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Lucy Palmer was so excited even the ride up in the lift made her feel queasy. She'd thought she'd grown out of that.
Today, officially, she could say she was a part of the state-of-the-art Gold Coast City Hospital and she'd done it all herself. Her excitement had been building since graduation fourteen weeks ago.
This wasn't just three years of hard study and unpaid practical placements, this was the start of a mission she'd lived and breathed for ever.
Lucy couldn't wait to be allocated her first birth suite caseload because she was going to be the best midwifery grad they'd ever seen.
The midwifery floor manager, Flora May, ex-air force medic with a gruff voice and, Lucy suspected, a well-camouflaged heart of gold, had met Lucy in one of her placements during her training. Flora's assessment of Lucy's aptitude for the profession had helped very much in her successful interview and Lucy couldn't have asked for a better role model than Flora.
As the orientation tour ended Flora snapped her heels together and waved to the busy floor. Unexpectedly her angular face changed and she smiled with genuine warmth.
'And welcome, Palmer. I've given you Monday to Friday shifts for the first month, so I'll be here if you need advice.'
A friendly face while she settled in. Lucy decided that sounded blissful. 'Thank you.'
'Hmph.' Sentiment should be set aside, obviously, Lucy thought with an internal smile as Flora went on. 'Take Sally Smith, she's a teen mum admitted for threatened premature labour at thirty-three weeks. She needs someone she can relate to.'
This was accompanied by a dry look. 'Night staff will give you Sally's handover in birth suite one.' Flora raised an eyebrow. 'You'll be fine. Let me know if you need help and I'll be your wing man. Any questions, find me.'
The boss would be her wing man? Lucy grinned at the funny wordage and resisted the urge to salute.
Flora marched off and Lucy felt for the first time that someone other than her fellow ex-students was willing to believe she had the makings of a good midwife.
It would have been nice if her mother had been supportive instead of bitter and twisted, but she wasn't going there because nothing was going to spoil this day. Or her confidence, because Flora believed she could do this well.
Her stomach fluttered uncomfortably again and she sucked in a breath. Forget nerves, this was what she'd been born for.
When she knocked and entered the first birth suite and the night midwife didn't look up from writing her notes, Lucy faltered, felt tempted to cough or go back and knock again, but she didn't.
The pale young woman lying curled on her side blinked so Lucy stepped just inside the door and smiled, but the girl on the bed rolled her eyes, and then looked away before shutting them. Tough room, Lucy thought ruefully before, with another deep breath, she crossed to the bed.
The night midwife still didn't look up, so Lucy passed her by and smiled at her patient as she tried to imagine what it would be like to be seventeen, pregnant, and now scared her baby would be born prematurely, in a place where she knew no one.
'Hello, Sally, I'm Lucy. I'll be looking after you today when your night midwife goes home.' Lucy glanced around the otherwise empty room, and no boyfriend or mother was tucked into any corner she could see. Maybe Sally's mother had trained in the same school as hers, Lucy thought, and she knew how that felt. Lack of family support was not fun at all.
The young mum-to-be opened her eyes briefly, nodded, and then rolled carefully over onto her other side, stretching the leads that held the monitor on her stomach.
Really tough room, Lucy thought with a gulp.
Finally the night midwife put down her pen and looked across. 'I'm Cass. I've just done my fifth night shift and can't wait to get out of here.'
Lucy blinked and glanced at Sally's rigid back. Not a very nice intro, she thought, or what Lucy expected from a hospital she'd only ever heard praise about.
To make it worse, Cass didn't look at anything except her notes or, occasionally, the graph of contractions on the machine. 'So this is Sally, seventeen, thirty-three weeks, first baby, and has had intermittent back pain since three this morning. No loss on the pad she's wearing and the CTG is picking up the contractions as five-minutely.'
The lack of emotion sat strangely in a room where emotion was usually a big factor and Lucy began to suspect why Flora May had sent her in here. Lucy wanted to care for Sally, not treat her like an insect in a jar.
Cass sighed as if the story would never end and Lucy wished the midwife would just go home and let her read the notes herself. But of course she couldn't say that, especially on her first day. But she was feeling less timid by the second. Something she'd discovered inside herself when she'd discovered midwifery.
Then Cass went one worse. 'The foetal fibrinectin test for prem labour couldn't be done because she's had sex in the last twenty-four hours.'
Brutal. Lucy saw Sally's shoulder stiffen and winced in sympathy for the callousness of a clinical handover that lacked sensitivity. Lucy vowed she'd never be like this. And now she seriously wished the other midwife gone.
Cass certainly didn't notice and went on in the same bored tone as she read from her notes. 'No urinary symptoms or discharge but we've sent swabs and urine away for microscopy.'
Okay, Lucy understood that she needed to know it had been done, because infection was the most common reason for early labour and miscarriage.
Cass went on. 'She's had three doses of oral tocolytic, which has slowed the contractions, been started on antibiotics four-hourly, and the foetal heart trace ' She glanced at the long strip of paper cascading from the monitor that evaluated baby heart rate and uterine contractions without looking at the patient. Lucy hated impersonal technology. It was too easy for staff to look more at machines than the patient.
Cass shrugged. 'I think she's more stable than when she arrived. First dose of steroids was given at three-thirty a.m., so she's due another that time tomorrow morning, if she's still here.'
Cass looked up. 'Any questions?'
No way did she want to prolong Cass's stay. Where did you not learn your people skills? Lucy thought, but instead she asked, 'What time did the doctor last see Sally?'
'It's all in the notes.' Cass glanced down. 'The registrar at four a.m., but her obstetrician, Dr Kefes ' For the first time some emotion heightened the colour on Cass's face and she looked almost feline. 'Nikolai's delicious.' She sighed as if he was there in front of her and Lucy cringed.
'Nikolai will see her at rounds this morning. He's always punctual at eight so be ready. I'm off.' She snapped shut the folder and uncoiled herself from the chair. 'Bye, Sally.' She handed the folder to Lucy and left without waiting for her patient's reply.
Lucy frowned at the door as it shut, decided even the mention of the doctor as delicious was unprofessional, glanced around for inspiration on winning Sally's confidence after the nurse from hell had departed, and set about changing the dynamics of the room.
She spotted a little black four-wheeled stool and pulled it around to the other side of the bed to see her patient's face before sitting down.
The stool brought her not too close but just under the level of Sally's eyes so she wasn't crowding or looking down at her. After a few moments Sally opened her eyes. 'So how are you feeling, Sally?'
Lucy smiled. Succinct. 'Fair enough. Can you be more specific? Your back?' Sally nodded and Lucy continued, 'Worse or better than when you came in?'
'A lot worse.' Sally blinked suspiciously shiny eyes and Lucy wanted to hug her. Instead, she considered their options.
'Okay, that's not good. Let's sort that first. I'll take the monitor off for a few minutes while I check your observations, and have a little feel of your tummy before we put the belts back on more comfortably. Then we'll see if we can relieve some of the discomfort.'
Lucy glanced at the little watch that her friends had all pitched in for her on graduation. Pretty and practical, like her, they'd said, and she still winced because they'd known her mother wouldn't show for the event and she'd be disappointed.
That might even have been why she'd made that dumb choice with Mark after one too many unfamiliar mojitos, but it had been nice to bask in appreciation for a change.
She shook off regrets because they were a waste of time. She'd learnt that one the hard way by watching her mother.
Seven-thirty a.m., so she had half an hour before the obstetrician arrived to assess her patient's condition. Lucy wanted an overall picture of Sally's general health and mental state before then. But mostly she wanted Sally to feel comfortable with her so she could best represent her concerns when more new caregivers arrived. She'd better get started.
Nikolai Kefes, Senior Obstetrician at Gold Coast City Hospital, discreetly named Adonis by his female colleagues, had a strong work ethic. Seventy per cent of his life centred on work, twenty per cent went to his sister, Chloe, and the other ten per cent was divided equally between sport and brief affairs with sophisticated women.
Nick hated being late for ward rounds but there was no way he could have ignored the distress call from his sister, and by the time he'd parked his car at the hospital it was half an hour after he'd expected to start.
Chloe worried him. She had worried him since she was sixteen and in more trouble than he could have imagined, so much so that she'd changed both their lives. But he could never regret giving her the support she needed when she needed it.
Not that she'd always appreciated his attempts to shield her from the hardships that arose when two young people were suddenly cast out in the world without a penny. He still cringed to think how she would have survived if he hadn't followed her.
It was a shame their parents hadn't felt the same, but he'd given up trying to fathom them years ago.
But this morning Chloe had been adamant she would do things her way, despite this last disastrous relationship, and he wished she'd just swim to the surface and avoid becoming involved for a while.
He could only be glad he was in control of his own brief affairs. Short and sweet was not just a concept, more like a mantra for his life, because emotion was best left out of it. That way nobody got hurt.
The lift doors opened and he stepped out on the maternity floor. His eyes narrowed as he noted the arrival of his registrar at the nurses' station just ahead of him. If he wasn't mistaken, Simon had got dressed in a hurry, because his shirt showed the inside seams and the shadow of a pocket.
He guessed he should be thankful the majority of his own nights were left undisturbed at this stage of his career, so he smiled, and cleared his mind of everything but his work. The familiar focus settled over him and his shoulders relaxed as he zeroed in on his junior.
'So, Simon. Tell me what's happening this morning.' He paused, looked him up and down and smiled. 'Then perhaps you could retire into the staffroom and turn your shirt the other way?'
Eight thirty-five a.m. In the past fifteen minutes Lucy had decided Sophie would definitely have her baby today. Around eight-fifteen the contractions had become strong and regular and Lucy had slipped out and rung the registrar because the eight a.m. arrival of the consultant hadn't occurred.
Neither had the arrival of the registrar, Lucy fumed, and twenty minutes' time lag wasn't good enough. She wasn't happy as she looked for Flora May again to let her know her patient still hadn't been seen.
Instead, she saw a tall, very athletic-looking man arrive at the desk, his immaculate suit dark like his short wavy hair, but it was his air of command that convinced Lucy he could be the person she expected. She diligently ignored the fact he was probably the most handsome man she'd ever seen and that maybe the horrible night midwife hadn't been far off. 'Dr Kefes?'
Both men turned to face her but she went straight for the one who obviously held the power.
'Yes?' His voice was low with a husky trace of an accent that was delightfully melodious, Mediterranean most likely, but she'd think about that later when she had a chance.
'I'm sorry to interrupt. I'm the midwife looking after Sally Hill. She's seventeen years old and thirty-three weeks gestation in prem labour. I believe she's establishing active labour as we speak and you need to see her now.' She handed him the notes and said over her shoulder, 'This way, please.'
As he opened the notes and followed, Nikolai wondered briefly why he had allowed himself to be steered so determinedly when he usually had handover by his registrar and then did his rounds.
Of course, the young midwife seemed concerned, so that was a good reason, and she had made it difficult for him to refuse, he thought with an internal smile as he watched her reddish-brown ponytail swing in front of him.
He was more used to deference and suggestion than downright direction, but this day had started unusually, and it seemed it was going to proceed that way.
Ten minutes later Lucy stood beside the bed as she watched Dr Kefes and the respectful way he talked to Sally, and she could feel the ease of the tension in her own shoulders.
Thankfully, he was totally opposite from the way the night midwife had been. This tall man with the accent seemed genuinely empathetic with the young mum's concerns and symptoms. Even the tricky business of the physical examination was conducted with delicacy and tact.
Afterwards Nikolai removed his gloves and washed his hands then came back to the bed, where Lucy had helped Sally to sit up more comfortably. The two young women watched his face anxiously.
Dr Kefes smiled. 'It seems your baby has decided to have a birthday today. You are more than half-dilated and we will let the special care nursery know to expect a new arrival.'
Sally's face whitened and the first real fear showed in her eyes. He sat down on Lucy's stool and smiled gently at the young mum. 'This is a shock to you?'
Sally nodded but didn't speak. Lucy could see her lip trembling and she reached across and put her hand out. To her relief Sally grabbed her fingers and clung on while the doctor addressed her fears.
'You are in a safe place. Your baby is in a safe place. If you are worried, listen to your midwife.' He gestured at Lucy. 'This one, who was so determined I would see you first she practically dragged me in here before my round began.'
He smiled at Lucy and she could feel her cheeks warm with embarrassment, and something else, like pleasure that this gorgeous man had complimented her on her advocacy. But the best result was that Sally smiled as well.
He went on. 'We will all work towards this being a very special day for you and your baby.' He stood up. 'Okay?'
Sally nodded, and Lucy could tell she wasn't the only person in the room who had decided Nikolai Kefes was a man to put your faith in.
And Sally's birthing was special. Her baby was born three hours later. Dr Kefes was gentle and patient, and Sally was focused and determined to remain in control.