Music of my Life

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Waver

Like most surgeons, Paul Murphy had a steady hand. Take your hand, flex it, hold it taut and horizontal in front of your eyes. After almost no time at all, you'll feel what surgeons call "the Waver." It is the moment when muscle disobeys command, despite even the most copious of efforts. It is a slip, but in surgery, there are no slips. "The Waver" is the reason you are not a surgeon.

He had built an empire beneath him. Chief surgeon of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, he had a reputation for being the best. Like most surgeons, Paul Murphy had a steady hand, but Paul Murphy's hand was perpetually unfaltering--a redwood among palms.

Paul Murphy had a family he loved. They were his world, besides the hospital that is. Martha was his wife of 27 years, and she had blessed him with 3 children, two bright young boys, Jason, 14, Kyle, 17 and what he believed to be a literal angel, his 19 year old daughter Lillian.

At the hospital, in the community, he was respected. When you think of the greatest man in your life, he likely lies in the shadow of all that is Paul Murphy.

Tonight, Paul was at the hospital. Most nights, Paul was at the hospital. His position, his status demanded an enormous amount of work, and more than anything, his presence. Many of the regulars were off tonight, a fresh batch of interns meandered the sterile halls. Gurneys and EMT's rushed around, en route to point B. It was a busy night, but most were. In his office, Paul was reading a medical report.

Over the intercom, a woman's voice spoke, interrupting his focus, "Paul Murphy to the OR, Paul Murphy to the OR."

Paul drew in a deep breath, as he always did, preparing himself for the coming task. His name was called only when no other surgeon could handle an operation. He stood, he walked, while his mind, his body, they dialed in to the same frequency. A certain trance washed over Paul, as it always did, when he went into surgery.

At the OR, the Operating Room, Paul was greeted by a grim-faced intern.

"I'm sorry sir, no one else was available. This is urgent."

"Right, well what do we have?"

"Female, probably mid 20's, she was mugged downtown, shot twice--a graze wound to the shoulder, and one shot just above her heart. Plus trauma to the head and back including lacerations on her neck and torso. She came in about 5 minutes ago. The bullet is still lodged in her chest doctor. You're going to have to try and get it out while there's still time."

Paul washed his hands methodically and applied his mask, everything he did a picture of composure. He was the epitome of collected, he was after all, the best.

In the OR, several nurses were attending to the victim's various cuts. She was splayed out on the table, a light focused on her chest, her head and lower body hidden from view.

Paul began to work. He worked patiently, deliberately, as he always did. His hand was constant, unshaken. His tools made their way to the bullet that had lodged itself so precariously in the faceless woman's chest. 45 minutes into the operation, he had made significant progress, he was close. Pausing for a moment, he stepped back from the woman. A plastic bag, with the woman's jewelry, caught his eye. Paul was not easily distracted, but he thought for a moment he recognized something. He looked closer, too closely perhaps. In the bag was a necklace and on the necklace was a pendant, engraved with eloquent cursive writing, three letters:


In a frenzy, he grasped at the anesthetic mask covering the woman's face. Her eyes were closed in a medically induced slumber. As he pulled the mask away, his worst fears were confirmed.

The woman, his daughter, his angel. Lillian.

Paul Murphy lost his mind for a few minutes. Or he left it. I guess it doesn't really matter which, in the end.

He forfeited control of his body. He shouldn't have scrambled to get the bullet out. He had never let the situation control him, until then. His hands clutched tools, but not with confidence, they became foreign objects. Despite this, the tools pressed back into the incision, back towards the bullet.

The human artery system is a fragile one.

Paul Murphy's hands betrayed him. Paul Murphy's hands made one mistake in their career. Paul Murphy's hands, they wavered.

The Aorta is the largest artery in the human body. In their haste, Paul Murphy's hands slipped, as they never had.

Sharp metal, meet Aorta.

A cut, an accident. much blood.

Paul Murphy was the best. Paul Murphy isn't the best. People speak using the past tense these days, when describing Paul Murphy's prowess.

Take your hand, flex it, hold it taut and horizontal in front of your eyes. Is it shaking yet?

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