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'Rod Hawes, fifty-four, had just got a strike at tenpin bowling when he started having chest pains,' Ed, the paramedic, told Becky and David as he wheeled the trolley into Resus. 'His wife and kids are on their way.'
Becky glanced at their patient, not liking his colour or the sheen of sweat on his skin.
'He described the pain as being like an elephant sitting on his chest,' Ed continued.
Classic symptoms. So she was expecting the paramedic's next comment: 'The pain wasn't relieved by GTN and from the trace we think he's had an MI. We've cannulated and given him oxygen, but no aspirin because he's got a stomach ulcer.'
A complication they could really do without.
Almost before David asked, she had a syringe in her hand and bottles. 'Usual bloods?' she asked.
He nodded. 'Has he had an antiemetic?' David asked the paramedic.
'I'm on it,' Becky said, swiftly sorting out the bloods. She'd administered an antiemetic through the cannula and set up the electrocardiograph leads to take a trace of the heart's activity by the time David had finished taking the patient's history.
Strange how everything slowed right down in the middle of an emergency. Their patient's life was at stake, but the team had worked together for so long that they all knew exactly what to do. Everything slotted together in the right place and at the right time.
And it was a shame that today was going to be the last time they'd work together. David was flying out to Africa almost straight after his shift to do a six-month stint with Doctors Without Borders.
Becky only hoped that the new consultant would be as thorough and as genuinely nice as David, treating the patients and staffalike with respect and kindness. Human Resources hadn't exactly been generous with their information, and even the hospital grapevine had drawn a blank. All they knew about the new consultant was that he was male.
They were about to administer thrombolytic drugs when she saw the pattern on the ECG change. 'He's gone into VT'
Hardly surprising. Becky knew that most patients who'd had a heart attack developed an abnormal heart rhythm afterwards. VT, or ventricular tachycardia, was where a ventricle, one of the lower chambers of the heart, beat too fast; it could lead to ventricular fibrillation, where the heart contracted but didn't pump blood around the body, and it was life-threatening.
'OK. We know the drill,' David said wryly. 'Crash team. Mina, can you remove the clothing from Rod's upper body, so we can position the paddles more easily?' he asked the first-year foundation doctor.
Mina did so while David checked Rod's intubation and Becky checked his pulse. 'He's in pulseless VT,' she reported.
David sighed and put one paddle on the apex position and the other on the right of Rod's breastbone, just below the clavicle. 'Charging to two hundred,' he said. 'Stand clear.'
Everyone took their hands off the patient.
Becky glanced at the ECG. 'No response. He's still in VT.'
They waited ten seconds to see if the ECG trace changed the protocol was that you didn't check the pulse after a shock unless the heart rhythm changed.
'Charging to two hundred again,' David said, keeping the paddles on the gel pads. 'And clear. Shocking now.'
Still no response.
'Charging to three-sixty,' David said, 'and clear. Shocking now.'
To everyone's relief, the ECG showed a clear sinus rhythmthe normal beat of the heart.
Becky checked Rod's pulse and her stomach plummeted. 'No pulse. He's gone into PEA.' PEA, or pulseless electrical activity, was where the heart rhythm seemed normal on the ECG screen, showing that there was electrical activity within the heart, but the heart wasn't actually pumping blood around the patient's body.
He was intubated, on oxygen, and there was no sign of a bleed; they also knew from the history that the patient had given them that he wasn't on any medication and hadn't taken any drugs. So that narrowed down the likely causes of the problem.
David grimaced. 'My money's on thrombosisa huge MI.'
Which meant the chances of a good result were slim. Becky knew that when a patient had gone into PEA, if they couldn't find the underlying cause fast enough, they treated the patient as if they were in cardiac arrest. The odds weren't on their side, but she drew up a milligram of epinephrine and handed it to David. 'Want me to bag while you do the compressions?'
He nodded. 'Sure I can't persuade you to come with me? We could do with a really good nurse on the team. Especially one who's a nurse practitioner.'
'Thanks, but I'm happy here in Manchester,' she said. Maybe a year or eighteen months ago, she would've jumped at the chance to get away from the mess of her failed marriageand the even messier bit she'd never told anyone about, even her closest friendsbut she'd stuck it out and her life was back on an even keel now.
'Hmm.' David looked at the ECG monitor. 'As the underlying rhythm's bradycardia, let's try atropine as well.'
She drew up a milligram and checked it, then David administered the drug.
Just respond, she begged their patient silently. You've got a family on its way to you, needing you to wake up. Rod Hawes was a family man who'd been out with his wife and kids, having fun. Why the hell did this sort of thing have to happen? Why couldn't it happen instead to someone who'd made his family's life miserable and wouldn't be missed?
She pushed the thought away. Not here. Not now. Despite the two rotten days she'd just spent in London, this wasn't the time or place to think about that. She needed to stay detached, do her job.
Ten sequences of basic life support over three minutes, checking for a pulse after each one.
'Still no pulse,' she reported.
'No change on the ECG,' Mina said.
Another milligram of epinephrine. She counted the rhythm: fifteen chest compressions to two breaths.
Come on, come on, she thought. Go into VF so we can go back to shocking you. Get your heart started again.
Irene, one of the staff nurses, came in. 'His family's here,' she said.
David nodded, his face grim. 'Now's not a good time for them to see him. Can you take them to the relatives' room and look after them? I'll be with them as soon as I can. As soon as we get him to respond.'
But after they'd been working for twenty minutes, David stopped. 'It's not going to happen,' he said softly. 'His brain's been without oxygen for twenty minutes. He's gone. Everyone agreed that we call it?'
One by one, very quietly, the rest of the team agreed.
'Right. Time of death ' he looked at the clock ' four forty-seven. Thanks for your help, team. Sorry we didn't make it.' He raked a hand through his hair. 'This sucks. Big time.' He sighed. 'Better go see his family.'
'Do you want me to do it?' Becky asked.
He patted her shoulder. 'You're a sweetheart for offering but it's my responsibility. I'll do it.'
'I'll call his GP, then, and inform the coroner,' she said. 'And fill out the forms for you to sign.'
'Let's hope I'm a bit better than this when I get out to Africa,' he said, shaking his head in apparent disgust with himself.
'Hey. Don't beat yourself up. You know as well as I do that PEA doesn't have a good prognosisand one in three patients with an MI don't even make it to the emergency department in the first place. You did your best. We all did.'
Neither of them said it, but she knew they were both thinking it: their best just hadn't been good enough.
And although Becky was based in the minor injuries section for the rest of her shift and concentrated on treating each patient, there was still that underlying misery she felt whenever they lost a patient. A dull, heavy feeling that wouldn't shift, even by the time she got home.
'Bad day?' Tanya, her housemate, asked as she walked in.
'Does it show?'
Tanya nodded. 'From the look on your face, I'd say you lost a patient.'
Tanya gave her a sympathetic hug. 'That's exactly why I could never work in emergency medicine. At least in paediatrics most of our patients make it.'
'We don't lose that many,' Becky protested.
'You know what I mean.' Tanya switched the kettle on. 'You need tea. Actually, I've got a better idea than that. You know the newbie doctors on our ward?'
'The first-year foundation doctors have been in for two months now. They're not exactly newbies any more,' Becky said.
Tanya grinned. 'If you ask me, they're still a bit wet behind the ears! But Joe's pretty cute. And he's having a party tonight. Why don't you come with me?'
'I wasn't invited,' Becky pointed out.
'He said I could bring a friend.' Tanya brushed her objection aside. 'What you need is a good night out. Lots of loud music, maybe a bit too much red wine, and let your hair down.'
'Down.' Becky flicked the ends of her short hair. 'And that would be how, exactly, Tan?'
Tanya laughed. 'Oh, you. Seriously, come with me. It'll be a laugh.'
After the week she'd hadincluding two days spent being the dutiful granddaughter and resenting every second of it Becky could really do with a laugh. 'OK. Thanks. I will.'
Lord, he needed a breather from this party, Leandro thought.
Given the choice between spending his first Saturday in Manchester completely on his own in a rented flat, wondering why the hell he'd left Barcelona, and coming to a party where he was likely to meet some of his new colleagues, Leandro had accepted the invitation with a smile. Enthusiasm, even.
But he'd forgotten what kind of parties junior doctors threw.
Ones with plenty of cheap wine, barely edible snacks that left you hungry, and terrible music played at the kind of volume where conversations had to be conducted at shouting pitch. Where there was barely any room to move, because so many people were packed into the place.
Thirty-five years old, and he'd hit middle age, he thought ruefully. Because he was beginning to wish he'd stayed in after all.
Leandro took a swig from the bottle of beer and wandered into the garden, thinking at least he'd find a quiet corner there. Although it was April, it was warm enough for him not to need a coat.
And then he saw her.
Sitting on a bench tucked away in a quiet corner of the garden, with her shoes off and her knees drawn up to her chin, looking as though she wanted to be a hundred miles away, too. A kindred spirit, perhaps?
He walked over to the bench. 'Do you mind if I join you?'
She looked up at him and frowned. 'Sorry. I didn't catch what you said.'
Hardly surprising. She'd probably been deafened by the music blasting from inside the house.
'I said, do you mind if I join you?' he repeated, this time a little louder.
She shrugged and uncurled, making room for him to sit beside her. 'Help yourself.'
Even though the sun had set an hour or so ago, the light shining into the garden from the kitchen was bright enough for him to see her properly. She had short brown hair, the sort that would go into spiral curls if she let it grow, and dark blue eyes that looked haunted. And a perfect rosebud of a mouth that sent a frisson of desire down his spine.
'Gràcies.' He sat down. 'Leandro Herrera.' He held his free hand out to her. She took it, and the frisson down his spine grew stronger.
'Rebecca Marston. Everyone calls me Becky,' she said, shaking his hand. Her grip was cool, firm, preciseand he liked it.
'Which part of Spain do you come from?' she asked.
She looked thoughtful. 'Catalunya.'
He raised an eyebrow. 'I'm impressed. You know Spain?'
'Not really. I had a penfriend years agoour teacher had spent a year in Spain and taught at a school there, and she told us a bit about the country. She set up a penfriend scheme between the two schools.' She smiled. 'In the years before email and chat rooms. But those early lessons helped when it came to taking exams.'
'Parla català?' he asked.
She shook her head. 'Sorry. I assume you're asking me if I speak CatalanI don't, and my Spanish is horribly rusty. But your English is excellent.'
'Gràcies I learned from an early age.' He inclined his head in acknowledgement. 'So, RebeccaBecky. Do you always escape into the garden at parties?'
She wrinkled her nose. 'No, though I am at this one. My housemate persuaded me to come with her because she thought it would do me good to ' And then she gave him the most gorgeously mischievous smile, indicating the ends of her short hair. 'To let my hair down a bit.'
He smiled back. 'And you're regretting letting her persuade you?'
She nodded. 'This really isn't my kind of thing.'
'Not mine either,' he admitted. 'And I heard someone say something about karaoke.'
Becky closed her eyes briefly. 'Help. I'm not sure what's worsebeing bullied into singing something in front of a crowd or having to listen to other people singing out of key or out of rhythm.'
'Especially when they've drunk enough to think they're in tune and sound as good as their favourite pop star,' he added dryly. 'I think I'm going to call it a night.'
'I don't blame you.'
Something in her face told him that she felt the same way. And even though he had no intention of seeing her again after tonight, it would be good to have company rather than going back to his flat on his own. Dinner wouldn't hurt. So he gave into the impulse and asked, 'Have you eaten tonight?'
'Just some nibbles here.'
'How about,' he suggested, 'we escape? Go and find some proper food.' He looked pointedly at her barely touched glass. 'And wine you can actually drink.'
He had a voice like melted chocolate, and eyes to match. Olive skin betraying his Mediterranean ancestry. Dark hair that was cut short, but Becky would just bet turned curly if he were in a rainstorm; it made her itch to slide her fingers into it.
And he had the sexiest mouth she'd ever, ever seen.
Leandro Herrera was a complete stranger. She knew nothing about him. He could be some kind of maniac. She really ought to refuse. Politely, but refuse.
And then her grandfather's voice echoed in her head.
I should think so, too. Why you couldn't just settle down and have children and support your husband, I'll never know. Going off with a complete stranger, indeed. No moral fibre, your generation
Oh, shut up, Gramps, Becky thought. She was a grown woman. And in her view strangers were friends you hadn't yet met. If a gorgeous man invited her out to dinner, and she wanted to go, then it was her choice. And she was going to do it.
'Yes. I'd love to.'