I’m standing right beside Einstein as he works through an equation or Muhammad Ali as he prepares to enter the ring.
Dr. Collins is completely unnecessary.
Dr. Russell is single-handedly repairing this girl’s spine, and in a few hours, when she wakes up and asks her parents how the surgery went, they’ll be able to look her in the eye and tell her Dr. Russell did it. He gave her the very thing she wants the most: a normal childhood.
It’s unfortunate I screwed up so badly.
I overslept. I ruined my one shot. Then I cried at the operating table. CRIED. I might as well pack my metaphorical bags; I get that.
Near the end of the surgery, I glance up at the clock and see that it’s not yet noon. Dr. Collins will make his flight. Dr. Russell made up for the lost time. I’ve never been more relieved. He tells me to close and dress the sutures and then leaves the room with Dr. Collins on his tail.
I’m the only one left at the operating table. I have never taken such a deep, clearing breath in my life.