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Cassidy pulled the navy-blue tunic over her head. These new-style NHS uniforms were supposed to be made from a revolutionary lightweight fabric, designed for comfort and ease of fit. The reality was they were freezing and not designed for Scottish winters in a draughty old hospital. She pulled a cardigan from her locker and headed for the stairs. Maybe running up three flights would take the chill out of her bones.
Two minutes later she arrived in the medical ward. She took a deep breath. There it was. The hospital smell. Some people hated it and shuddered walking through the very doors of the hospital. But Cassidy loved itit was like a big security blanket, and she'd missed it. It was just before seven and the lights were still dimmed. Ruby, the night nurse, gave her a smile. 'Nice to see you back, Cassidy. How was the secondment?'
Cassidy nodded, wrapping her cardigan further around her torso. Her temperature was still barely above freezing. 'It was fine, but three months was long enough. The new community warfarin clinic is set upall the teething problems ironed out. To be honest, though, I'm glad to be back. I missed this place.'
And she had. But at the time the three-month secondment had been perfect for her. It had given her the chance to sort out all the hassles with her gran, work regular hours and get her settled into the new nursing homethe second in a year. Her eyes swept over the whiteboard on the wall, displaying all the patient names, room numbers and named nurses. 'No beds?' She raised her eyebrows.
'Actually, we've got one. But A and E just phoned to say they're sending us an elderly lady with a chest infection, so I've put her name up on the board already. She should be up in the next ten minutes.'
Cassidy gave a nod as the rest of the day-shift staff appeared, gathering around the nurses' station for the handover report. She waited patiently, listening to the rundown of the thirty patients currently in her general medical ward, before assigning the patients to the nurses on duty and accepting the keys for the medicine and drugs cabinets.
She heard the ominous trundle of a trolley behind her. 'I'll admit this patient,' she told her staff. 'It'll get me back into the swing of things.'
She looked up as Bill, one of the porters, arrived, pulling the trolley with the elderly woman lying on top. A doctor was walking alongside them, carrying some notes and chatting to the elderly lady as they wheeled her into one of the side rooms. He gave her a smileone that could have launched a thousand toothpaste campaigns. 'This is Mrs Elizabeth Kelly. She's eighty-four and has a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She's had a chest infection for the last seven days that hasn't responded to oral antibiotics. Her oxygen saturation is down at eighty-two and she's tachycardic. The doctor on call wanted her admitted for IV antibiotics.'
For a moment the strong Australian accent threw hershe hadn't been expecting it. Though goodness knows why not. Her hospital in the middle of Glasgow attracted staff from all over the world. His crumpled blue scrubs and even more crumpled white coat looked as though he'd slept in themand judging by his blond hair, sticking up in every direction but the right one, he probably had.
She didn't recognise him, which meant he must be one of the new doctors who had started while she was away on secondment. And he was too handsome by far. And that cheeky twinkle in his eye was already annoying her.
After three months away, some things appeared to have changed around the hospital. It was usually one of the A and E nurses who accompanied the patient up to the ward.
Cassidy pumped up the bed and removed the headboard, pulling the patslide from the wall and sliding the patient over into the bed. The doctor helped her put the headboard back on and adjusted the backrest, rearranging the pillows so Mrs Kelly could sit upright. Cas-sidy attached the monitoring equipment and changed the oxygen supply over to the wall. The doctor was still standing looking at her.
For a second she almost thought he was peering at her breasts, but as she followed his gaze downwards she realised her name and designation was stitched on the front of her new tunics.
She held out her hand towards him. 'Cassidy Rae. Sister of the medical receiving unit. Though from the way you're staring at my breasts, I take it you've gathered that.'
His warm hand caught her cold one, his eyes twinkling. 'Pleased to meet you, Dragon Lady. I hope your heart isn't as cold as your hands.'
She pulled her hand away from his. 'What did you call me?'
'Dragon Lady.' He looked unashamed by the remark. 'Your reputation precedes you. I've been looking forward to meeting you, although from what I hear it's usually you who does the name-calling.'
She folded her arms across her chest, trying to stop the edges of her mouth turning upwards. 'I've no idea what you're talking about.' She picked up the patient clothing bag and bent down, starting to unpack Mrs Kelly's belongings into the cabinet next to her bed.
'I heard you called the last lot Needy, Greedy and Seedy.'
She jumped. She could feel his warm breath on her neck. He'd bent forward and whispered in her ear.
'Who told you that?' she asked incredulously. She glanced at her watch. Ten past seven on her first morning back, and already some smartalec doc was trying to get the better of her.
'Oh, give me a minute.' The mystery doctor ducked out of the room.
It was true. She had nicknamed the last three registrarsall for obvious reasons. One had spent every waking minute eating, the other hadn't seen a patient without someone holding his hand, and as for the last one, he'd spent his year sleazing over all the female staff. And while the nursing staff knew the nicknames she'd given them, she'd no idea who'd told one of the new docs. She'd need to investigate that later.
She stood up and adjusted Mrs Kelly's ven-turi mask, taking a note of her thin frame and pale, papery skin. Another frail, elderly patient, just like her gran. She altered the alarms on the monitorat their present setting they would sound every few minutes. With a history of COPD, Mrs Kelly had lower than normal oxygen levels.
'How are you feeling?' She picked up the tympanic thermometer and placed it in Mrs Kelly's ear, pressing the button to read her temperature then recording her observations in the chart. Mrs Kelly shook her pale head.
She sat down at the side of the bed. 'I need to take some details from you, Mrs Kelly.
But how about I get you something to eat and drink first? I imagine you were stuck down in A and E for hours. Would you like some tea? Some toast?'
'Your wish is my command.' The steaming cup of tea and plate of buttered toast thudded down on the bedside table. 'See, Mrs Kelly? I make good on my promises.' He shook his head at Cassidy. 'There was nothing to eat down in A and E and I promised I'd get her some tea once we got up here.'
'Thank you, son,' Mrs Kelly said, shifting her mask and lifting the cup to her lips, 'My throat is so dry.'
He nodded slowly. Oxygen therapy frequently made patients' mouths dry and it was important to keep them hydrated.
Cassidy stared at him. Things had changed. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen a doctor make a patient a cup of tea. It was almost unheard of.
She smiled at him. 'Makes me almost wish we could keep you,' she said quietly. 'You've obviously been well trained.'
His blue eyes glinted. 'And what makes you think you can't keep me?'
'I imagine A and E will have a whole load of patients waiting for you. Why did you come up here anyway? Was it to steal our chocolates?' She nodded towards the nursing station. The medical receiving unit was never short of chocolates, and it wasn't unknown for the doctors from other departments to sneak past and steal some.
He shook his head, the smile still stuck on his face. He held out his hand towards her. 'I forgot to introduce myself earlier. I'm one of yoursthough I dread to think what nickname you'll give me. Brad Donovan, medical registrar.'
Cassidy felt herselfjerk backwards in surprise. He looked too young to be a medical registrar. Maybe it was the scruffy hair? Or the Australian tan? Or maybe it was that earring glinting in his ear, along with the super-white teeth? He didn't look like any registrar she'd ever met before.
Something twisted inside her gut. No, that wasn't quite true. Bobby. For a tiny second he reminded her of Bobby. But Bobby's hair had been dark, not blond, and he'd worn it in a similar scruffy style and had the same glistening white teeth. She pushed all thoughts away. She hadn't thought about him in months. Where had that come from?
She focused her mind. This was a work colleaguealbeit a cheeky one. She shook his hand firmly. 'Well, Dr Donovan, if you're one of mine then maybe I should tell you the rules in my ward.'
His eyebrows rose, an amused expression on his face. 'You really are the Dragon Lady, aren't you?'
She ignored him. 'When you finally manage to put some clothes on, no silly ties. In fact, no ties at all and no long sleeves. They're an infection-control hazard.' She ran her eyes up and down his crumpled scrubs, 'Though from the look of you, that doesn't seem to be a problem. Always use the gel outside the patients' rooms before you touch them. And pay attention to what my nurses tell youthey spend most of their day with the patients and will generally know the patients ten times better than you will.'
His blue eyes fixed on hers. Quite unnerving for this time in the morning. His gaze was straight and didn't falter. The guy was completely unfazed by her. He seemed confident, self-assured. She would have to wait and see if his clinical competence matched his demeanour.
'I have been working here for the last two months without your rulebook. I'm sure your staff will give me a good report.' She resisted the temptation to reply. Of course her staff would give him a good report. He was like a poster boy for Surfers' Central. She could put money on it that he'd spent the last two months charming her staff with his lazy accent, straight white teeth and twinkling eyes. He handed her Mrs Kelly's case notes and prescription chart.
'I've written Mrs Kelly up for some IV antibiotics, some oral steroids and some bron-chodilators. She had her arterial blood gases done in A and E and I'll check them again in a few hours. I'd like her on four-hourly obs in the meantime.' He glanced at the oxygen supply, currently running at four litres. 'Make sure she stays on the twenty-eight per cent venturi mask. One of the students in A and E didn't understand the complications of COPD and put her on ten litres of straight oxygen.'
Cassidy's mouth fell open. 'Please tell me you're joking.'
He shook his head. The effects could have been devastating. 'Her intentions were good. Mrs Kelly's lips were blue from lack of oxygen when she was admitted. The student just did what seemed natural. Luckily one of the other staff spotted her mistake quickly.'
Cassidy looked over at the frail, elderly lady on the bed, her oxygen mask currently dangling around her neck as she munched the toast from the plate in front of her. The blue tinge had obviously disappeared from her lips, but even eating the toast was adding to her breathlessness. She turned back to face Brad. 'Any relatives?'
He shook his head. 'Her husband died a few years ago and her daughter emigrated to my neck of the woods ten years before that.' He pointed to a phone number in the records. 'Do you want me to phone her, or do you want to do that?'
Cassidy felt a little pang. This poor woman must be lonely. She'd lost her husband, and her daughter lived thousands of miles away. Who did she speak to every day? One of the last elderly patients admitted to her ward had disclosed that often he went for days without a single person to speak to. Loneliness could be a terrible burden.
The doctor passed in front of her vision again, trying to catch her attention, and she pushed the uncomfortable thoughts from her head. This one was definitely too good to be true. Bringing up a patient, making tea and toast, and offering to phone relatives?
Her internal radar started to ping. She turned to Mrs Kelly. 'I'll let you finish your tea and come back in a few minutes.
'What are you up to?' She headed out the door towards the nursing station.
He fell into step beside her. 'What do you mean?'
She paused in the corridor, looking him up and down. 'You're too good to be true. Which means alarm bells are ringing in my head. What's with the nice-boy act?'
She pulled up the laptop from the nurses' station and started to input some of Mrs Kelly's details.
'Who says it's an act?'
Her eyes swept down the corridor. The case-note trolley had been pulled to the end of the corridor. Two other doctors in white coats were standing, talking over some notes. She looked at her watchnot even eight o'clock. 'And who are they?'
Brad smiled. 'That's the other registrars. Luca is from Italy, and Franco is from Hungary. They must have wanted to get a head start on the ward round.' He gave her a brazen wink. 'I guess they heard the Dragon Lady was on duty today.'
She shook her head in bewilderment. 'I go on secondment for three months, come back and I've got the poster boy for Surfers' Paradise making tea and toast for patients and two other registrars in the ward before eight a.m. Am I still dreaming? Have I woken up yet?'
'Why?' As quick as a flash he'd moved around beside her. 'Am I the kind of guy you dream about?'
'Get lost, flyboy.' She pushed Mrs Kelly's case notes back into his hands. 'You've got a patient's daughter in Australia to go and phone. Make yourself useful while I go and find out what kind of support system she has at home.'
He paused for a second, his eyes narrowing. 'She's not even heated up the bed yet and you're planning on throwing her back out?'
Cassidy frowned. 'It's the basic principle of the receiving unit. Our first duty is to find out what systems are in place for our patients. Believe it or not, most of them don't like staying here. And if we plan ahead it means there's less chance of a delayed discharge. Sometimes it can take a few days to set up support systems to get someone home again.' She raised her hand to the whiteboard with patient names. 'In theory, we're planning for their discharge as soon as they enter A and E.'
The look on his face softened. 'In that case, I'll let you off.' He nodded towards his fellow doctors. 'Maybe they got the same alarm call that I did. Beware the Dragon!' He headed towards the doctors' office to make his call.