“It’s hard to say.” She recognized his voice but didn’t look up. “I wish I knew.”
“What’s the prognosis?” His hushed tone was indicative of their surroundings.
“The initial operation was a success. The patient is recovering as expected. So far.” She gave into a faint smile as she removed the protective net from her head. “As I told the family members a few moments ago, all we can do is wait. And hope.”
For the first time in hours, actually days it seemed, April took her focus off the business at hand to lift her gaze as Dylan walked closer. Despite the solemn circumstances, a single thought ran through her mind. Good thing her patient was the one hooked up to the heart monitor instead of her. She’d be setting off so many bells and alarms, the room would be swarming with nurses by now.
With sandy blond hair, intense green eyes, leading man good looks and that precious easy smile her husband never failed to set her heart to fluttering. Add those broad shoulders and solid chest to the package, and she was a bonafide goner. Dylan Harper, MD could fill out a set of scrubs with the best of them when he was working. Right now, she was the only one decked out in surgical attire.
“You’re a good surgeon, Mrs. Doctor Harper. I’m sure your patient will do fine.”
“I hope you’re right.” She walked around the bed to stand beside him. “I have to say, I’m exhausted.”
“Eleven hours on your feet in the operating room. You’re entitled.”
How long though, before I cave in to such demands? “Is it Christmas Day yet? I’ve lost all track of time.”
“Not that I don’t appreciate the effort, but why are you here?” April knew the answer before she asked. One doctor’s life and schedule was busy enough for a marriage to endure. Multiplied by two, private couple time was at a definite premium. If her hunch was right, time together would soon become an even more precious commodity.
“We didn’t get to see each other yesterday at all. I wanted to make up for that. Today especially. Plus, as I’ve told you before, we’ll be together for Christmas Day. No matter what.”
“Dylan, that is so sweet.” Tension held in for hours flowed out of her as a surge of warmth settled around her heart. Emotion clogged her throat and tears threatened. She tamped down on both. “Now that you’re here, though, and we’ve spent a few minutes together today, go home. One of us should be allowed to get some sleep. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” The corners of her mouth drew down in contemplation as her regard returned to her patient. “She’s not out of the woods yet.”
“I know.” His fingers trailed down her arm before he took her hand in his. “You’ve done all you can. The rest of your team can take it from here. Come home with me. Leave your car. I’ll drive you.”
“I really shouldn’t leave the hospital until she’s more stable. In case we need to take her back into surgery.” She kept her voice steady and professional while her thoughts flew off to other things. How will it feel when I’m the patient and someone else was the physician watching over me?
His grip on her tightened. “You can afford to take a short break though, can’t you?”
“Maybe a short one.”
Unfortunately, this was not the time, surely not the place, to share with him what else weighed on her mind.
Perception more than propriety made them drop hands as they left the room and entered the hallway.
April stopped at the nurses’ station long enough to give last minute patient care instructions. “Page me if there are any changes. Good or bad.”
As they stood before the staff elevator, he retook her hand while they awaited its arrival.
Heart heavy with guilt, she glanced up at him. “We agreed to spend Christmas Day together, and I end up working.”
“You had no control over when a healthy lung would become available.”
A small smile was her answer as the elevator door slid open. The moment they stepped inside she scrambled into his arms. Incredible warmth seeped into her from touching him and nearly stole her breath. She so needed this right now, his presence, his strength. And wonder of wonder, her husband never failed to deliver. May it always be so. Even after…
The elevator bounced to a gentle stop. He released her from his arms and once again took her hand. The large cafeteria they entered was filled with bright lights and empty tables.
“You sit. I’ll get us coffee.”
“Yes, sir.” April sank into a booth just inside the door.
A few interns hugging Styrofoam cups of coffee, no doubt in the midst of an infamous thirty-six hour shift, congregated at a corner table. Despite the grueling schedule, they discussed patients they’d seen on rounds earlier in tones clear and animated. Full of hope.
Before long Dylan slid a similar Styrofoam cup in front of her. April brushed drooping bangs off her forehead and gave in to a jaw cracking yawn. “Remember those days?” Her head tilt indicated the cluster of scrub clad students.
“Something you don’t forget.”
“It never gets old, does it?”
For as long as she could remember, April was convinced she’d be happy working as a nurse. Until Dylan came along and urged her to apply for medical school. One of many precious things her husband provided. More than a decade later, with an internship, residency and a demanding specialty fellowship successfully completed, she was a full-fledged, board certified specialist in thoracic surgery. With the knowledge and skill to save lives. A potent calling, but not without its drawbacks.
When Dylan had yet to reply to her comment, she changed the subject.
“Those decorations around here are beautiful, aren’t they?”
“They’re decent, I suppose. Pretty typical.” He didn’t look at her as he sipped his coffee. “A far cry from the first Christmas tree you and I shared.”
The arrival of long ago memories made her smile. “The display model we rescued.”
“Back when patients didn’t take priority over everything else in our lives.”
The sudden bitterness in his tone surprised her. Too bad she didn’t have the strength to challenge it. “My heart goes out to her boyfriend. He hasn’t left her side in three days.”
“Never get personally involved with a patient. That’s almost as sacred a pledge as the Hippocratic Oath we both took. Among others vows. Those we made to each other.”
“I can’t let him lose her, Dylan. The man is pretty devoted. He even pleaded with us to allow him in the OR with her. Said he’d take an alcohol bath if he had to.”
“You’re part of a surgical team, April. Along with two other physicians as qualified as you are to take care of this patient.”
He was right and she knew it. The surgical team model was designed to keep a single physician from becoming exhausted and, therefore, ineffective. That didn’t apply here though. It didn’t. How can I explain to him this might be my last case for a while?
At the vibration from her pocket, she bolted upright. Pager in hand, she hit the speaker button. “Doctor Harper.”
On a flat out run toward the intensive care unit seconds later, she listened to details of the complication she had so hoped wouldn’t develop. “I’ll be right there.”As she took the stairs two at a time to get to her patient, it dawned on her. She hadn’t even paused long enough to kiss Dylan good-bye.
Please come back tomorrow for the conclusion of Christmas With You. And, for more about me and my stories, please visit my WEBSITE