The Surgeon’s Homecoming
Trauma surgeon Mark Chambers never expected to see family physician Diana Guthrie again after she turned her back on their love and went back to their home town in northern Ontario. But when her father, the only surgeon in the area, is injured, Mark, who happens to be home for his brother’s wedding, is persuaded to pitch in. Soon, he’s not only healing Cooper’s Crossing, but it seems he and Diana might be able to rekindle what they once had. But can he ever forgive her when he discovers the real reason she left him?
Read an excerpt …
“The accident occurred on Highway 11 approximately four miles south of Cooper’s Crossing. The eighteen-wheeler was carrying a load of lumber to Toronto when it lost control and jack-knifed, resulting in a six-car pile-up. The highway will remain closed while police continue their investigation.” The radio announcer’s voice broke off and a jingle advertising the advantages of using Summer Day Sunblock filled the interior of the Blazer.
Dr. Diana Guthrie turned off the windshield wipers and slid the gearshift into park almost before she’d stopped the SUV at the side of the rain-slicked highway. She threw the door open and slid out, grabbing her black medical bag and a plastic container of first aid supplies from the back seat. Squinting into the darkness, she quickly assessed the accident scene.
John Dougherty, an Ontario Provincial Police officer stationed in Haileybury, was crouched on the soft shoulder, a puddle pooling beneath his shoes. Rain glistened on his yellow vinyl slicker. Diana lowered her head against the onslaught of rain and wind and raced across the road. She came to a stop beside him. “Hi, John. What’ve you got?”
He looked up. Water trickled from the brim of his cap. “Hi, Diana,” he replied. “Lots of property damage. A few personal injuries. It could have been a lot worse.” Then, setting the last flare in place on a slight rise, he straightened and turned towards her. “Why didn’t you put on a raincoat?”
“I couldn’t find it.”
“You’re going to get wet.”
Diana grinned. Going to get wet? That was an understatement. Already the rain had soaked through her dark blue sweat pants and matching zippered jacket. The white T-shirt she was wearing underneath clung to her skin. Rain dripped from her short blonde hair into her eyes and down her nose. She shivered. “I won’t melt. Now what’s going on?”
“The truck slid on the wet curve,” he said, indicating a transport truck on its side a few hundred feet away, the trailer end sprawled across the highway, blocking both lanes. Tendrils of steam, or possibly smoke, curled into the air. The windshield was shattered, and the passenger door of the cab was open.
“What about the driver?” she asked.
“Not a scratch,” John replied.
Diana surveyed the scene. The guardrail a few yards from the rear wheels of the truck was crumpled. “He’s lucky he didn’t go over the side into the ravine,” she commented.
Around the overturned eighteen-wheeler, several other vehicles dotted the road. Two fire trucks were parked in the distance, their flashing red lights reflecting off the wet asphalt and arcing through the night sky.
John nodded in agreement. “It caused a chain reaction. There haven’t been that many cars on this road at the same time in months. But it’s the Victoria Day weekend, and you know how this stretch of highway gets at this time of year, especially when it’s raining.”
Yes, Diana knew exactly how dangerous this road could be. Too many times over the years, cars had failed to negotiate the curve when they were going too fast. She’d dealt with the results in the emergency room more times than she could count.
“How many injured?” she asked, heading towards a group of people huddled beneath the bridge overhang.
John walked along with her. “Seven so far. Bumps and bruises mostly. Looks to me like one might be more serious, but then I’m no doctor.”
No, Diana thought, John didn’t have a medical degree, but he’d been a police officer long enough to be able to offer an educated guess when it came to the severity of injuries victims sustained in auto collisions. She had no hesitation in trusting his judgment.
“There’s a couple of people trapped in one of the cars,” he went on. “I haven’t spoken to them personally, but the fire department is working on extricating them now. According to one of the firefighters, the occupants are conscious and don’t seem to be in any distress. The driver says his arm is broken, but the passenger denies any injuries.”
“Okay, let’s get to work,” she said, taking a step towards the accident scene. “Can you triage the victims for me?”
“I’ll do it.”
The voice came from behind, husky, sensual, yet filled with confidence. It flowed over her, trapping her in its spell. Her heart began to hammer against her ribs and her knees suddenly threatened to collapse under her.
She’d recognize that voice anywhere.
What was he doing here? She hadn’t seen or heard from him in more than four years. Four years of wishing it had ended differently … Four years of praying he’d miss her, that he’d want her back.
Four years of silence.
She turned to face him, and her breath caught in her throat. She never would have believed it was possible, but in that split second, it was as if the years they’d been apart were mere moments in time. He smiled at her, and her heart somersaulted in her ribs. The power he’d held over her emotions was still as strong as ever, and she smiled back, as if nothing had changed. As if they were still in love and their whole life lay ahead of them – together, before …
Before that afternoon … Before she’d discovered she had no choice but to leave.
“Di?” John’s voice pierced its way through the thick fog of memories crowding her senses. “You okay?”
Tearing her gaze away from Mark, she smiled at John. “I’m fine,” she lied.
John moved to stand between Diana and Mark. “”Please step back, sir. We can’t have spectators–”
“It’s all right, John. He’s a doctor.” A brilliant doctor, she could have added. A doctor who’d sworn he would never return to the small town in northern Ontario where they’d grown up. A doctor who’d been in town for almost a week, and who hadn’t even had the courtesy to pick up the phone and say hello.
Forcing her thoughts to the deep recesses of her mind, she sucked in a calming breath and turned her attention to the situation at hand. She couldn’t afford to let her mind wander, to think about her personal feelings, or her reaction to hearing his voice again. There would be plenty of time for that later, when she was alone.
Right now, she needed an extra pair of hands, and he was offering.
John gave Mark a cursory once-over, then reluctantly moved out of the way. Turning back to Diana, he gave her a rundown of the victims and their injuries. “I think you should look at the girl over there first.” He pointed to a shadowed figure huddled beneath the bridge overhang a few yards away. “She’s the worst, as far as I can tell.”
“I’ll take it,” Mark offered.
“Fine,” Diana agreed. If the victim was seriously injured, Mark was more qualified than she was to deal with it.
“The boyfriend looks like he’ll need some stitches, too,” John added, “so you might as well both go.”
Mark and Diana followed the police officer to where a young woman was lying on a grassy verge beneath the bridge. She was curled into a ball, her arms hugging her abdomen. Tears flowed freely down her face. Beside her, a young man held her hand and whispered softly to her.
Mark crouched beside the injured woman. “I’m Dr. Chambers,” he said softly. “Can you tell me where you’re hurt?”
“My … stomach …” the woman answered with a moan. “It hurts … I think I’m going to be sick … ”
Although he rested his fingers on the side of the woman’s neck, it was to Diana he spoke a few seconds later. “Her pulse is fast, but fairly strong.”
Turning back towards the woman, he concentrated all his attention on her, smiling gently at her, convincing her to allow him examine her abdomen. At his first touch, she let out a tortured moan.
“Her belly’s distended,” he said to Diana. “Without an x-ray or a CT scan, it’s impossible to be sure, but it looks like she could have a lacerated spleen or a perforated colon.”
Exactly what she’d thought herself, she noticed.
Squeezing the woman’s hand in reassurance, he explained her condition. If what he suspected was correct, surgery was the most likely course to follow. The woman began to sob. “We’ll get you to hospital as soon as we can. We’ll run some tests and have a surgeon take a look at you.”
Turning to Diana, he asked, “Your dad still the only surgeon around here?”
Diana nodded. “I tried to call him a few minutes ago, but I couldn’t reach him. I’m sure the hospital has contacted him, though. He’s probably already on his way.”
“Good.” Mark turned back to his patient, checked her pulse and turned to John. “She’s getting a bit shocky. Can you find some blankets?”
John nodded, then disappeared into the darkness.
Confident that the woman was in good hands, Diana straightened, then headed towards the young man sitting close by. He was still holding his companion’s hand, but as she introduced herself, he lifted his free hand to wipe away a trickle of blood from just above his left eye. The laceration was small, but deep enough to involve both the dermis and subcutis. “You’ll need a few stitches,” she informed him as she applied sterile gauze to the wound and attached a piece of tape to hold it in place until they reached the hospital.
“Will she be okay?” he asked, his eyes never leaving his friend’s face. Diana followed his gaze, noticing that John had returned and he and Mark were covering the woman with a thick scarlet blanket.
“We’ll get her to hospital and take care of her,” Diana assured him. Waving John over, Diana gave him instructions. “The woman needs to be taken first. How long before the ambulance gets here?”
John shrugged. “Shouldn’t be too long. It’s on a transport call to North Bay but it should be here within the next few minutes.”
“What? There’s only one ambulance? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Afraid not.” Diana shook her head in frustration. Provincial politics and funding cuts had hit the area a few years ago, and it never failed to get Diana’s blood boiling. When people’s lives were at stake, it infuriated her that money was an issue.
As John had promised, the ambulance eventually arrived and the young woman and her friend were transported to hospital. Diana sent instructions to ask her father to do a surgical consult as soon as possible. For the next hour, Diana and Mark worked together to treat the bruised ribs and cuts and scrapes the other victims had suffered. Several witnesses involved in the accident but not injured offered to transport the remaining victims.
Diana was immobilizing a dislocated shoulder when John approached. “Diana, they got the people out who were trapped in the car. The man says he’s your father.”
Diana’s hands paused in mid-air. No wonder he hadn’t answered when she’d called earlier. Her heart began to race. “What? Is he–?”
“He says he’s fine. The other doc is looking after him. Says his arm’s broken and he has a concussion, but otherwise he’s not bad off.”
Diana raced down the road, searching for her parents’ compact car. Finally, she saw it – or what was left of it, a mass of twisted metal. A few feet away, two firefighters were deep in conversation, while another reeled in the hydraulic line attaching the jaws of life to the fire truck.
In the darkness, she picked out her father and mother sitting on the grass at the side of the road. Her mother was speaking with one of the firefighters, and didn’t notice her arrival. Her father leaned against a tree trunk, cradling his arm. Mark was crouched beside him.
Her heart leaped into her throat. God, if something happened to them … She couldn’t bear to finish the thought. “Dad? Mom? Are you–”
“Your mother’s fine, sweetie,” her father put in. “But I’d bet I have a fractured ulna. I hit my head on something, too, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I have a slight concussion. I suppose I should get a skull x-ray just to make sure.”
“I’d also suggest a CT scan,” Mark put in.
Diana and her father both looked at him, then simultaneously laughed.
“You have to be kidding, Mark,” Frank said. “You’ve been away far too long. Up here, we’re lucky to have an x-ray machine.”
“Mark seems to have forgotten how primitive it is here,” Diana put in. Then, turning to Mark, she added, “the closest CT is in North Bay.” Frank touched the slight swelling on the side of his head. “I’m sure I only have a mild concussion, if that. I’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
“Then let’s get you to hospital and get that arm seen to.”
Diana crossed the scrub room and paused in front of the window looking into the operating room. Inside, Mark was removing the accident victim’s spleen.
She had always been in awe of Mark’s surgical skill, and now, as she watched while he ligated the splenic veins and dissected the spleen with the speed and confidence only a highly-trained surgeon could exhibit, she felt a lump form in her throat.
“He’s amazing, isn’t he?” The voice belonged to Trudy Ames, one of the OR nurses who was scrubbing down after finishing a procedure in another room.
“Yes, he is,” Diana answered absently, her eyes glued to the synchronized movements of the surgical team inside the room.
“I heard he grew up here,” Trudy commented.
“Too bad he’s not staying,” Trudy said, picking up a sterile towel and drying her hands. “If the money-crunchers weren’t so cheap …” Her voice drifted off as she turned away to grab a sterile towel.
Diana didn’t bother to point out that Mark leaving had nothing to do with the administration. Or money. Mark had a brilliant future ahead of him. But his future was in Toronto, not a one-horse town in the middle of the northern Ontario wilderness.
She could have stayed with him …
No, she couldn’t. She’d done the right thing by leaving. She just wished it didn’t still hurt so much.
With swift movements, Mark removed the spleen and quickly closed the incision with short, even sutures. As he sewed the last suture into place, he glanced in her direction and gave her the thumbs-up sign that had been their signal of success to each other all the way through medical school and internship.
At that simple gesture, her vision blurred with unshed tears, and she turned away before he saw them trickling down her cheeks.
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