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'Do I look like a mop?'
Beth wondered if this was a trick question, considering the young man asking was quite tall and wiry, not unlike a stick in stature, with a head of loose brown curls. She resisted the temptation to acknowledge an odd similarity.
'Pardon me?' she asked.
'I'm sick and tired of Harrison cleaning the damned floor with me. I tell you, he treats residents like they're not fit to be in his godlike presence.'
Beth watched from the corner of her eye as the stranger paced the lift. Adding an exaggerated depth and hint of sarcasm to his voice, he continued, 'And short of lying comatose in ICU, there's no excuse for arriving late at work while I'm in charge!'
Beth turned around to fully face the figure sharing her lift. 'Please tell me you're not talking about Dr Harrison, the senior A and E consultant?'
'Afraid I am.'
'I was hoping-'
'Well, you're out of luck,' he cut in. 'The other consultants are saints compared to our Hannibal Harrison.'
The lift stopped on the third floor, the doors opened to an empty lobby and after a prolonged wait slowly closed again.
'Why do people push the button for every lift on the floor?' the lanky man growled, before giving in to a lopsided smile. 'Better watch my temper, I'm starting to sound like Harrison!'
Beth breathed a heavy sigh. This man had just confirmed the rumours she had overheard when she'd visited the human resource department only minutes before. She had tried to dismiss it as idle gossip.
'That's just wonderful,' she said. 'I start work with him this morning.'
'So you're the newest victim.' He smiled sardonically, rubbing his hands, then offered one in friendship. 'Just joking, it's a bad habit of mine that you'll have to get used to. I'm Dan Berketta, and you must be our RMO exchange from London. Let me be the first from Cas to welcome you to the Eastern Memorial.'
Beth met his handshake. 'Beth Seymour.' The lift stopped again, this time on the first floor.
'This is where I get off,' Dan explained. 'I've been sent on an errand by the man himself. I'll catch up with you later.'
The doors closed, leaving Beth and her thoughts alone as she travelled down to the ground floor. Somehow she had to make the best of it, despite Dan's bleak report and terrible impersonation. She had no choice, she mused as the lift came to a stop. In vain she tried to tuck back a wisp of hair that escaped from her chestnut plait. She sighed when another frizzy strand fell across her eye. The humid Australian summer weather was playing havoc with her curls and that was just what she didn't need. She feared frizzy curls around her face made her look even younger and she wanted desperately to appear every bit of her twenty-eight years today.
After a few moments struggling with the rebellious wisp, she conceded defeat and stepped from the elevator into the commotion of the A and E department. It was only eight o'clock on a Monday morning, but the tone of the day ahead was evident.
The hallway was lined with chairs and each one was taken. The cries of a colicky baby were almost drowned by the abusive yelling of an elderly drunk, who was being escorted to the exit door by two well-built orderlies. A barouche, attended by three hospital staff and clearly heading for Emergency Theatre, rushed past, forcing Beth to take two steps back.
'Chin up, Beth Seymour,' she muttered to herself. 'No matter what, this is definitely where you want to be.'
Beth had worked too hard and waited too long for this day-travelling halfway around the world in the process-to let anything dampen her enthusiasm. Not even an A and E consultant with a supposed foul temper.
No one could be that bad, she decided. Or could they, she wondered, as she spied a man drumming his fingers impatiently on the reception desk. She checked her watch, even though she knew she wasn't late, then berated herself silently for letting him intimidate her before they had even met. She had made a pledge to herself to appear the consummate second-year resident, confident and totally professional.
She had recognised Dr Harrison from the description given by the girl in Personnel.
Tall, late thirties, wavy dark hair and deep blue eyes. He fitted the description, although she wouldn't have called him exceptionally tall. Height was such a personal thing, she decided as she drew closer. She couldn't help but notice his white coat was a little worse for wear as she breathed a sigh and stretched out her hand.
'You must be Dr Harrison. They told me I'd find you here. I'm Elizabeth Seymour, the new exchange resident. Everyone calls me Beth. I've been assigned to A and E.'
The man didn't meet her handshake. He stared blankly as he rubbed his chin. 'Listen, lady, I'm no doctor, I'm a dental technician. I work down the road at the dental hospital and I've been waiting for an hour for someone to take a look at my rash. I have a truckload of dentures and crowns I gotta get back to, so can you cop a squiz and give me somethin' for the itch?'
Beth dropped her hand. She was stunned into an embarrassed silence.
'Well, you heard the man,' came a voice from behind her. 'Bay four is empty, so show the gentleman in there and check out his rash, Dr Seymour.'
Beth spun around, and was forced to raise not only her eyes but her face, in order to meet the deep blue pools belonging to the voice.
It was painfully clear-in fact, Beth thought she could almost bet her future medical career on it-that this voice and these very deep blue eyes belonged to the real A and E consultant. A quick glance down at his ID tag confirmed her nightmare. The name Matthew Harrison was glaring back at her in bold print from beneath his photograph.
'Is this a hearing problem or an attitude problem, Dr Seymour?' he asked dismis-sively, as he sifted through some case notes on the desk. 'I said you can take this patient into bay four and begin the examination, unless of course there's some quaint English tradition that prevents you working before ten in the morning.' His eyes lifted from the case notes before him and he met Beth's stunned gaze.
'And if that's the case, Dr Seymour, you'd better see me in my office, because I don't need a second-year resident working for me but abiding by her own set of rules.'
With that he turned away, gathered an armful of files and proceeded down the hall and out of sight.
Beth bit the inside of her cheek as she looked around. The waiting room was full.
People without seats were leaning against the walls. Then there was the queue she had passed moments before in the corridor. And all of them, she felt certain, had heard the dressing down she had just received.
'Here are his notes, Dr Seymour. I've just completed them now,' said a nurse, who Beth couldn't have recognised five minutes later in a line-up if her life had depended on it. Her normally clear reasoning had deserted her the moment Matthew Harrison had attacked.
Somehow she managed to hear the end of the instructions '. .and the bay Dr Harrison suggested is second on the left.'
'Fine,' Beth replied, as she took the file and tried to focus on the name. 'Well, then, Mr Somers, if you'll follow me, I'll see what I can do.'
With a bowlegged gait, he followed her. 'I sure hope you can give me something to stop the itching. It's been driving me mad for near on four days.'
With her back to the patient as she led him into the bay, Beth rolled her eyes and gave a little sigh. This was not how it was supposed to happen. The fantasies of her first day on the job in Adelaide had been very different.
She put down the notes, closed the curtains and crossed to the washbasin. Quickly but thoroughly she washed her hands and slipped on some latex gloves. Then she turned back to catch her patient drop his pants to the floor and bend over the examination table. She swallowed hard as she approached the splayed figure.
'Where exactly is the problem, Mr ? Mr ?' Oh, God, she couldn't believe she'd forgotten his name. Her eyes were levelled at a man's naked backside and she had no recollection of his name. Whether it was the sight before her or the run-in with Dr Harrison that had blanked her mind, she wasn't sure.
'Somers,' he called over his shoulder, 'Barry Somers. But my friends call me Bazza.'
'Yes, of course. Mr Somers,' she repeated, but had no need to ask where the problem was, as she watched him raise his hand to the afflicted area.
'It's just here. I was out shooting with me mates when I got nature's call and ducked behind some bushes. Well, seems like I backed into some prickly pear. I was a bit embarrassed to come in, I thought maybe it'd go away but it hasn't.'
Beth proceeded with the delicate examination. Upon completion she removed her gloves and wrote out a script.
'You can have this filled down the corridor at Pharmacy,' she explained. 'Apply the cream to the irritated area three times a day and you should be fine in a few days.'
He stared at her without answering.
'Mr Somers, did you understand me?'
'Yep,' he said. Dismissing everything else she had previously told him, he continued, 'You know, Doc, you sure are pretty. Has anyone told you that you have beautiful brown eyes?'
'Mr Somers, please get dressed.'
'Are you single?'
Beth chose to ignore the question. 'I don't mean to hurry you up but we're very busy so if you could please put on your trousers and make your way to Pharmacy.'
'Can't blame a man for asking,' he said, as he tucked in his shirt and finished dressing. 'You're from the UK, right? Been out here long?'
'Yes, I'm English and, no, I've only just arrived.' Beth answered the less personal questions. 'Now, unless there's anything related to your treatment, I think you can go.'
'Me and me mates, we've got a shack on the Murray River Have you ever been water-skiing?'
'I'm not a watersports kind of person,' Beth replied, as she filled in the last of the case notes and closed the file. She moved to the curtain, pulling it open. 'Now, I really do have a lot of patients to see.'
'What about coffee in town one night, maybe a movie?'
As she opened her mouth to refuse his offer and to call for an orderly, a deep voice echoed behind her.
'Dr Seymour, I think I can safely speak on behalf of the rest of the hospital staff, including management and the board, in telling you that we would be eternally grateful if you would arrange your private life in your own time. There's a roomful of people waiting for treatment, if you haven't noticed, and if you stop to chat with all the male patients who flatter your ego, I'm afraid we could risk some of the others up and dying on us!'
He turned to walk away, then paused in mid-step. 'Quite frankly, Dr Seymour, I wasn't keen about this RMO exchange. It's an irritating disruption to a busy department and from what I've seen this morning, I doubt I'll be convinced otherwise.'
T I..' Beth fell over her own words with nerves. 'I was just trying to explain to Mr ' It had happened again. Her mind went inexplicably blank. It never happened to her. She was always in control, remembering names had never been an issue. What was happening? Her composure had suddenly taken a leave of absence.
'Mr Somers,' the A and E consultant added snidely, looking at the case notes under Beth's arm. 'And, Dr Seymour, try to remember names. It's a professional touch we encourage Down Under.'
'As I was saying,' she returned quickly, 'I was just explaining to Mr Somers that he needed to go to Pharmacy.'
'Well, the message wasn't getting through, was it?' he replied curtly. Then with his dark brows knitted and his arms folded across his ample chest, he stared in silence at the patient. Beth wasn't sure whether it was his towering stature or threatening demeanour, but something made Mr Somers move quickly through the gap in the curtains and out of sight.
'Well, that didn't seem so difficult, Dr Seymour. I wonder whether we should put your problem down to a lack of assertiveness. Or perhaps you weren't in a hurry.'
Beth found his unremitting and unjust criticism more than she could handle. She paused for a moment before replying. She wanted to gather the last shreds of composure she possessed. Australia was supposed to be different. A new start where she would be valued as a doctor and also as a person. She had to make that clear now.
Finally, with a calm that belied her still shaky confidence, she challenged her aggressor. 'You're wrong with both suggestions, Dr Harrison. It appears that Australian men are not astute enough to get the message when it's delivered politely. But don't worry, I'm sure I can alter my delivery to suit the occasion. I learn quickly.'
She watched as the corners of his mouth curved slightly. Not a full smile, but Beth was relieved to see it at least wasn't the face of a man about to end her medical career. In fact, to her surprise, she found herself thinking it was a very handsome, almost roguish face. The blue eyes that had threatened her only minutes before now seemed to sparkle as they lingered on hers. She felt her pulse quicken and blood flow into her cheeks. Conscious of her blushing, she abruptly turned her gaze from him, trying to concentrate on her case notes, but still she felt strangely distracted by his presence so close to her.
Matthew liked her spirit. She had just stood up to him, and not many people could do that. They cowered to his seniority and his reputation, but Beth hadn't flinched when she'd given back as good as she'd got.
'OD in Priority One,' called a nurse as she raced past them.
Beth felt a firm hand on her arm. 'Well, Dr Seymour, let's see just how fast you learn!' He directed her into the corridor and with hasty steps they followed the nurse.
'I can learn while running. I hope that's fast enough.'
Matthew gave a wry smile, which she took as affirmation. Without further debate she followed him into a room filled with nursing staff and an attending doctor already working on stabilising the patient. Beth recognised the young doctor from the lift. It was Dan Berketta.
The young male patient he was attending lay on the barouche looking deathly pale. An intravenous line had already been inserted into his forearm and as the patient was unconscious Dan inserted a Guedal airway to prevent the patient's tongue from obstructing his airway. One nurse took over the bag resuscitation while another cut down the length of his shirt. With the patient's bare torso exposed, Dan immediately began cardiac compression.
'Suspected scenario, Dr Berketta?' asked
Matthew Harrison as he put on latex gloves and threw a pair across to Beth.
'Heroin overdose, the girlfriend told us,' Dan replied, his voice gritting with the force he exerted on the patient's chest. 'The paramedics administered oxygen and Narcan en route. He was here five minutes when he ripped the IV out and attempted to leave. He made it about three feet before he arrested on the floor.'
'Still no pulse,' said a nurse.
Beth moved closer to offer assistance as Dan continued with the compressions.
'No improvement,' came the nurse's update.
Immediately Dan reached for the defibrillator paddles, his eyes constantly returning to the heart monitor.
'Everyone stand back,' instructed Dr Harrison.
The nurse already had the paddles smeared with conducting paste.
'Now!' Dan held the paddles to the man's chest. The young man's back arched with the surge they generated.