“We have a fourteen-year-old girl complaining of severe abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting,” the paramedic called out as a gurney was pushed through the emergency room doors.
Rebekah McClain tossed the patient file she was looking at onto the counter at the nurses’ station and ran to join the team guiding the stretcher into one of the bays in the emergency room. They lifted the girl off the stretcher and onto the bed. “Her name?”
“Amber,” the paramedic replied.
“Amber, my name is Rebekah, and I’m a nurse. Is it all right if I examine you?”
The girl nodded. Tears rolled down her cheeks, whether from pain or fear, Rebekah wasn’t sure. “Where are her parents?”
“They followed us in their car.”
Rebekah placed her hands on the girl’s abdomen. All the symptoms seemed to indicate the appendix, but she didn’t sense anything there. Odd. She moved her hands to the side, and there—so much heat rising from that area, and a slight vibration. She closed her eyes and focused, opening them again when she heard Dr. Hunsaker’s voice.
“What do we have here?”
“This is Amber. Fourteen years old, presenting with symptoms of an ovarian cyst,” Rebekah replied.
“Ovarian cyst? That’s not typical for such a young woman.” Dr. Hunsaker frowned. “Just what are the symptoms?”
“Severe abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting,” Rebekah replied. She glanced over at the paramedic. They usually left after delivering their patients, but he was hovering around for some reason, and she’d have to ask him why later.
“That sounds like the appendix to me,” Dr. Hunsaker said. “We need to get her into the OR now.”
“Yes, we do, but please, Dr. Hunsaker, do an ultrasound first,” Rebekah said. “If this is a cyst and she’s been opened up for an appendectomy—”
Dr. Hunsaker exhaled. “Are we going to have another one of those conversations again?”
It had been over a year since the weird event when the seven McClain sisters had all been zapped by a power outage at their parents’ house. Since that time, they’d each manifested different strange powers, and Rebekah’s was the ability to diagnose. As a nurse, she’d had the ability to use her gift over and over again, but when her opinion contradicted the decisions of the doctors she worked with, things got more than a little awkward.
“Sir, please just take a few minutes to do an ultrasound. I won’t say another word, I promise.”
Dr. Hunsaker scowled. “You? Not say another word? I’ll believe that when I see it. Ultrasound!”
A tech wheeled the machine over, and within moments, Dr. Hunsaker was scowling. “There’s nothing wrong with her appendix. Fine—let’s look at the ovaries.”
The screen revealed some definite abnormalities on the right ovary. “Get her up to the OR,” Dr. Hunsaker called out. He turned to Rebekah. “My office after the procedure.”
A man and a woman rushed into the ER, looking around frantically until they spotted Amber. “Is she all right?” the woman asked.
“We would have been here sooner, but traffic was horrible,” the man added.
“Your daughter is suffering a ruptured ovarian cyst,” Dr. Hunsaker explained. “In most cases, these resolve themselves, but I don’t feel confident that this one will. We’ll take her into surgery and see what’s going on in there, all right?”
“Yes, please. Do whatever you need to do,” the man said, and the woman nodded.
As Amber was being wheeled away, Rebekah said to the parents, “You can go with her up to the doors of the operating room. They’ll show you where to wait.”
“Thank you,” the woman said, and they followed behind their daughter.
Rebekah sucked in a deep breath. They’d be able to manage the situation once they were in the OR, but if they’d waited, things would have become much worse. The time wasted in looking in the wrong place, not to mention having to change surgery sites . . .
“I’d take your lunch break now, if I were you,” Harriet, the charge nurse, said as she walked up to Rebekah. “You know Dr. Hunsaker’s going to rake you up one side and down the other—you’ll need your strength for that.”
Rebekah chuckled and shook her head. “I definitely know it. Thanks—I’ll just be in the cafeteria.”
As she walked down the hall, she saw the paramedic still standing there, and she motioned at him with her head. “Come on.”
He looked confused for a moment, but then fell into step beside her. She didn’t slow down to wait for him—she had half an hour, and she didn’t intend to waste any of it.
“So, what’s your story?” she asked him.
“Yeah. Why are you still here? I thought you were supposed to dump and run.”
“We usually do, but it’s the end of my shift, and I wanted to see how this one turned out.” He paused. “Actually, that’s not true.”
She turned to look at him. “We’ve only just met, and you’re already lying to me? You don’t mess around, do you?”
“I . . .”
“Never mind. You can explain while I eat.”
She moved through the cafeteria line quickly, grabbing some pre-made items rather than waiting to be served. Then she sat down and arranged her sandwich, chips, and fruit in front of her. “You didn’t want anything?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Dinner at my parents’ house tonight. My mother would kill me if she knew I ate anything first.”
Rebekah unwrapped her sandwich. “You talk while I eat. Not trying to be rude—I’m just in a hurry.”
“Right. Sorry. Um, okay, I stuck around because I wanted to see how the case turned out—at least, to start. But then I overheard your diagnosis. How did you do that?”
“How did I do what?” She didn’t meet his gaze as she opened her chips.
“How did you know it wasn’t her appendix? I’ve brought in dozens of ruptures—I could have sworn that’s what it was.”
Rebekah chewed on a chip while she thought up a reply. She hated lying—she hated it so much. “My sister had a ruptured cyst last year, and they thought it was her appendix,” she said at last, cringing a little bit. “So that was the first thing I thought of. It was more of an educated guess than anything.”
“That was more than a guess.”
“Well, I did say it was educated.” She flashed him a grin, hoping that some humor would lighten the tension. She wasn’t about to tell this total stranger how she’d managed to diagnose Amber’s cyst. It was none of his business, anyway. “I’m Rebekah McClain.”
“I’m Jeremy Burton. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too. You’re new—I know all the emergency personnel in this town, and I haven’t seen you before.”
“Just moved here last week. I used to live in San Antonio, but I was ready for something quieter.”
“Well, Bagley is definitely quieter. Are your parents in San Antonio?”
“Yeah. I’d actually better be on my way soon if I don’t want to be late—I’ve clocked the drive at an hour if traffic’s good.” He said that, but he still didn’t make a move to stand up.
“Have you been a paramedic long?”
“A couple of years. I got into it after my brother was almost killed in a car accident. Some quick-thinking first responders saved his life, and I realized that’s what I wanted to do—I wanted to make that kind of difference.”
Rebekah studied him while she chewed. He had a kind face and gentle eyes, and she could see him inspiring trust in the people he worked to save. “That’s a great reason to get into this profession. If you don’t have the passion, you won’t survive.”
“And what about you? How long have you been a nurse?”
“I went to nursing school pretty much right after high school, but lately, I’ve been thinking about going to medical school.” She kept her voice a little noncommittal, not telling him that her application had actually just been sent off. She wouldn’t know until September if she’d been accepted, and there wasn’t any point in making it public—especially since, yet again, it wasn’t any of his business.
He nodded. “After seeing you in there just now, I think you’d be a great doctor.”
And they’d looped right back around to the topic she’d been trying to avoid. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
She took a few more hurried bites, gathered up her trash, and dumped her tray, then started walking back toward the ER. Jeremy walked alongside her, almost as if he didn’t know where else to go. She kind of wanted to ask him to go away—she really needed a few minutes to work through what she was going to say to Dr. Hunsaker—but that would be rude. Plus, just then, another ambulance came pulling into the bay.
“A forty-year-old male, GSW to the chest,” the paramedic called out, this one a middle-aged woman. “Blood pressure is falling fast.”
Rebekah glanced around. Harriet was the only other nurse around at the moment—they didn’t get a lot of emergencies in this little hospital, so they were never fully staffed. She was supposed to have another eight minutes on her break, but that didn’t matter. “Over here,” she said, grabbing the end of the stretcher and guiding it toward a bed. They lifted the man into position, and she could see that blood had completely saturated the gauze padding that had been put on him in the field. She touched his chest briefly just to verify—no doubt about it. This man was going to bleed out.
“Harriet, we’ve got to get him into surgery! He’s going to bleed out—the bullet went through his left main coronary artery.”
“I’ll run up to the OR and see where Dr. Hunsaker is on that cyst,” Harriet said over her shoulder, already in motion. “And I’ll page Dr. Smith—maybe he can get here faster than Dr. Hunsaker can close.”
Rebekah pressed on the wound, but it didn’t matter how much pressure she applied—he was going to keep bleeding until he was stitched. “Help me,” she said to Jeremy, who was still, for some reason, hanging out.
He seemed to know what she needed and grabbed the end of the bed. Together, they maneuvered it toward the operating room, where Rebekah scrubbed up and began preparing the patient for surgery. She wasn’t an OR nurse and she had very little experience on this side of the swinging doors, but she’d do whatever she could to help speed things up for the surgical team. Jeremy seemed uncertain, but after a moment, he scrubbed up too and asked how he could help.
Just a few minutes later, Dr. Hunsaker burst in, looking furious. “What in the blue blazes is going on in here?”
“This man’s about to die,” Rebekah said. “We don’t have any time to lose.”
He looked at her, then at the man on the table. Without replying, he headed over to the sinks, stripped off his gloves and gown, and scrubbed, then dressed in new sterile clothing. Ethan, the OR nurse who had been following him like a shadow, also changed, and they were back in record time.
“You, out,” Dr. Hunsaker said to Rebekah, and she gave a nod before stepping away.
She went out into the hall, Jeremy following her. “You’d better start that drive if you want to be on time for dinner,” she said absently.
“Dinner? Oh, that’s right.” He hesitated. “Listen, can I see you later this week? I just . . . I need . . .”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Jeremy. I’m really busy, and I just don’t . . . I mean . . .”
He held up a hand. “No, it’s all right. I get it. I really do.” He gave her a smile. “I’ll see you around.”
“Thanks for your help in there. Getting the patient ready.”
“Yeah. I hope you don’t get in too much trouble for that.”
“I’ve been in trouble for over an hour. A little extra isn’t going to hurt me.”
He smiled again. “Okay. See ya.”
She watched him go, then slumped on the counter at the nurses’ station. Oh, she was in so much more trouble than she’d let on.