Lucy yawned as she finished scrubbing in. The caffeine didn’t seem to be having the desired affect and she could feel her eyes closing. Just another couple of hours and then she would insist on sleeping. A colleague had offered to do Mrs Beaumont’s surgery as she’d just come on duty but Lucy declined. She felt a duty of care to her long-standing patient.
The theatre staff were all in position as Lucy walked in. One of the technicians pressed the ‘Play’ button on the CD and the theatre sister handed her a scalpel. Lucy hummed along as she made her first incision. Adrenalin surged through her body as she caught sight of the diseased bowel she was about to remove. The human body never ceased to amaze her and she felt like the luckiest girl in the world as she got to mend the broken parts. Half an hour into the surgery a senior nurse said, ‘Dr Soames, the patient’s BP is dropping slightly.’
‘Don’t worry, just keep an eye on it. Not much longer to go now.’ Lucy carried on.
‘It’s still dropping and so is the pulse,’ the nurse said sounding slightly anxious.
‘Dr Soames, there seems to be an awful lot of blood coming from the top of that incision.’ The nurse lifted out a blood drenched piece of gauze.
Lucy took her eye away from what she was doing and the scalpel made a small nick in the bowel wall.
‘Shit! More gauze please,’ Lucy said urgently. Mrs Beaumont’s insides were no longer visible through the blood that was gushing from two separate sites in the bowel.
It was exactly ten minutes later when Lucy called time of death. The theatre was eerily quiet, the staff speaking in whispers. All eyes were on Lucy. She was their most popular surgeon and all agreed that coming to work was a pleasure when she was on duty. Usually she was so meticulous in her work. So what had gone wrong today?
Lucy did something she’d never done in all her years as a doctor – she cried over a patient.
‘It wasn’t your fault,’ a senior technician said, gently touching Lucy’s arm.
‘Oh, but it was. I ignored a small bleed so I could get it finished as soon as possible. I’m just so tired … but that’s still no excuse.’ She took off her surgeons cap and threw it to the ground. ‘What on earth am I going to tell her family? It was supposed to be a routine op.’
‘A bowel re-section is never just a routine op. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Lucy. These things happen to the best of us.’
‘But not to me,’ Lucy said sobbing.
‘It was probably her time to go.’
‘Don’t start that again! It wasn’t her time. I hadn’t finished. It should be me telling her when it’s time to go.’
‘I don’t mean any disrespect … but you’re not God.’
‘No. I’m not. I’m better than God … I usually save people’s lives, not destroy them.’
Her senior technician and friend, Jasmin knew she was wasting her time arguing with her friend in this mood, so she didn’t answer.
‘You clear up here. I’ll go and contact the family. Please take good care of her … she was a lovely lady.’
‘We always do,’ Jasmin patted Lucy on the back as she walked towards the double doors and out of the theatre.
It was another an hour before Lucy felt she was ready to break the devastating news to Mrs Beaumont’s relatives. She sat in her office with her head in her hands trying to re-live every second of the operation to see where she’d gone wrong. ‘If only’ were the words that resonated through her mind over and over again.
Lucy looked up as she heard the door open.
‘Drake? What are you doing here? I thought you were on leave.’
‘I am – but Jasmin rang me and told me what happened. She was worried about you and I thought you might need some moral support.’
‘Oh, Drake.’ She ran up to him and threw her arms round his neck. ‘I killed her. I should never have operated … I was just too tired.’
Drake stroked her hair lovingly. ‘It’s not your fault. These things happen.’
‘You sound just like Jasmin.’
‘But it’s true. The lady wasn’t well – she was weak.’
‘Rubbish! She’d plenty of years left in her. I made a mistake and I’ll have to pay for it. I’ll probably lose my job.’
‘Stop talking like this, Lucy. It’s not like you.’
‘I haven’t told her family yet.’
‘Do you want me to come with you?’
‘No, thanks. It’s my mess … I’ll clear it up. Drake, thanks for coming in. It means a lot.’
‘Are you sure you’re going to be okay?’
‘I’m not sure of anything anymore.’
‘I can stay if you like and go to my parents tomorrow.’
‘Don’t be silly … I don’t want to spoil your plans. I’m a big girl – I’ll cope.’
Drake kissed her cheek as she prepared herself. Giving someone tragic news never got any easier but as Lucy walked down to the room especially for bereaved relatives she had all on to stop her hands from shaking.
The death of Mrs Edna Beaumont soon became a hospital matter and the next day Lucy was summoned before the Chief of Surgery, Mr Darcy. Apparently one of Edna’s children, her son Charles, had decided he wasn’t happy with Lucy’s explanation of his mother’s sudden death and contacted the Health Authority to make a complaint. Lucy sat outside Mr Darcy’s office well before the appointed time biting her nails. At two o’clock his secretary showed Lucy into his office.
‘Come in, Lucy. I’m so sorry about all this. I’m sure it’s just routine and once you’ve given me your side of the story we can put it to bed.’
‘Thank you, sir.’ Lucy perched on the edge of the chair.
‘So … what happened?’
‘Er … I don’t really know. Jasmine mentioned there was some bleeding from the top of the bowel which I tried to locate but my scalpel slipped and made a nick further down the bowel. I just couldn’t stop the blood loss. It was a silly mistake and one I’ve never made before.’
‘So, you’re admitting it was human error?’
‘I suppose I am. It was my error and I am human.’
‘Had you been on duty long?’
Lucy held her head down. ‘For eighteen hours.’
‘Eighteen hours and you still wanted to perform a surgery? I understand Harriet offered to do the surgery for you.’
‘She did – but Mrs Beaumont has been my patient for over five years I owed it to her to do it myself.’
‘You also owed it to her to keep her alive.’
‘I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what else to say.’
‘Jasmin told me you didn’t take her warning about the blood loss seriously.’
‘So you’ve already talked to all the other staff, have you?’
‘Not all but I need to hear everyone’s side of the story.’
‘Before mine?’ Lucy was trying her best not to be annoyed.
‘Look Lucy – this is a very serious accusation. You’re being accused of negligence and there’s no place for sparing anyone’s feelings … no matter how valuable a member of staff you are.’
‘So what happens now?’
‘I think you should take some time off.’
‘Am I being suspended?’
‘Let’s just say I’m giving you a few days off.’
‘I’d rather you tell it like it is.’
‘In that case – yes, you’re being suspended pending further enquiries.’
From that sentence Lucy didn’t hear another word Mr Darcy spoke. She sat on the chair with a glassy expression thinking about the enormity of the charges against her. If she couldn’t practice surgery again she might as well join Edna Beaumont because since she was ten that’s all she’d wanted to do.