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Dr Mia McKenzie didn't know it yet but her night was about to go from bad to worse. And that was no mean feat.
A full moon didn't usually bode well for emergency departments and this clear, cold Saturday night was no different. Moonbeams sprinkled like fairy dust on the world-renowned surface of Sydney Harbour, lending a deceptive calm to the view from the windows of Sydney Harbour Hospital.
But inside the walls of the emergency department it was crazy town!
At two in the morning there had been no let up from the insanity. SHH, or The Harbour to those who worked there, was living up to its reputation as the busiest emergency department in the city.
'I could have been a dermatologist,' Mia grumbled to Dr Evie Lockheart, her best friend and flatmate, as she strode out of the resus cubical, turning her back on the torrent of abuse from a drug addict she'd just brought back from the brink of death.
'They don't get abused by patients at half past stupid o'clock. You know why? Because they're sleeping. No on-call, no such thing as a dermatological emergency in the middle of the night, no urgent consults required.'
Evie, clutching a portable ultrasound unit, grinned. 'You'd be bored to tears.'
Mia's long blonde ponytail swished against her shoulder blades as she made her way to the central nurses' station with the patient's chart in hand. 'i could do bored.'
Evie snorted. 'Yep, whatever you say.'
Mia ignored her friend's sarcasm. 'How much longer are you and George Clooney going to be with the MVA?'
Evie laughed. 'The name is Luca. Dr Luca di Angelo.'
As far as Mia was concerned, the hospital's new director of trauma looked more like the devil than an angel.
He certainly seemed to be having a devil of a time with every available female walking the halls of SHH in the very short time he'd been here.
Which was fine by her. It was his life. And in a way she admired him for it. She too liked to keep her liaisons short and sweet.
But maybe that's what caused an itch up her spine whenever he was aroundbesides his disturbing good looks apparently honed beneath a Sicilian sun. She recognised a kindred spirit.
And didn't like what she saw.
'And he really is quite dishy.'
'Yes,' Mia mused. 'That he is.'
Evie grinned. Now, why couldn't she be interested in a tall, dark, handsome italian who was living up to the reputation of sex god that had preceded his arrival at The Harbour a few weeks ago? Why was it the infuriating, dictatorial Dr Finn Kennedy that her brain insisted on conjuring up with monotonous regularity?
'Anyway,' she said shaking the thought away. 'We're stabilising the patient at the moment. He needs to go to Theatre for a lap-arotomy.'
Mia nodded. 'Okay, but when he's gone, go home. You were supposed to have finished three hours ago.'
'Yeah, yeah.' Evie grinned as she departed.
Mia had ten minutes' respite to catch up on some charts before a stocky man with swarthy features and wild eyes burst through the ambulance bay doors. 'My wife she's in labour. The baby's coming now!' And then turned around and raced out the door again.
Mia sprang to her feet as a shot of adrenaline surged into her system. She hurried after the man, followed by caroline, the triage nurse. She didn't notice the chill in the air, just the beaten-up old car parked at a crazy angle near the doors and a woman's urgent cries.
'Hurry,' the man yelled, wringing his hands.
Mia was there in seconds. The woman was lying on the back seat yelling, 'It's coming, it's coming.'
'Hi, I'm Dr McKenzie,' Mia said over the din. 'What's your name?'
'Rh-rhiannon,' the woman panted.
Mia smiled at her encouragingly. 'How far along are you?'
'Thirty weeks, she's thirty weeks, all right?' the husband barked.
The man seemed hostile and had his wife's needs not been so urgent she'd have told him to back off. The last thing she needed right now while having to deliver a ten-week premature baby was a man with some kind of chip on his shoulder.
'caroline, page the neonatology team, please,' Mia said quietly as she reached for the endless supply of gloves she had stashed in her pockets. 'And get Arthur to bring out a gurney.
'Okay, let's have a look here,' Mia said calmly.
The woman groaned again and it took Mia two seconds to identify a crowning head, despite the poor light. 'Right, well, you're absolutely correct, Rhiannon, this baby is coming.'
'I have to push,' Rhiannon yelled.
'That's fine.' Mia nodded, her heart bonging in her chest like the bells of a clock tower. 'I'm here to catch.'
Thirty seconds later the scrawny bawling infant slipped into Mia's waiting hands. 'You have a boy.' Mia grinned, laying the baby on the cloth seat and hoping that Caroline thought to bring back something warm to protect the newborn from the brisk air.
'Let me see it,' the father demanded.
But Caroline arrived, blocking his view as she handed Mia a pre-packaged emergency birth pack and some blankets fresh out of the blanket warmer. 'Neonates are doing an emergency intubation in Labour ward,' she said quietly. 'They'll get here as soon as they can.'
Mia nodded as she quickly laid the babe on a warm soft blanket, unwrapped the birth pack and efficiently clamped and cut the cord. She bundled the still crying baby up and handed him to Caroline.
'Get him into Resus so we can give him a proper check over, although his lungs seem pretty fine to me.'
Caroline laughed as she turned to go.
'Where are you taking it?' the father demanded.
'Inside,' Caroline said calmly. 'You can come too if you like.'
The father stalked after Caroline while Mia and Arthur helped Rhiannon onto the gur-ney. They covered her in warm blankets and pushed her inside to the resus cube next to her baby. The little boy was quiet now as he basked beneath the warm rays of a cot's overhead heater.
The father was pacing the cubicle when they arrived and seemed agitated. 'Red hair. It's got red hair,' the father growled at Rhiannon as he approached her with a sneer on his face.
'Oh, for crying out loud, Stan. Your grandfather had red hair.'
'Whose is it?' he demanded, rattling the rail of the gurney. 'Who's the father?'
Mia felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck as the father's puzzling behaviour gained some context. But context or not, he didn't get to act like a bully in her ER.
Thoughts of her own father wormed their way into her head and she quashed them ruthlessly.
'Sir!' Mia stood between him and the exhausted Rhiannon. 'You will not raise your voice in here. Whatever the issue is, this is not the time or place for it. Now, why don't you go and shift your car from the ambulance bay? When you come back, you'd better have calmed down or I will call Security.'
Mia was used to dealing with emotionally charged situations. Also drunks, drug addicts and a whole bunch of other people who didn't respect the sanctity of a hospital.
But she was a doctor. And Rhiannon and the baby were her patients. It was her duty to protect them.
The man scowled at her and left, muttering to himself.
'I'm sorry,' Rhiannon apologised. 'He gets so paranoid sometimes but he's harmless.'
Mia smiled. 'It's fine.'
A midwife from the maternity ward chose that moment to arrive. 'The team's going to be another twenty minutes or so,' she apologised.
'That's all right,' Mia dismissed. 'I think this little tyke's going to be fine.'
The ugly incident with Stan was forgotten as the midwife tended to Rhiannon, delivering the placenta while Mia gave the baby a check over. 'They'll probably want to keep him for the night in Special Care, given his early arrival, just to be on the safe side,' Mia pronounced, 'but everything checks out so far.'
She stood aside for the midwife to wrap the little boy up in that special way they did with babies so they looked just like glowworms, with only their little faces showing. Then Mia picked up the precious little package and asked, 'Would you like to hold your son?'
Rhiannon nodded and Mia was walking the baby over to her when the curtain flicked back a little and Stan stood there, looking slightly mollified. The time away seemed to have helped. Mia changed tack. 'Would you like to hold him?' she asked.
In Mia's experience, babies melted even the hardest of hearts. What man could resist such a gorgeous package? Hopefully this little impatient cherub would help Stan focus on what was important in life.
He looked uncertain for a moment then looked at Rhiannon. 'Can I?'
She smiled at him and Mia could see the love shining in the other woman's eyes. 'Of course.'
Mia eased the little bundle into Stan's arms. He seemed more dazed than elated but Mia knew that for some new fathers it was a big adjustment. He walked up and down the length of the cubicle with the baby, rocking him as he went, his gaze fixed on his face.
'What are you going to call him?' Caroline asked.
'I like Michael,' Rhiannon murmured.
The tight swaddling had loosened a little from the rocking and the baby stirred, displacing the wrap covering his head. Stan stopped as he stared down at a shock of red hair. He whipped around to face his wife. 'Is that his name?' he demanded. The baby started to cry. 'Michael? The man you've been sleeping with?'
Rhiannon groaned. 'Stop it, Stan. I'm sick of these accusations. You know there's only ever been you.'
'I want a paternity test,' he yelled.