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On Wednesday, I finally catch a break. Dr. Lopez’s case gets canceled so I take advantage of the opportunity and show up to Dr. Russell’s gallery as early as possible. I’m the first one there. I have snacks and a front-row seat. I also have mace in my purse just in case some stupid medical student thinks they deserve this spot more than I do.
Within a few minutes, the gallery fills around me. There are conversations about the planned case and idle chatter about some party they were all at last night, but I sit quietly, talking to no one, waiting for the show to begin. The viewing window stretches from one side of the room to the other, almost like a movie screen. We’re up on the second floor looking down on the auxiliary staff trickling into the operating room.
Exactly on schedule, down to the minute, the patient—a young boy—is wheeled in and transferred to the operating table. After the anesthesia kicks in, there’s a flurry of activity as nurses and scrub techs unpack the instrument sets. Sterile trays are arranged and placed around the operating table and then, once the drape is covering everything but the center of the patient’s back, Hotshot makes his entrance.
The swinging door is pushed open and Dr. Russell steps in, arms bent at ninety degrees as water drips to the floor.
A hush falls around me.
My gut clenches as if I’m watching an Olympic athlete enter the arena. Everyone in the gallery and everyone in the operating room is laser-focused on him. His presence is larger than life. He’s larger than life. It’s not necessarily because of his size, though he is tall and broad-shouldered. It’s more in the way he carries himself, the defiant tilt of his chin.
With his surgical mask and protective glasses on, his chiseled jaw, intriguing mouth, and piercing blue gaze are all out of sight. If I’m honest, though, I could close my eyes and easily visualize them.
A nurse rushes over with a sterile towel so he can dry his hands off. Then she holds up a gown so he can push his arms through. It’s tied behind his back and his gloves are carefully added next. It’s funny, really—with all the surgical gear on, he should look like an amorphous blob, but in reality, he’s as formidable as I’ve ever seen him.
It’s the hair. Just like with Dr. McDreamy, a lot of his power lies in those short, slightly curly brown locks. Their allure cannot be dulled by that light blue scrub cap.
The beginning of every surgery always starts with a roll call—or as we call it, a time-out. It’s a way to ensure everyone in the room is on the same page and surgeons don’t accidentally operate on the wrong limb—or worse, the wrong person. Scary, but…it happens.
The neuromonitoring tech sitting at a computer in the corner of the room checks in, then the circulating nurse and the device rep. They continue to go around, and I try to imagine myself standing there beside him, proudly proclaiming to be Bailey Jennings, Dr. Russell’s surgical assistant, and a shiver runs down my spine. I’m not convinced I’m up to the task.
Today, he has a resident beside him at the operating table. Kirt’s two weeks has expired and apparently Dr. Russell has yet to find a replacement.
The anesthesiologist stands up and speaks confidently. “We’re doing a general with an endotracheal tube. Antibiotics have been administered. We have two units of blood available.”
Then all eyes fall back on Dr. Russell as it’s his turn to address the room. His booming voice easily reaches us in the gallery and, like everything else, it inspires awe. Also, if I’m honest, a teensy bit of fear.
“Our patient is Jeffrey Lewis. Eleven years old. He’s here today for a hemivertebra excision. He also has hardware placed in L3 and L4 from a previous procedure. We’ll be removing and replacing that hardware. Does everyone agree?”
The anesthesiologist declares the surgical start time. Then, without a moment’s hesitation, Dr. Russell is handed a ten blade. It glints under the bright lights of the operating room. He takes a deep breath and then, determinedly, he begins. Scalpel meets skin.
For the next few hours, I don’t move a muscle. I don’t fidget. I doubt I take a single deep breath. People filter in and out of the gallery, but I pay them no attention.
Someone new fills the seat behind me and leans over my shoulder.
“How long has he been at it?”
I don’t take my eyes away from Dr. Russell as I reply, “Three hours, last time I checked.”
Now, it’s probably been four, five, ten—who knows?
“What’s taking him so long? It should have been a simple excision, right?”
“The patient had failing hardware and Dr. Russell’s having a hell of a time getting it out.”
“Who’s that guy in the corner looking like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown?”
“The device rep for Newton Corp. The one gloating across the room is here with the new hardware from SpineTech.”
It’s a complete disaster. Everyone in the operating room holds their breath. Long, tense minutes pass as we listen to Dr. Russell shred the device rep from Newton for endangering his patient.
The rep tries in vain to defend himself. “The engineers are the ones in control of the design flaws.”
I inwardly groan. He’s better off keeping his mouth shut. At this point, he should break out in tears and plead for forgiveness. Although, maybe not, as Dr. Russell doesn’t seem like the type of guy who handles grown men weeping very well.
“Do you not also work for the company?” Dr. Russell barks as he adjusts his stance and asks the nurse to angle his light source so he has a better view of the surgical field. He continues to struggle to remove all the broken fragments of the malfunctioning hardware from the patient’s spine while the rep blubbers on. I want to jump to my feet, press the gallery’s intercom button, and shout at him to shut up. He’s only digging himself into a bigger hole. Soon, he’ll have himself six feet under.
“Even with its faults, the patient was interested in the system—”
“The patient is also interested in fucking fire trucks!” Dr. Russell booms. “And don’t you try to pin it on the parents either. These devices were banned by the FDA two years ago and they never should have been on the market in the first place. Your company knew they were faulty.” Then he turns to the resident assisting him and asks for suction.
I sit there completely speechless, not quite sure why I have the urge to run down and scrub in so I can assist.
I’ve never endured a surgery with Dr. Lopez that was half this traumatic. Every person in that operating room is fidgeting and nervous, careful to keep Dr. Russell’s anger from shifting onto them.
I’m on the edge of my seat. Even though I’m as annoyed with the Newton rep as he is, I don’t agree with how Dr. Russell is handling it. His temper is fierce. I can see how he would be a nightmare to work with, and yet I stay until the final stitch, until Dr. Russell turns from the operating table, yanks his gown and gloves off, and slams his hand against the swinging door. The patient gets wheeled out of the room and I’m still sitting there, alone in the gallery, awestruck.
Dr. Lopez’s retirement party is tonight. NEMC went all out and rented a ballroom at a fancy hotel. They’re going to open the dinner buffet soon, and I’ve already surreptitiously scoped it out. I have a plan of attack: I’m getting the truffle mac n cheese and the mashed potatoes.
In the meantime, waiters are passing around tiny decadent appetizers. I accept one of everything and wonder if I made a mistake wearing a dress with no pockets. If I could do it inconspicuously, I’d tuck a few of these bacon-wrapped dates in my purse for Josie. We’ve been subsisting on the bare minimum lately since I still haven’t found another position. My meager savings might have to support us for a few weeks, though I really hope it doesn’t come to that.