Oct. 11th: 1230 hours
"Ambulances rolling into the compounds. Here we go again!"
Assigned to Doctor Winchester's team for this OR session, Lieutenant MacAllister had his table, and his patient, prepared when he entered the operating room. While being helped into his gloves, he glanced at the soldier's wounds and called for the x-rays. A corpsman posted the radiograms for him to examine.
"Leave up the first one." Winchester directed, "I'll remove the abdominal shrapnel, first." He informed his nurse.
"Yes, sir. Everything's ready." She answered with quiet confidence.
"And so, the nightmare begins again." He whispered to himself.
Major Houlihan, assisting at Colonel Potter's table, was unable to observe Sarabeth as closely as she had previously. She still managed to give the other woman instructions, however. "Remember what we discussed last time, Lieutenant MacAllister."
"Oh, yes, ma'am. I do remember." The younger woman replied.
Captain Hunnicutt exhaled slowly as another man was moved into the recovery room. He stretched and shifted positions. He walked over to observe Winchester's surgery while his next patient was brought in.
"Sarabeth," the doctor spoke, "didn't I see you and Charles out in Sophie's pen the other day?"
"One moment, sir." The nurse answered. "Will this bother you?" She asked her surgeon.
Major Winchester gave a brief shake of his head and focused on his surgical field. "Long fingers." He ordered.
"Long fingers." She handed him the instrument before responding to the captain's inquiry. "Yes, sir. You did see us out there with Sophie. We were performing farrier services."
"Farrier services?" Father Mulcahy was confused.
"Basically, sir, we were trimming her toenails." MacAllister explained.
The Boston-bred doctor snorted and rolled his eyes at that oversimplification. His Big Oak-bred nurse caught his expression and grinned to herself.
"You did a good job. Sophie and I appreciate it." The colonel told them.
"Thank you, sir. You know, I considered borrowing someone's nail polish and painting her hooves bright red."
"WHAT?!" Potter thundered.
"But I decided it wasn't worth the court-martial." The woman added.
The senior officer was relieved. "Good decision, Lieutenant."
"Toenail painting, huh?" Captain Pierce commented. "And all this time, we thought the two of you were out there horsing around."
"Pierce," Winchester replied, "I realize it is difficult for you, but try not to make an ass of yourself."
"Right. I forgot---you're the resident expert on that subject."
"Whoa, gents." Potter intervened. "We have a long OR session ahead of us. Let's just keep this...." He hesitated and then added, "Neigh-borly." He chuckled, pleased with his puns.
B J laughed as well. "You're right, Colonel. We don't want to stirrup trouble."
"OK. I guess I was just feeling my oats." Hawkeye remarked.
"Well, now that that's saddled," Sarabeth joined in, "do y'all know what they call a short pony with a soar throat?"
"MacAllister!" Major Houlihan's angry voice cut across the friendly conversations. "I told you---my nurses are not to participate in these exchanges with the doctors."
"Yes, ma'am." Sarabeth answered, the laughter in her voice disappearing as her chin lifted in defiance. Her surgeon noticed her determined look and raised his eyebrows in silent warning. She ignored him. "I apologize, Major." She replied courteously. "I'll try to be-hoof better."
A snicker of laughter from Potter's anesthetist was squelched by a murderous glare from the head nurse. "Lieutenant MacAllister, see me after this OR session is over."
"Yes, Major." She drawled in response.
"You know, Hunnicutt," Major Winchester's smug accent ended the uneasy operating silence, "in addition to giving a mare a manicure, the lieutenant and I were also discussing the merits of the sport of water polo."
MacAllister looked at him quizzically but remained quiet.
"Water polo? I guess I'm not too familiar with that one." B J admitted.
"I would hardly expect a California native to know about this civilized equestrian activity. However, it is quite the rage in Boston."
"How do you keep the horses from drowning? Life jackets?" Retorted Hawkeye.
"Your ignorance never ceases to amaze me, Pierce. Only a special breed of pony is acceptable for this sport." Winchester paused, savoring the moment. "We use...sea horses...of course."
He looked at Sarabeth. Her shoulders were shaking with suppressed laughter and her eyes were dancing with merriment. She mimed doffing a hat in salute. He gravely inclined his head, accepting her accolades.
Hawkeye Pierce was laughing so hard that he was having trouble standing at his table. Other people were staring at the officer in amazement. They were used to his snobbish remarks. They were not used to him being amusing.
"Charles," B J spoke in praise, "I have to hand it to you. I didn't think you had it in you."
"Neither did I." Major Winchester answered in a low tone that only his surgical nurse could hear. She winked at him in response.
The OR session continued long into the night. Every time a table was cleared, another injured man was set down. The line of wounded soldiers never seemed to stop. Occasionally, trying to release some of their tensions, Pierce and Hunnicutt talked and joked as they operated. Only a professional murmur was heard from the medical team located at the far end of the operating room, however.
With a faint exhalation of pain, Major Winchester rotated his wrist and stretched his cramped fingers before resuming his shrapnel removal. He caught Lieutenant MacAllister's concerned look. She met his challenging gaze without comment.
Later, when all of the metal fragments were finally removed from the patient, she asked, "Doctor, may I work on the muscle tissue repair?" Her soft-spoken words didn't carry beyond their area.
"Indeed not." The surgeon spoke curtly. Belatedly realizing that she was trying to give him a change to rest, Winchester considered her request. At his nod, she began her sutures.
Grateful for the respite, the major leaned against the OR wall. His nurse called to Father Mulcahy to bring him some orange juice. Winchester sipped some from the glass that was held for him and then closed his eyes. He kept his hands beside him, slowly clenching and relaxing his fists.