Lucas looked up at Kristina. Their eyes traded the immemorial look. He nodded.
“Ready,” he murmured.
He put out his hand. The nurse at the tray slapped a scalpel into his palm. He looked at her sharply. He looked at Kristina.
“Would you rather I passed?” she said gently.
He looked back at the other nurse. Above the masks their eyes were on him. He capitulated.
“All right,” he said. “A little harder, please.”
The other nurse nodded.
Kristina mopped the flow.
“There.” Lucas pointed his gloved finger.
Kristina clamped the squirter. She mopped again.
Now the rhythm began, the movement of hands, of instruments, of response, of timed wait, of juncture, of beat, of pauses, unhurried, unhalting, and the three blended and became a trio, interdependent and whole.
Now the abdomen was open. The inmost man, the viscera, lay bare. There was no pause. Tenderly, Lucas stripped the filament of the apron-edge of mesocolon from its juncture with the appendix. He ligated. He ligated again. He delivered the appendix.
“Just in time,” he said. The sound was an alien thing in the white room.
The appendix showed swollen, angry red.
He put out his hand. The nurse slapped a clamp in his palm. He crushed the stump.
Their heads turned, indignant, outraged.
A nurse stood in the doorway ten paces away. She wheeled a stretcher on which lay a dishevelled, blood-spattered man, his trousers about his ankles, his underwear crimson, on the side of his leg a steady flow of blood, a moving sheet to the ankle.
“. . . and they just brought him in and we can’t find Dr Snider –” with her right hand she was pressing fumbling fingers in the man’s groin –“and he keeps bleeding – I think it’s – ”
The man’s face was grey-white. His head dropped, lolled.
It was the femoral, there was no doubt about that. “Put him on the fracture table!” Lucas cried; it was the femoral and he had minutes, maybe less. “Hurry up!” and he reached across the open patient to the instrument tray as the nurse pushed the man forward, he grabbed a handful of clamps, he looked at the appendix, the opening, the swollen appendix. “Take over,” he said sharply; he looked up at Kristina, the words and the movement were simultaneous, in the next instant he was running towards the next room, his gown flapping as he ran.
They watched him go. They stared at each other. From behind the tiled wall partly separating the two rooms they heard a rip, “. . . terrible accident,” they heard the nurse say. “. . . Truck and this fellow, and he – ”
Kristina looked into the cavity. What was there stared back at her.
The room still echoed with it.
Kristina stared, paralysed.
From the next room came Lucas’ voice, sharply.
“All right, Kris?”
She nodded numbly.
“All right!” she cried, obedient. Her voice tugged at her. She licked her lips.
Take over, he said. Lucas said. Lucas said take over. Do what he said. He knows. He knows – hurry!
She walked around the patient’s head to the other side of the table. The operator’s side. She looked down at the appendix again. It seemed larger, redder. Lucas said. She drew a deep breath. She held it. She put out her hand. The nurse wavered. She put a scalpel in Kristina’s palm. She put it gingerly. Kristina grasped, almost lost it, recovered.
Kristina looked down. There it was. There was the appendix. And there were the two clamps. And between the jaws of those clamps showed an eighth inch of appendix. And in her hand was the scalpel. For a moment her panic clamoured to throw it down, to run from the room. Her eyes cleared. There it was. Still waiting. Lucas said –
She drew the scalpel between the two clamps. The appendix was free. And then,
Then lift a clamp. She lifted it. The appendix dangled from its jaws. She dropped it on the tray. The nurse stared at it, picked up the clamp, clicked the jaws open, the appendix dropped on a square of gauze, she wiped the clamp dazedly, stared at Kristina.
The ends of the suture, the purse-string suture.
Her fingers grasped the ends.
Take up the slack.
She held the ends in her left hand. She extended her right hand. The nurse fumbled, found a swab, jiggled a bottle open. Kristina swabbed the cut stump gaping from the jaws of the remaining clamp. She dropped the swab.
Pull the ends tight.
Then they –
The clamp. They opened the clamp.
The clamp was open. The stump was free, its end bound by circling suture.
And now –
They pushed the cut end in –
She clicked the clamp shut and used its tip, pushing hard against the pressure of the circling suture – one edge – a tag stayed out –
It was in!
And instantly she pulled the purse string shut, she tied, her fingers raced, she made a square knot, she pulled hard, another –
The breath left her body in a great gush. She felt her mask billow from it. Her muscles uncoiled. Her shoulders slumped. She looked down. It was done. She stared at it, unwilling to move.
“Give me some sutures!”
They jumped at Lucas’ call.
“Chromic sixes – and skin – ”
The nurse looked uncertainly at Kristina. Kristina nodded sharply at her.
“Right away!” she cried.
She nodded her head hard again. The nurse groped clumsily in the suture jar, Kristina stirred, the nurse seized half a dozen vials, rushed them dripping to the other room.
From the other room Lucas’ voice called out again.
She looked dazedly down at the canoe-shaped opening.
“Do you hear me, Kris?”
“All right,” she managed. “All right!” she said, louder.
She poised the curved needle over the cut lining.
She halted, but the point descended, she hesitated, but her left hand moved, the first stitch was through, she studied it.
But her right hand was moving again, her left hand drew the free end, the clamp clicked, the needle was free, the clamp clicked on it again, wait, she said, wait.
But the needle was moving.
Her left hand pulled suture. The needle clamp clicked, the needle was free, was clamped again, she reached for the free end.
There was a click. She started. She looked up, dazed. Across the table stood Lucas. He had clamped the free end of the suture. He drew it taut. He was not looking at her. He was looking steadily into the area. He had come in. He was standing where she stood. He was assisting her.
He looked steadily into the area.
“Don’t you want to – ”
“Go ahead,” he said.
She finished the suture line. His hands were ahead of her, unerring, unobtrusively tightening, shifting a fraction – and assisting. Always assisting. The line was finished. She looked up at him incredulously.
He lifted his head at her movement. His eyes smiled.
“That’s right,” he said. “You’ve seen enough of them, haven’t you? I’ll bet you could do it blindfolded.”
But his hand was already out for the next suture, he remembered, he found it himself on the tray, the needle holder clamped again, he had slapped it into her palm.
She had begun the next layer.
She had no chance to waver, a moment later she had no chance for doubt, her fingers were moving and his amazing fingers were ahead of her, making all clear, she stitched as she had seen him stitch, they came to the end, she tied, he snipped, ligature slipped over haemostat, drew tight, haemostat slipped free, there was a brief clash, a small rattle, the retractors were gone, she hesitated, the clamp was poised at her, waiting, it was in her hand, the interrupted ones had begun.
And then the skin.
She looked up. She took a pace back.
“Have to hang out your shingle,” said Lucas. He was laying a pad of gauze over the incision. He put on a larger pad, reached for a long strip of adhesive. “Didn’t think you could do it, did you?”
Hurriedly she pressed one end of the adhesive to the patient’s side. Lucas drew the other end tight. They repeated this.
“Did you?” said Lucas.
The other nurse had come in.
Kristina swallowed. She looked numbly down at the patient. She shook her head.
“Everything all right?” Lucas asked the nurse.
“He’s gone,” she nodded.
“I mean gone to his room – they’re giving him a transfusion.”
“Don’t scare me like that,” said Lucas.
“I’m sorry – ”
“Look what your girl friend’s done here!”
He untied his mask. He kept his eyes on the nurse. She was staring at Kristina, awed.
“Why, Mrs Marsh – !”
“He was right here!” Kristina felt her face hot. “I didn’t – he was – just the first – ”
“All by yourself,” said Lucas. And now he looked at Kristina. And from his gaze, from the pride, the tense pride, the claiming bond in his eyes, Kristina drank one intoxicating gulp, choked, turned aside.
“What do you think of her?” Lucas demanded.
“Why, Mrs Marsh –!” the nurse echoed.
“That’s right, Mrs Marsh – what do you say to that?”
Kristina untied her mask. Her fingers shook. She looked at her hands, she plucked at the sheet over the patient.
Lucas looked up at Kristina. Their eyes traded the immemorial look. He nodded.