“Not him,” she said, her eyes scanning down the board. “Nor him,” she paused briefly. “Or him,” her gaze passing names written in bold black marker upon red and blue magnetic tiles. The tiles clung to a white board, much in the same manner that words games sit scattered upon a fridge door, except these were far more organised.
Each patient was assigned a row within a grid and several columns filled the remaining space. I could see each child’s presenting complaint, designated nurse and arrival time, amongst other details. Clare turned away from the board and smiled at me, her face framed by her black bangs.
“I’m sorry,” she said “You could talk to the boy on his way in?”
“Yeah, that would be useful.” I replied, studying the expected arrivals column on the whiteboard in an attempt to work out what I might be dealing with.
“Take a seat,” she said, smiling once again.
I cautiously pulled an office chair away from the desk where Clare sat working, hoping not to tangle the legs and distract her or the others around. Glancing along the desk I watched two other paediatric registrars sitting, scribbling down details into patient notes.
My arrival had crowded the room which was barely two metres in width and eight metres in length. I recognised one of the other doctors, catching his eye as he looked up to see who had been talking. He stood out from the others thanks to his curled, blonde hair. He offered a small nod before returning back to his work, head fixed downwards at the notes.
I remembered being on placement with him previously. He was well liked by the team, cracking jokes, smiling and had been continually lifting the mood during the morning ward round. He seemed well settled into the team, he felt appreciated and I’d have guessed he was halfway through his journey towards consultancy.
In that moment he straightened his papers just as a news presenter might, tapping them down upon the table, stood back from the desk and dropped the notes into a tray fixed to the wall. I carefully realigned my feet, clearing space for him as he navigated his way out of the cramped space. Sensing that he might be about to be move on to a new task, I eagerly followed him out.
“Could I see that new patient with you?” I asked, hoping he’d remember the conversation that had just occurred.
“Of course,” he replied. “I’ll be about five minutes,” he stated, before turning and heading off down the ward towards paediatric inpatients.
I returned to the seat in the room hoping I’d got enough of my foot in the door to wrangle a teaching opportunity, rather than an afternoon of aimlessly hanging around and getting in the way. I’d made the effort to climb the four floors of stairs up to the paediatric department, I might as well stick around for a while.
All of a sudden a bleeper sounded in the room. Three unpleasant tones were abruptly followed by a projected voice:
“Paediatrics to resus”…“paediatrics to resus,” it repeated.
My head shot up in alarm. Clare and the other registrar were already looking at each other. It must have been a look they’d exchanged a number of times, because without discussion Clare rose from the desk, took hold of the bleep, and rushed out past me. Once again I followed. This was my opportunity. Rob, the registrar with blonde hair, was already at the doors that exited the ward. Clare’s ID badge swiped us through and the automated doors swung open, starting the race.
Rob burst away and before long his stride had carried him five metres ahead of me. Clare was only a few metres behind that. I quickened my pace, unsure as whether to run. I decided upon a brisk walk, and caught them at the lifts.
“Take the lift with me,” Claire suggested in my direction, the orange glow of the call sign drawing my attention to where they both waited patiently.
“Not enough time for that,” Rob grinned back, visibly excited by the urgency. Without another word he spun and darted down the stairway. I froze in indecision. Should I follow Rob or wait for the lift with Clare? Desperate not to miss the opportunity I rushed after Rob.
The stairway was brightly light, highlighting the crisp concrete steps, their weight held by strong steel beams lurking below the exteriors. Each step was topped with polished white stone that sparkled from the early afternoon clean it had just enjoyed. Using the smooth underside of my placement shoes I slid across the first stairway landing, allowing me to tackle the next set of stairs in full stride.
My right hand clung tightly to the curving black railings, spiralling downwards towards the earth. One floor down. Two floors down. Two to go. The stethoscope that hung around my neck began to thump against my chest, gaining momentum with every step, bouncing back and forth. I began to take the steps two at a time, powering along, reaching a speed at which I could not safely stop. Rob was a few steps ahead of me, crashing past others who had hastily grouped to one side of the stairway or the other.
“Is it always this much of an emergency?” I called out in between breaths.
“Not always,” Rob answered, looking back over his shoulder. “Depends who you’re with.”
I could see the smirk still etched across his face, taking it all in his stride. I was just trying to keep up. We reached the ground floor and Rob motioned towards the doors to exit. I gratefully altered my course. My momentum had carried me onwards, following the stairway blindly towards the basement floors.
We entered the stream of staff and visitors ambling around the pathways and corridors of the hospital. We moved far quicker than all those around us, Rob picked out the route which I delicately navigated through, shifting spaces that began closing by the time I could reach them.
We passed traffic of all sorts; stubborn elderly folk, shuffling along with their walking sticks; porters taxiing patients in their unwieldly hospital beds; doctors deep in discussion, whose pace was far faster than others using the highways, but no match for ours. Some recognised the rush, clearing a path for us to surge through. Like an ambulance we dissected down the middle of the crowded thoroughfare.
At this point it had been about 40 seconds since the bleeper had rung, at least I guessed. Completely caught up in the dash I hadn’t spared a moment to think about what we were rushing towards. A young patient in ED with an emergency. It must be serious to warrant a paediatric trauma call. What use would I be? What was I running into?
Rob slowed, allowing me to catch up. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘he does want me here.’
Turning to me he said “I once worked with a consultant that hated dealing with these calls.” He stepped closer towards me, both of us continuing our stride along the corridor. “She was getting close to retirement and was rather large, if you understand what I mean?”
I acknowledged his remark with a smile.
He stepped closer once again, grasped my forearm firmly and inclined towards me. I leant back, trying to sustain a comfortable space between us. His grinning face was now a yard and a half from my own, the pair of us processing along the corridor in tandem. Slowing, he came to a complete stop, holding me in place.
“We. Never. Run.” he retorted in his best French accent, struggling to contain his delight.
My smirk matched his and he broke away, returning to the race.
Up ahead Clare had somehow beaten us to the entrance of ED. We regrouped at the doors, her framed smiling face greeting us, somehow unaffected by the urgency. She swiped us through the ED doors and we entered together.
All the while my mind was trying to catch up with what had happened.
“We. Never. Run.” I repeated quietly to myself and smiled.