It was the familiar sounds that awakened her. They were strangely comforting, even though her first instinct was to leap up in panic to see what her colleagues were doing. She heard instruments being placed on a steel tray. Monitors emitted regular beeps, sterile packages were torn open, and in the background there was the ever-present hiss of oxygen.
She could see the scene clearly in her mind and knew she must get up, but the pull of sleep was strong and her limbs felt too heavy to move. She couldn’t remember climbing onto one of the unoccupied trolleys, but she must have done it at some time during the night to get an hour or two of sleep. Normally she would have been woken by a call from the red telephone, or the persistent screech of the transceiver. These urgent calls would normally have meant she was up and running even before her eyes were open. But this sleep had made her feel sluggish, and raising her heavy eyelids felt like unfolding thickened skin.
Bright light blinded her, her eyes watered and she had to squint against its glare. It was punishingly harsh and she could barely make out its outline. Confusion mixed with alarm alerted her to her surroundings. She wasn’t in a cubicle. They didn’t have lights like this in her department; they were small overhead lamps that could be covered with the palm of a hand. She wasn’t in her own department; she was in theatre. Why on earth was she here? Surely she hadn’t wandered up here for a kip. Think. Had she helped out with a trauma? Had they been short of a pair of hands? It would be highly unlikely, but not inconceivable. She focused her eyes downwards, and then froze. She shivered violently as she saw her body covered in green theatre drapes. The sounds of the theatre were silenced, the rush of blood in her ears too noisy to allow her to hear anything else. Her arms were extended and held down with Velcro on the upholstered armrests. A blood pressure cuff was wrapped around her arm above her right elbow, and a pulse oximeter probe was attached to her middle finger. Yet it was the sight of the two large cannulas inserted in both forearms that scared her most. Orange needles meant aggressive fluid restoration, which in her world spelt shock.
The drip lines snaked up around metal IV poles and out of view to the bags of fluid. She could see the heavy bottoms of clear fluid bags suspended above, but could only guess at the fluid being transfused.
She focused lower, past the green drapes on her chest and abdomen, and then panicked as she saw her painted pink toenails raised in the air. Her thighs, she realised, were spread, her calves supported on knee troughs and her ankles held in stirrups – she was lying on a theatre table with her legs up. From her dry mouth and foggy mind she realised she had just woken not from a natural sleep, but one induced by anaesthesia.
‘Hello?’ she called to attract the attention of the person handling the instruments. The clatter of steel against steel went on uninterrupted; unnerved, she called louder, ‘Hello? I’m awake.’
Given the circumstances, she was amazed how calm she felt. She was frightened and anxious, but beneath this her professional knowledge allowed her to think through what might have happened as she lay waiting for an explanation
She’d finished her shift for the evening. Her memory retrieved her last conscious thought . . . Walking through the staff car park in her new floaty dress and pink shoes, to meet Patrick. This memory reassured her that she must have had an accident. Champagne and roses, she thought. That’s what he had promised her after her long day at work. Champagne and roses, and, if she had read him right, a marriage proposal.
Where was he now? Outside pacing a corridor no doubt, anxiously waiting to hear how she was. Ready to pounce on anyone who could give him an answer. Had she been knocked down, she wondered? A car pulling out too quickly, perhaps, that she hadn’t noticed in her eagerness to see Patrick’s car?