Read an Excerpt
Ebony parked her car in the hospital car park and headed in for her first day at work at Canberra General Hospital. She kept her head high as she walked through the departments, heading towards the office for the director of anaesthetics.
She couldn't believe the nervous knots in her stomach and told herself that while it was understandable, it was also ridiculous. She'd been working as a neurosurgical anaesthetist in the United Kingdom for many years and the fact that she'd relocated her family back to Australia meant she was doing the same job but in a different location.
'Breathe. Everything will be fine,' she whispered to herself as she pressed the button for the lift. Five floors up was the department of Anaesthetics. She'd had an online interview with Director Vance, been offered and accepted the position as anaesthetist and now all that was left to do was to sign the final papers that would make her a permanent employee of Canberra General hospital.
'You are a professional. You will be calm and in control.' She forced herself to relax and breathe deeply, stepping confidently into the lift when it arrived, and before she knew it, she was walking down the department's long corridor towards the receptionist's desk.
'Hello. I'm Dr Ebony Matthews, the new anaesthetist.'
'Ah, Dr Matthews. Director Vance is expecting you.' She glanced over her shoulder at the director's closed office door, where raised male voices could be heard. 'Er he shouldn't be long. Anyway, I'm Michelle and I have your new roster here and the department's guidelines and protocols and a map of the hospital.' Michelle gathered the pieces of paper together and placed them into a folder before handing it to Ebony. 'Can I get you a cup of tea or coffee while you wait?' The phone on Michelle's desk began to ring and the male voices behind the director's door rose a decibel higher.
'Get me an anaesthetist who knows what they're doing!' the booming voice growled, and Ebony froze for a moment, hoping the owner of the voice wasn't going to be one of her new colleagues. Perhaps he was an administrator from another department.
Michelle grimaced at the noise and seemed relieved when Ebony declined the offer of refreshments. 'I'll just sit over here and wait until the director's ready.'
Michelle nodded and turned her attention to answering the phone. Ebony sat on the seat, forcing herself to take the papers out of the folder and at least pretend to peruse them, even though she was listening intently to every word being loudly spoken through the director's closed door.
'I don't want to know about a mix-up in the rosters, Robert. I don't care if your best people are off sick. You don't send me an inexperienced anaesthetist again. I'd rather cancel the surgery than risk a patient's life. I'm head of Neurosurgery and in my theatre my rules apply.'
Ebony closed her eyes and sighed. Head of neurosurgery? That meant the chances of her working alongside the irate man were extremely high given she was a neurosurgically trained anaesthetist.
'I understand completely,' she heard Robert Vance say in a calm and placating manner. 'We have a new anaesthetist starting today who has specialised in neurosurgery. She used to work in the UK with Hartley Grant-Smythe.'
Ebony slowly shook her head. The last thing she needed now was to be working with a neurosurgeon with a temper. During the last few months, she'd resigned from her very secure job, uprooted her children and moved to Australia. What she needed when she came to work was clear direction in a professional environment.
Of course the surgeon Director Vance was talking to would be impressed with the name Hartley Grant-Smythe as Professor Grant-Smythe was the world's leading expert on neurosurgical procedures, having pioneered a lot of the newest techniques in this area. Ebony had co-authored three papers with him over the past few years, as well as writing a few of her own about the complementary anaesthesia administration for these new medical breakthroughs.
'She's worked with Hartley?' The surgeon's tone settled somewhat at this news. 'I want her and only her for my theatre lists. Understand?'
'I'll adjust the rosters accordingly,' Robert Vance replied, relief clearly evident in his tone at finding an immediate solution to the problem. A moment later the door to the director's office snapped open and Ebony found herself springing to her feet, her eyes wide, the papers slipping from her hands and fluttering to the floor in a haphazard mess. She looked down at the papers. Darn. There was no time to gather them up before the two men saw her. Talk about making a good first impression! This was the pits.
Ebony squared her shoulders and pasted on her most professional and polite smile for the two men coming through the door.
'Ah ' Robert's smile was wide. 'And here she is now.' He held out his hand to her, neatly avoiding the papers she'd dropped as he stepped closer to shake her hand. 'Dr Matthews. Good to finally meet in person.'
Ebony glanced briefly at the director as their hands connected but apart from that she was more interested in watching the surgeon who had just requested she work exclusively alongside him. He was tall, with short dark brown hair and was dressed in a suit, the jacket having already been discarded. He had intense blue eyes that appeared to be studying her with curiosity.
Robert dropped her hand. 'Dr Matthews, I'd like to introduce you to'
'Matthews?' Bart interjected.
Ebony swallowed over her own shock as she realised exactly who her new colleague was. 'Bart? Bart Goldmark?' She stared at him in stunned disbelief.
'Matthews? Ebony Matthews?'
Her earlier concern seemed to dissipate as she smiled at his confusion. 'Snowy Mountains High School? You were a few years ahead of meand actually dated my best friend, Alice.'
'Alice.' He whispered the word and for a split second she saw a flash of pain pierce his eyes before he shook his head and gave her a wide smile. 'Ebony Matthews. Wow.' He held out his hand and she instantly slid hers into it, the warmth of his large palm easily encompassing her small one. Heat spread up her arm at the touch but she ignored it. 'How have you been these past twenty-odd years?'
Ebony smiled brightly at his words but took the opportunity to edge her hand out of his, needing to break the stimulating contact. 'Busy. How about you?'
'Same.' He nodded and crossed his arms over his chest, his gaze quickly encompassing her as though he was trying to reconcile his past image of her with the present one. Ebony fiddled with an earring, feeling a touch self-conscious, wondering if he liked what he saw. She instantly chided herself for being ridiculous. Twenty years was a long time. Of course she'd changed. He'd changed, hadn't he?
She tried to look him over surreptitiously and found herself wondering if his shoulders had been that broad in high school. He was still very handsome, the maturing years only adding to his appeal. When she saw his lips start to curve into a smile, she immediately met his gaze and found him watching her watching him.
'You've worked with Hartley?'
'For the past two years.'
Bart's brow furrowed for a moment and he scratched his head. 'Hold on a second. Have you co-authored papers with him? Matthews, E R. That's you, right?'
'You've obviously read them.'
'They were good.' His smile was widening and Ebony's stomach was fluttering with excited agitation. Had Bart been this good looking back at school? She couldn't remember him setting her pulse racing but back then he'd been dating her best friend so naturally she hadn't seen him in any light other than as her best friend's boyfriend.
'Thank you.' She was starting to become aware of the director and receptionist watching them with curious interest, their eyes flicking back and forth as though at a tennis match. Bart also seemed to realise they were standing in the middle of the department and cleared his throat.
'Right, I'll be expecting you in Theatre with me today. We'll see how well you fit in with the rest of the team and take it from there.'
'Sounds excellent,' Robert Vance interjected gleefully, before Ebony could respond. 'You two know each other and Dr Matthews clearly has the experience you require, Dr Goldmark. I'll just tidy up the red tape of her appointment here at the hospital and send her down to Theatres, ready for your morning list.'
'Make it quick,' he said, not looking at Robert as he spoke but instead continued to watch Ebony. 'My list starts in forty-five minutes.' He stayed where he was for a moment before shaking his head in bemusement. 'Ebony Matthews. What a small world we live in.' With that, he winked at Ebony, then turned and headed out of the department, leaving her feeling stunned and confused. Had he just been flirting with her?
Ebony quickly bent and began gathering up her papers as Director Vance returned to his office, leaving his office door open for her to follow him. She was glad of the brief reprieve from having everyone looking at her, especially as she needed a few moments to process the fact that she'd be working alongside Bartholomew Goldmark.
He'd been so in love with her friend Alice, even to the point where he'd proposed. Although they'd been young, they'd been determined to get marrieduntil Alice's death. Was it odd that Ebony should be working alongside him now, twenty years later? Or should she have expected to run into some familiar people given Snowy Mountains High School was only a two-hour drive from Canberra? Of one thing she was certain, the years had been good to Bart as he was now more devastatingly handsome than he'd been back then. Tall, dark and definitely handsome, with gorgeous blue eyes.
Ebony stood and shuffled the papers into alignment, tapping them on the receptionist's desk.
'Whooee, that man is like sex on legs. Hottest and most eligible bachelor in the hospital,' Michelle chattered as she fanned her face with her hand. 'It's rare for him to raise his voice like that. Must have been really cross and, well, we all expect surgeons to be a little overbearing and arrogant but Dr Goldmark is really very nice and accommodating.' She stopped, then giggled. 'So what was he like back in high school? I'll bet he was just as handsome then as he is now.'
Ebony smiled but didn't reply. Instead, she shoved the papers back into the folder and pointed to Director Vance's open office door. 'I'd better get this meeting with Director Vance over and done with if I'm to be in Theatre in less than forty-five minutes.'
'Oh. Of course. Yes. You wouldn't want to keep Dr Goldmark waiting.' Michelle sighed.
'No, indeed,' Ebony replied, as she smoothed a hand down her charcoal-grey skirt and straightened her cream shirt before she headed into the director's office. She may be about to work alongside Bart Goldmark but she was also a professionaland for some strange reason she was eager for him to see just how good she was.
There was only one patient on Bart's list that morning, for which Ebony was extremely grateful. After she'd finished her quick meeting with Director Vance, she'd rushed to the elective theatre blockonly making one brief wrong turnand had been welcomed warmly by the theatre clerk.
'Ah. Dr Goldmark said to expect you and he told me to have everything organised as he doesn't want to run late.' The theatre clerk leaned forward a little and said in a stage whisper, 'Timmy's the only patient on the list today and Dr Goldmark always tends to be more particular whenever Timmy needs another operation.'
Ebony nodded as though she understood what that was supposed to mean, wanting the clerk just to hurry up. Her need not to disappoint Bart was beginning to increase. 'So where do I need to go?'
'Oh, right. Sorry.' The theatre clerk picked up a key and held it out to Ebony. 'Here's a key for a locker. Theatre scrubs are located in the change rooms. The code for the female change rooms is three-seven-nine and your theatre today is theatre five. Timmy's case notes are in the anteroom, ready for you to peruse.'
'Excellent. Thank you,' Ebony said as she accepted the key and walked briskly towards the female changing rooms. It didn't take her long to put her bag and papers into the locker before grabbing a pair of scrubs from the trolley.
Once she'd changed into the baggy blue cotton material, a pair of comfortable shoes on her feet, she grabbed both shoe and hair covers on her way out the changing rooms and followed the signs towards theatre five. In the anteroom was a bench with a set of case notes on it and she picked them up, interested to read about her very first patient at Canberra General.
As she perused the notes, she shook her head as deep sadness started to creep over her. Timmy Schneider, a five-year-old boy who had been diagnosed with a benign tumour at the age of two, was having another round of surgery to correct defects with his shunt. As the encapsulated tumour had been pressing on his cerebellum, an increase of cerebrospinal fluid had pooled in the crevice left after the removal of the tumour. This, in turn, had caused pressure problems for Timmy and so a surgical shunt had been inserted to carry the excess fluid circulating around his brain to empty into his stomach.
Five years old and Timmy had already undergone six surgeries. This would be his seventh. Ebony's heart turned over with sympathy for the boy. The poor little darling. What he must have been going through. To have had more surgeries than years he'd been alive She swallowed and forced herself to shove those types of deep, caring thoughts into a box and to focus on what needed to be done. It was the one part of her job she often struggled with but she also knew that the caring part of her soul was what made her an excellent anaesthetist.
Besides, Bart would no doubt be here soon, wanting to start his list on time, and if she wasn't organised, if she hadn't spoken to the patient and completed her pre-anaesthetic consult so the surgery could begin on time as scheduled, he might just blow another gasket. Little Timmy deserved one hundred and ten per cent from the medical staff looking after him and she didn't want to be the one rocking the boat, especially not for her first case.
Drawing in a deep breath, Ebony pulled on her professionalism as she heard a bed being wheeled in her direction. A moment later, an orderly and a nurse wheeled Timmy's bed into the anteroom. Ebony smiled at them both but it was the tiny boy, lying in the big, stark white bed that had the side rails up to ensure he didn't roll out, who captured her attention. The nurse was smiling, talking softly to him about a children's television show.
'Which train do you like best?' she asked him as Ebony put the notes on a shelf and came closer to Timmy. She knew, due to the change in anaesthetist, that he hadn't received any sort of pre-medication. The child was lying stiffly, looking straight up, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone.
He looked terrified. Ebony swallowed the lump that instantly stuck in her throat.
'Hi, Timmy,' she said, smiling down at him. 'I'm Ebony. I'm the doctor who's going to be giving you some special medicine to make you go to sleep.'
'Anaefatist,' Timmy mumbled, but his scared blue eyes didn't even waver in her direction.
'Yes, that's right. What a smart boy.' Ebony looked at the nurse, then at the clock, then back to Timmy. She wanted more time with him, to get to know him better, to help him through this difficult time, but the list would be starting soon and it was her job to get the ball rolling.
After the surgery, she promised herself. After the surgery, she would go to the ward, spend time with Timmy, find out what he liked, what made him laugh, what his favourite TV show was, all so that the next time they met, she hoped he wouldn't be as petrified as he was right now.