Oct. 10th: 0830 hours
"OK, Charles, you're in first place. I'm in second. B J is in third and Hawkeye's last." Sarabeth announced. "Your deal, B J. And, gentlemen, after this hand, I quit. I have to get some shut eye."
"How much sleep are you getting a night?" Captain Hunnicutt asked as he shuffled the cards. "Three hours?"
"Oh, lots more than that. Four, sometimes even five...." Unexpectedly, MacAllister stopped, tilted her head and listened carefully. "I hear helicopters." She explained.
The PA system was activated: "Attention, all personnel. Choppers and ambulances are on their way. All shifts report to your stations. Our vacation's over, folks."
"So much for our lull." Hawkeye groaned. "Time to see if you can swim, Sarabeth." He told the woman as they filed out of the Swamp.
"I just hope I'll be able to dog paddle."
Doctors Pierce and Hunnicutt headed for the helicopter landing site on the nearby hill. Still on light duty, Lieutenant MacAllister was confined to compound triage. She grabbed a clipboard and followed Major Winchester. She wrote his instructions for as each soldier as he made his assessments.
She stumbled once, her cast catching on the edge of a litter. Father Mulcahy caught her arm as she fought to regain her balance. He hurried away before she even had the chance to thank him.
Captain Pierce hopped down from the arriving jeep, He checked his patient again. "Sarabeth!" He called. She hobbled-raced over to him. "This kid has got to go now! The other nurses will have to do this. Get my table ready. I'm going to scrub." He turned to the nurse still in the jeep. "Prep him and get him to the OR, stat!"
"Yes, Doctor." Both women answered.
Lieutenant MacAllister handed her clipboard to the other nurse. She ignored the awkwardness of her cast as she sprinted for the nurse's changing room.
As the surgical nurse assigned to Pierce's team, MacAllister was responsible for everything at her table. She checked the equipment and the supplies. Everything was in position and was in working order. Lieutenant Campbell was the anesthetist for this session. She examined the equipment a final time before settling down the head of the table to wait for the patient.
"Ready, Liza?" MacAllister asked.
"Ready, Sarabeth. Good luck working with Hawkeye."
Captain Pierce burst through the doors. "He's not here, yet?" He demanded.
"Not yet, sir." The surgical nurse replied.
"MacAllister." Major Houlihan warned while she tied the surgeon's gown and held his gloves for him to slip on. For this OR session, she was the rover---the nurse who kept the surgical trays filled, who helped the surgeons with gloves or gowns and who was available to assist at any table. "I'll be keeping my eye on you."
"Yes, Major. Thank you." The lieutenant remarked.
The corpsmen set the litter down at Pierce's table. His surgical nurse attended to the necessities before announcing, "Your patient's ready, sir."
The first few minutes of MacAllister's initiation into battlefield surgery were chaotic and clumsy. Not used to working together, she and Pierce hampered each other's movement and fumbled with the instrument hand-offs. Concerned for his patient, Captain Pierce shouted at her. "Not that clamp, damn it! Give me the other one first!"
"Sorry, sir." Was the nurse's soft reply.
"Doctor," Margaret Houlihan came scurrying over to him, "do you want this nurse replaced?"
"Replaced?!" MacAllister was indignant. She looked at her surgeon in appeal.
Pierce saw the woman's anxious green eyes above her surgical mask. He forced himself breathe deeply and relax. After all, he was the one who had insisted on giving her a chance. "Replace, her? No. I haven't even used her up, yet."
He could see the relief in the Texan's eyes. "Thank you." She whispered.
"Let's try again, shall we?"
As they resumed their operation, the nurse watched the surgeon with an even fiercer concentration than she had before. Hand-offs became easier. Once the two of them adjusted to each other's styles, they began working together, quickly and effectively.
"Much better!" MacAllister noted. "I believe we're finally ready to two-step together, Doctor."
"Then let's promenade through this kid's ribcage."
"Close that." The dark-haired surgeon directed. He stepped away from his operating table. "Margaret, in post-op, keep a sharp eye on his drainage. He's got more tubes in him than our still."
"Do you want to check this, Doctor?" MacAllister asked as she finished her sutures.
"No. I prefer plaid." Hawkeye said. He leaned over her shoulder and examine her work. "Good job. Next." He called for another patient.
As their first case was being carried to the recovery room, Sarabeth started to peel off her gloves. Lieutenant Baker, standing beside her, assisting as Doctor Hunnicutt's table, whispered to her, "Don't!"
Her warning came too late. Major Houlihan had noticed her actions. She walked over to where they were standing. "Lieutenant, we don't have enough gloves for the nurses to have fresh ones anytime they want a pair. That prerogative belongs to the surgeons."
"My mistake, Major." The Texan replied levelly before continuing to remove the gloves. "These are already contaminated. Gloves." She called and tossed the old ones in the hamper.
Houlihan helped her into a pair. "See me after surgery."
The nurses at each table exchanged glances. They all knew, and dreaded, that tone of voice.
"Yes, ma'am." The newest surgical nurse replied.
Oct. 10th: 1130 hours
The soldier now on the table required a bowel resection. Lieutenant MacAllister watched Captain Pierce at work. Her training, although extensive, had not prepared her for the surgical innovations required at the front lines.
"Doctor, why?...." She hastily cut off her inquiry. Surgeon were not to be questioned. "Sorry, sir."
"Why am I doing a resection this way?" He finished her question.
"This is meatball surgery. When they're stacked up like this, we don't have time for a regular resection." Hawkeye explained while he operated. "Give me some more suction here." His nurse quickly acknowledged his instructions and applied the suction hose to the area he indicated. "There you go. So we use this short cut. It takes 20 minutes instead of an hour."
"Lieutenant," Houlihan appeared at MacAllister's side, "you are there only to assist the surgeon. You are not there to ask him questions."
"Besides, you haven't seen my lecture bill, yet." Pierce added. He could not see her smile behind her mask but he could see it in her eyes.
MacAllister returned her attention to the surgery. "Cut the mesentery between clamps, layer with catgut and silk for the serosa. Got it. I'll know what you want next time, sir."
"Good. Now, if you have any other questions---like what the two of us are doing after surgery---feel free to ask." The surgeon offered.
There was silence from his nurse.
"You don't want to know what we are doing after we get out of here?"
The lieutenant answered, "I already know the answer to that, sir. Nothing."
"MacAllister, stop distracting your doctor." Major Houlihan ordered.
"She's not...3-0 silk...distracting me, Margaret." Hawkeye informed the head nurse. "I may be abstracted...contracted...detracted...even retracted...but I'm not distracted. Now, what was I doing?"
"I believe you were planting petunias." MacAllister answered with her soft Texas drawl.
"Hawkeye, if you find any worms in that garden, don't tell the cook."
B J Hunnicutt joined in. "Can you imagine what he would fix?"
"Spaghetti and worm sauce...."
The two doctors started another of their famous exchanges---each trying to top the other's contribution.
"A veritable selection of invertebrate indigestion." Winchester murmured.
As the hours dragged on and the wounded kept coming into the OR, the tensions increased. So did the rapid fire chatter between the surgeons. Also during those long hours, it became apparent to everyone in the operating room, that Major Houlihan was finding fault with her new nurse. She spent most of her time standing near MacAllister, giving comments and criticisms about her work.
There was no anger evident in the lieutenant's polite responses. However, Pierce could see it flashing often in her eyes.
Once, after the head nurse's fourth request for a lap sponge count within 30 minutes, Captain Hunnicutt, whispered, very quietly, to the nurse standing at his back, "Sarabeth, now I understand your dog reference."
Hawkeye, hearing only the last part, asked, "Does this mean you're going to meet me in my pup tent?"
"No, sir. It means you're barking up the wrong tree." The red-haired woman replied.
"MacAllister," the head nurse called to her, "remain quiet when you have a patient on the table."
The nurse in question gritted her teeth and shut her eyes in exasperation before responding softly, "Yes, ma'am."
Captain Pierce and Hunnicutt finished one of their operations at the same time. Both teams stretched and relaxed while waiting for more injured men to be brought in. B J turned to look at Sarabeth. Earlier, she had propped her knee on a stool. She was now standing, with her head drooping, her cast barely touching the floor. "Are you doing all right?" He asked.
"It hurts like hell, sir." She said. "But I'm holding out all right."
"Take an analgesic after we finish in here." Hunnicutt directed.
"Yes, sir." MacAllister closed her eyes and rested her knee on the stool again. "Doctor Hunnicutt," a touch of humor had returned to her voice, "speaking of dogs, what's the breed that has long, floppy ears and short, stubby legs?"
"Um, a beagle." He guessed.
"Or a bagel." Hawkeye contributed.
MacAllister shook her head. "No, the other dog."
"A basset hound?" Father Mulcahy suggested.
"Yes, that's it. We had a basset hound, once. We named him Wadsworth."
"Wadsworth?" Major Winchester questioned from across the room. "Why Wadsworth?"
"Because he was a long fellow." MacAllister replied.
The people in the operating room laughed and groaned at her joke.
The major shook his head. "Of course, I should have known not to ask."
Medics entered from the pre-op area, carrying more soldiers.
Hawkeye signed in resignation. "I guess we're back in the dog house."