The cardiothoracic surgeon started to scrub. ‘I’ll arrange it. Are you sure you want me to finish off here?’ His tone was dry. ‘You seem to be doing very well by yourself.’
‘I want to talk to the family.’ Nikos stepped away from his patient and stripped off his gloves, allowing his colleague to take over. His eyes lingered on the monitor for a moment and then he nodded with satisfaction. ‘If there’s any change, call me.’ And with that he strode out of the room.
His departure was greeted by stunned silence and then the junior doctor cleared his throat.
‘When I grow up, I want to be him,’ he muttered. ‘What’s his secret? I want to be that cool. Is it down to experience?’
‘No, it’s down to temperament.’ The surgeon took over where Nikos had left off. ‘You need two things to be a good cardiothoracic surgeon. Technical brilliance and balls of solid steel—no offence, ladies. Tell Mariakos that if he’s ever bored with the emergency department, he can come and work with me.’
‘I don’t know about the rest of his anatomy, but the man has ice in his veins,’ the anaesthetist snapped. ‘And he’s arrogant. Too sure of himself. If you ask me, he’s going to come unstuck. Today, he was lucky.’
‘I saw what he did, and it wasn’t luck.’ The cardiothoracic surgeon started to close the chest. ‘It was skill. And I can’t remember the last time I praised anyone other than myself so cherish the moment.’
‘The child is alive.’ Ella handed the surgeon the equipment he needed. ‘And he’s alive because Nikos was prepared to take a risk.’
‘Maybe. But his lack of emotion worries me.’ Phil adjusted the flow of gases. ‘Technically he’s brilliant, I agree. And, yes, he has…’ he cleared his throat and rephrased his colleague’s earlier description ‘…nerves of steel. But he’s cold. Doesn’t that make you just a little uneasy?’
Ella kept her eyes down as she cleared away the remains of the pack, careful to give nothing away.
Yes, it made her uneasy.
It was easy to forget his emotional detachment when they were in bed. But out of bed…
She gave a little shake of her head, determined not to create problems that didn’t exist.
Her own experiences as a child had given her a dysfunctional view of the world—she needed to remember that. She needed to remember that not every man was her father.
Phil stood up. ‘It would be nice to see that he’s human. Nice if that icy control of his slipped for five minutes. I’d like to think it was an act that he puts on when he’s working—plenty of us do that in order to cope with the emotional stresses of this place. But Nikos Mariakos…’ He shook his head. ‘I don’t think the man is blanking out his emotions. I don’t think he has any. I don’t think he’s capable of feeling.’
Nikos paused outside the relatives’ room, looking down at his shaking hands with wry self-mockery.
He didn’t have to be back in the resuscitation room to know what they were saying about him.
All the usual things.
It was a good job they couldn’t see him now or his reputation would be shattered into a million pieces.
Fortunately for his patients, his body had never betrayed him inside the resuscitation room. Only afterwards did the reaction come. Only afterwards did the memories catch up with him.
Nikos inhaled deeply, pushing aside the images that mocked him.
Images of a different child.
A child he hadn’t been able to save.
But this time—this time he’d won the fight.
He pushed open the door and greeted the relatives, ignoring hospital protocol that demanded that he take a nurse in with him. Unlike many of his colleagues, Nikos didn’t dodge the difficult task of handling emotional relatives. The thought of breaking bad news and then abandoning them to cry on a nurse was alien to him.
He was the one who had managed the case. He was the one who could answer their questions, although inevitably he never had an answer to the most desperate question of all.
Fortunately, on this occasion the news was better than anyone had hoped and ten minutes later he took refuge in his office, knowing that the staff would still be talking about the risks he’d taken.
He rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension and stared out of his office window to the busy city streets below. Thinking. Remembering…