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Stars Through the Mist
By Betty Neels
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2006 Betty Neels
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE OPERATING THEATRE was a hive of industry, its usual hush giving way to sudden utterances of annoyance or impatience as the nurses went briskly to and fro about their business. Sister Deborah Culpeper, arranging her instruments with efficient speed on the trolley before her, found time to listen to the plaintive wail of her most junior nurse, who was unable to find the Langenbeck retractors she had been sent to fetch, while at the same time keeping an eye on Bob, the theatre technician, who was trying out the electrical equipment needed for the various drills which would presently be needed. She calmed the nurse, nodded approval of Bob's efforts, begged Staff Nurse Perkins to get the dressings laid out in their correct order and glanced at the clock.
One minute to nine o'clock, and as far as she could see, everything was ready. She swung the trolley round with an expert kick and then stood, relaxed and calm, behind it, knowing that in a few minutes the rest of the staff would follow suit; she never badgered them or urged them on, merely saw to it that each nurse had her fair share of the work and time enough in which to do it. She looked ahead of her now, apparently at the tiled wall opposite her, aware of every last move being made, nothing of hervisible beneath the green gown which enveloped her, only her dark eyes showing above the mask. She looked the picture of calm self-assurance, and her nurses, aware of their own hurried breath and rapid pulses, envied her. A quite unwarranted feeling, as it happened, for despite her outward tranquillity, Deborah's heart had quickened its pace to an alarming rate, and her breath, despite her efforts to keep it firmly under her control, had run mad. She gave her head a tiny, vexed shake, for it annoyed her very much that she should behave so stupidly whenever Mr van Doorninck was operating; she had tried every means in her power to remain uncaring of his presence and had mastered her feelings so well that she could present a placid front to him when they met and subdue those same feelings so sternly that she could scarcely be faulted as a perfect Theatre Sister; only on his operating days did her feelings get a little out of hand, something which she thanked heaven she could conceal behind her mask. She looked up now as the patient was wheeled in, arranged with nicety upon the operating table and covered with a blanket, to be followed immediately by the opening of the swing doors at the further end of the theatre and the appearance of two men.
Deborah's lovely eyes swept over the shorter, younger man - the Registrar, Peter Jackson - and rested briefly upon Mr van Doorninck. He was a very tall man with broad shoulders shrouded, as was every one else, in green theatre garb. His eyes above the mask swept round the theatre now, missing nothing as he walked to the table. His good morning to Sister Culpeper was affable if somewhat reserved, and his glance from under heavy lids was brief. She returned his greeting in a quiet, detached voice and turned at once to her trolley, wondering for the hundredth time how it was possible for a sensible woman of twenty-seven to be so hopelessly and foolishly in love with a consultant surgeon who had never uttered more than a few brief conventional phrases to her. But in love she was, and during the two years in which she had worked for him, it had strengthened into a depth of feeling which had caused her to refuse two proposals of marriage. She sighed soundlessly and began the familiar ritual of arranging the sterile sheets and towels over the unconscious form on the table.
She worked with speed and care, knowing exactly how the silent man on the other side of the table liked them arranged; in two years she had got to know quite a lot about him - that he was even-tempered but never easy-going, that when the occasion warranted it, he could display a cold anger, that he was kind and considerate and reticent about himself - al-most taciturn. But of his life outside the theatre she knew very little; he was yearned over by the student nurses to whom he gave lectures, sought after by the more senior female staff, and openly laid siege to by the prettier, younger nurses. No one knew where he lived or what he did with his spare time; from time to time he let drop the information that he was either going to Holland or had just returned. The one fact which emerged from the wealth of rumour which surrounded him was that he was not married - an interesting detail which had increased the efforts of the young women who rather fancied themselves as his wife. And once or twice he had mentioned to Deborah that he had parents in Holland, as well as brothers and a sister who had been to England to visit him. Deborah had longed to ask questions and had restrained herself, knowing that if she did he would probably never tell her anything again.
She finished the preliminaries, glanced at him, and at his "Ready, Sister?" gave her usual placid "Yes, sir," and handed him the towel clips which he liked to arrange for himself. After that she kept her thoughts strictly upon her job - scalpel, artery forceps, retractors, and then as he reached the bone, the lion forceps, the Langenbeck retractors, the rugines, the bone levers - she handed each in turn a second or so before he put out his hand to receive them, admiring, as she always did, his smooth technique and the sureness of his work. Not for nothing had he won a place on the top rung of the orthopaedic surgeon's ladder.
The patient was a young man with a malignant tumour of the femur; his only chance of recovery was extensive excision, a proceeding which Mr van Door-ninck was undertaking now. Beyond a muttered word now and then to his registrar or a request for some special instrument, he spoke little; only when the operation was three parts completed and they were stitching up did he remark: "There's a good chance of complete recovery here - as soon as he's fit we'll get him fitted with a leg - remind me to talk to Sister Prosser about him, Peter."
He turned away from the table and took off his gloves to fling them into one of the bowls and walked out of the theatre, back into the scrubbing-up room, leaving Peter to supervise the removal of the patient and Deborah to organise the preparation of the theatre for the next case, reflecting as she did so that Sister Prosser, plain and plump and fifty if she was a day, was the most envied member of the nursing staff, because she saw Mr van Doorninck every day, and not only that, he took coffee with her frequently, and was known to have a great respect for her opinion of his patients' conditions.
Excerpted from Stars Through the Mist by Betty Neels Copyright © 2006 by Betty Neels. Excerpted by permission.
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