Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.4

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 4

 

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart
 


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  As Christy glanced around the table, Gail was the only one who seemed remotely satisfied with the arrangement. She saw a combination of speculation and caution in Ty’s eyes as he studied his brother. Linc’s squared jaw and the chiseled lines around his mouth reflected resignation rather than enthusiasm. No doubt her reservations were clear on her face as well.

  Living under the same roof was only a two-month gig or less, she consoled herself, and those six or eight weeks were nothing more than a single pebble along life’s riverbed. She could endure anything for that length of time, because the benefits of being with Emma and Derek overshadowed the potential problems. If she could survive breast cancer, she could handle Lincoln Maguire’s idiosyncrasies.

  * * *

  “I know what you’re going to say.” Ty held up his hands to forestall Linc’s comments the moment the two of them were alone on the shaded back-yard patio, “but before you unload, hear me out.”

  Linc took a swig from his bottle of cold root beer. “I’m listening.”

  “You’re upset we asked Christy to help you, but honestly our decision is no reflection on your parenting abilities. You’ve had the kids before and they came back raving about the great time they had. They love you and I know you love them.”

  He did. No matter how busy he was, he’d move heaven and earth for his niece and nephew. They were his family, and even if he wasn’t in any hurry to have one of his own, those bonds were still important to him.

  “I can’t imagine a single scenario you can’t handle by yourself with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back,” Ty added loyally.

  “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

  “After all,” Ty continued, “you kept us on the straight and narrow when you were hardly out of your teenage years yourself. Joanie and I weren’t angels either, if I recall. I’m sure there were times when you wanted to tear out your hair, and ours, too, but you didn’t. When you finally decide to focus on your personal life instead of your professional one, you’re going to be a great dad.”

  Linc recognized Ty’s strategy. “You can stop heaping on the praise, pip-squeak,” he affectionately told his brother. “In the middle of all that, I know there’s a ‘but’.”

  Ty grinned sheepishly. “I never could fool you for long, could I? The thing is, we’re talking two months. You don’t have the usual nine-to-five job, and we had to think of a contingency plan for the times you work late, go in early, or get called out in the wee hours, because we don’t expect you to put your doctor business on hold for us.”

  Linc shifted in his chair, suddenly uncomfortable at hearing how lonely his life sounded, even if the description was uncannily accurate.

  “I’ll confess that sharing the responsibility with another person bothered me,” he admitted soberly, “but your way is best for the kids’ well-being. I even see your point about asking us to stay here together.”

  He saw the logic behind their request, but he didn’t like it, especially now that he’d seen those small scraps of silk Christy called underwear. How was he supposed to focus on the youngsters when a picture of her wearing a pair of those and just a smile kept popping into his head at the most inopportune times?

  He might not find fault with her nursing skills, but taking care of patients wasn’t the same as maintaining a home and looking after the needs of two children on a round-the-clock basis.

  Did she even know how to boil water? If the stories circulating about her were to be believed—and he didn’t dispute them because he’d heard her share some of them herself—she rarely sat still long enough for such mundane things. Canoeing down the Amazon, skydiving in California, white-water rafting in Colorado, cross-country motorcycle trips and a few laps around the Daytona 500 speedway were only part of her repertoire of experiences.

  Lessons from Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray weren’t on the list.

  Her culinary skills aside, he hoped she had more redeeming qualities than being Gail’s friend who was the life of every party and who owned a dog that Emma and Derek loved. As far as he was concerned, they could have handled the nights he was on call on a case-by-case basis, but if this was how his brother wanted it, then he would suffer in silence.

  “I’m glad you’re being a good sport about this,” Ty said. “And when you feel your control slipping over the edge, think of your circumstances as some of the medicine you forced down our throats as kids.” He grinned. “It tastes terrible going down, but in the end it cures what ails you.”

  * * *

  Two weeks later, Christy made a point to hang around the nurses’ station to lie in wait for Linc. Ever since their dinner with Gail and Ty, he’d slipped in and out of their unit like a wraith. She knew he was extra-busy right now, with one of his partners on vacation, but she wasn’t completely convinced that he wasn’t avoiding her as well.

  As of tonight they’d more or less be living together and she had a few issues she wanted to iron out before they actually became roomies, but those would have to wait. Her patient, Jose Lopez, a recent ruptured appendix case, concerned her.

  Her patience paid off. Linc strode in shortly before eight looking more handsome than a man who had spent his day with sick people had a right to. His yellow polo shirt stretched across his shoulders and his hair had a damp curl as if he’d just got out of the shower.

  He didn’t walk with a cocky swagger but carried himself with a quiet confidence that suggested no problem was too big for him to solve. She certainly hoped so because today she had one.

  She immediately cornered him before he could disappear into a patient room.

  “I don’t like the way Jose, Mr Lopez, looks,” she said without preamble.

  “Okay,” he said with equanimity. “What’s his complaint?”

  “He doesn’t have one, as such.”

  He lifted one eyebrow. “You aren’t giving me much to go on. A diagnosis of ‘He doesn’t look right’ isn’t strong enough to justify a battery of tests.”

  Her face warmed under his rebuke. Other physicians would have attributed her impression as that proverbial gut feeling no one could afford to ignore, but clearly Lincoln Maguire didn’t believe in intuition. He only wanted cold, hard evidence. As far as she was concerned, he’d answered her private question about what he thought of her nursing savvy.

  “I realize that,” she said stiffly, her spine straight, “which is why I’ve been watching him. He doesn’t complain about pain as such, but he finally admitted he has a few twinges because I’ve caught him rubbing his chest. According to the nursing notes, he received an antacid for heartburn several times during the night.”

  “You don’t think heartburn is a possibility?” he asked.

  “No,” she said bluntly, “but only because I think his skin color is off.”

  He retrieved the chart on the computer and began perusing the notes. “How are his oxygen sats?”

  “On the low end of normal.”

  “Shortness of breath?”

  She shook her head. “He said his chest sometimes feels a little tight, but that’s all.”

  He stared thoughtfully at the computer before meeting her gaze. “It could be anything and it could be nothing.”

  “I know, which is why I wanted to ask you to check him thoroughly.”

  He hesitated for a fraction of a second before he shrugged. “Okay. Duly noted. I’ll see what I can find.”

  She’d been half-afraid he’d dismiss her concerns, so she was grateful to hear of his intentions to follow through. And because she was relieved to pass the burden onto his shoulders, she chose to make small talk as they strode toward the room. “Are you ready for tonight?”

  “I am,” he said. “Do you need help taking anything over to Ty’s house?”

  “Not now,” she said. “I’m only moving some clothes an
d a few books. What I don’t bring now, I can always get later.”

  “Fair enough.” He strode into Lopez’s room and the subject was closed.

  Christy watched and listened as Linc checked his patient, seeming much more congenial with Jose than with her, but, then, a lot of the nurses had said he was far more personable with his patients than with the staff. She took some comfort in that because she’d begun to wonder if he was only uncomfortable around her.

  “I hear you’re having a few chest twinges,” Linc mentioned as he pulled out his stethoscope and listened to Jose’s heart and lung sounds.

  “Some. It’s happening more often than it did yesterday, though. Sometimes I cough for no reason,” the forty-year-old replied. Jose was of average height, but between his wife’s reportedly fantastic cooking and his years as a stonemason, he was built like the bricks he laid for a living. “Do you think it’s the hospital food? Maybe it’s giving me the heartburn.” His tanned, leathery face broke into a smile.

  Linc laughed. “If you’re hinting that you want me to give Francesca permission to bring you some of her famous enchiladas, you’ll be disappointed.”

  “It was worth a try, Doc.”

  Christy watched the friendly exchange, stunned by how Linc’s smile made him seem so…normal. Clearly, the man did have moments when he wasn’t completely focused on his work, but she’d gone on countless rounds with him over the past year and had never heard such a heartfelt sound. She would have remembered if she had. Somehow, she sensed the two of them had more than a simple doctor-patient relationship, which only made her curious as to what connection a blue-collar worker like Jose had with the highly successful general surgeon.

  He flung the stethoscope around his neck. “A few more days and you can eat her cooking to your heart’s content. Meanwhile, though, I want to check out these little twinges and the cough you’re having. We’re going to run a few tests so be prepared for everything from X-rays and EKGs to blood work.”

  Jose’s expression sobered. “You think it’s my heart?”

  “Not necessarily. If your chest feels tight and you’re noticing a cough, pneumonia is a concern,” he said, “so I’m going to try and discover what’s going on. As you said, you may only have heartburn but, to be thorough, we’re going to check out everything. Okay?”

  His confidence was reassuring because Jose’s face relaxed. It was obvious why Linc’s patients loved him, and why he was so very busy.

  “Are you having any pain in your legs?” Linc asked.

  Jose wrinkled his face in thought. “I had a charley horse earlier in my right calf, but it’s gone now.”

  Linc immediately flung back the sheet and checked his legs. “We’ll look into that, too,” he said, sounding unconcerned, “and as soon as I get those results, we’ll let you know what we’ve found. Okay?” He patted Jose’s shoulder before he left.

  Outside Lopez’s room, Christy immediately pounced. “Then I was right. You found something.”

  “Not really,” he admitted.

  “Oh.” Her good spirits deflated.

  “Are you sure his condition has changed in the last twenty-four hours?”

  She knew what her intuition was telling her and she wasn’t going to back down. “He said himself he has a cough and his chest feels tight,” she reminded him. “Now he has a muscle spasm in his leg. Those are new symptoms.”

  He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Okay,” he said decisively. “I want a chest X-ray, a Doppler exam on his legs, and blood drawn for a blood count, a cardiac panel and a D-dimer test.”

  She recognized the latter as one used to diagnose the presence of a blood clot. “Do you suspect a PE?” She used the shorthand for pulmonary embolism.

  “I suspect a lot of things, but in the interest of ruling out as much as we can we’ll add that to the list of possibilities. I also want a CT scan of his lungs and if the results are inconclusive, I want a VQ scan.”

  The CT scan was a quick way to detect a blood clot, but not every clot was detected using this procedure, which meant the next step was the VQ scan. The two-part ventilation-perfusion procedure used both injected and aerosolized radioactive material to show the amount of blood and air flowing through the lungs. Naturally, if the patterns were abnormal, intervention was required.

  “I’ll get right on it,” she said.

  “And call me ASAP with those results,” he ordered in the brisk tone she knew so well.

  As Christy placed the various orders into the computer system, she was hoping the tests would show something to support her nagging intuition, although she hoped it would be something relatively uncomplicated.

  Several hours later the results were in. Shortly after Christy phoned him with the radiologist’s report, Linc appeared on the unit. Asking for her to join him, he marched directly into his patient’s room.

  “Jose,” he said briskly, “I have news on your tests.”

  Jose nodded his salt-and-pepper head. “I had a feeling something was wrong when they stuck me in that fancy X-ray machine,” he said. “How bad is it?”

  “You have a very small blood clot in your leg and a small one in your lung, which isn’t good,” Linc said bluntly.

  “But you can fix it. Right?”

  Christy recognized the hope and the uncertainty on the man’s face. She knew exactly how he felt.

  “This is where I give you the good news,” Linc said kindly. “I’m going to start you on a variety of blood thinners and other drugs that will work to dissolve the clots so they don’t break off and plug a major vessel. It’ll take time—you won’t be cured overnight—but eventually you should be fine.”

  Jose leaned head back against the pillows in obvious relief.

  “The other good news is that you had a nurse who was on the ball so we could catch the problem early,” Linc said as he eyed Christy. “A lot of patients aren’t that fortunate.”

  “And I should be fine?” Jose repeated, clearly wanting reassurance that the final outcome would be positive.

  “Yes.”

  After a few more minutes of discussing Jose’s treatment plan, they left. Outside the room Linc pulled her aside. “Increase his oxygen and keep a close eye on him. I want to know if there’s a change, no matter how slight.”

  “Okay.”

  “Tomorrow, we’ll—” he began.

  “It’s Saturday,” she reminded him. “I’m off duty. Emma and Derek, remember?”

  He looked surprised, as if for a minute he’d forgotten what day it was. “Then I’ll see you tonight,” he said.

  “Before or after dinner?”

  “Before, I suppose. Why?”

  She was flying high on her success, so she couldn’t hold back from teasing him. “Just checking to see if I can serve dessert as the appetizer or not.”

  His eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “You’re kidding, aren’t you?”

  “Of course I am,” she responded pertly. “Contrary to what you might think, I can exercise self-control and I do use the gray matter between my ears from time to time.”

  His eyes suddenly gleamed with humor. “I stand corrected. Either way, though, I’ll be at the house in time to take Gail and Ty to the airport.”

  She received the distinct impression that he would move heaven and earth to do so. It also occurred to her that he might be as reluctant to see his brother leave as his niece and nephew were.

  “Okay, we’ll save you a piece of cake.”

  “Do that. By the way, good work with Lopez today.”

  His unexpected praise only added to her high spirits. “Thanks.”

  “See you tonight,” he said, before he turned on one heel and left.

  She stared at his backside until he rounded the corner, startled by how husbandly he’d sounded. Suddenly s
he realized that not only would she see him tonight, she’d see him every night thereafter, too.

  It also meant that every night he’d drop the trappings of his profession and she wouldn’t have the barrier of the doctor-nurse relationship to keep her wicked imagination in check. He’d appear as a normal guy—one who mowed the grass, took out the trash, left dirty dishes in the sink, and woke up every morning with his hair mussed and a whiskery shadow on his face.

  Anticipation shivered down her spine.

  * * *

  She was being completely unreasonable.

  Linc walked into the kitchen of Gail and Ty’s house with his small entourage and fought to keep his voice even-tempered. It had been a long day in his practice and seeing off his younger brother to another country for two months—Paris, no less—had been far more emotionally draining than he’d expected. He’d left his twenties behind ages ago and was a highly respected surgeon, yet he felt as lost as he had when he’d moved Ty into his first apartment.

  Ty might not need him in that big-brother-knows-best role, but it was still hard to accept whenever the fact hit him between the eyes. No, he wanted to veg out with nothing more mentally or emotionally taxing than a game of checkers with Derek or a tea party with Emma, but if Christy had her way, it wouldn’t happen.

  “Going out to dinner when Gail has a refrigerator full of food waiting for us is unnecessary,” he pointed out. “Need I also remind you it’s Friday night?” Which meant every restaurant was packed and would be for quite a while.

  “I know it’s Friday and I agree that eating out isn’t necessary,” she said with a hint of steel underneath her sweet tone, “but it would be fun.”

  He rubbed his face. Fun was going to become a four-letter word if every activity had to be measured against that standard. “We have all weekend for fun.”

  She rubbed the back of her neck in a frustrated gesture and drew a deep breath. “I realize that,” she finally said, “but look at those two. Don’t you think they need something as a pick-me-up now, rather than tomorrow?”

  He glanced at Derek and noticed his slumped posture in the straight-backed chair, his ball cap pulled low as he rested his chin on his propped arm. Emma sat beside him and occasionally wiped her eyes and sniffled as her thin shoulders shook. Christy’s Lab stood between the two, gazing at one then the other, as if trying to decide which one needed her comfort more.

 
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