‘Auckland Central Ambulance Three.’ The dispatcher’s voice came through loud and clear.
‘Here we go again.’ Saved by the radio.
Steph reached for the handpiece, but Kath beat her.
Steph listened in as she negotiated the ambulance towards Karangahape Road, ready to turn at the lights in whichever direction they were needed.
‘Thirty-six-year-old male, leg wound from tomahawk axe, severe bleeding. One-zero-five Albany Street, Parnell.’
One hundred and five Albany Street? Steph’s heart hit her toes. No way. What would Michael be doing with a tomahawk? It would have to be very sharp to do severe damage. Air stuck in her lungs. If not Michael, then who?
‘Roger, coms,’ Kath responded, then repeated the address and details.
Struggling to find her calm mode, Steph concentrated doubly hard on traffic and loose cannon drivers who liked to beat a racing ambulance to the corner.
The siren seemed to screech louder than usual as she headed to Parnell. To Michael.
A shudder ripped through her. It might not be Michael. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was.
‘How do you chop your leg with a tomahawk?’
‘Chopping kindling? But being distracted enough to hit your leg is beyond me.’
‘I wonder who called it in?’ Michael himself? Most likely.
‘You know who lives at the address?’ Kath asked.
‘Michael Laing from the ED.’
Steph didn’t like the way that sounded. ‘“Ah”, nothing. I was thinking that he’s not going to be happy about being taken into his own department by us.’
She tapped the address into the GPS to see if there was a shorter route, as she only knew one way there.
‘Or he might be so thrilled so see us he’ll shout us a night out at Scarpio’s. It’s the best restaurant in town at the moment.’
Steph couldn’t find a laugh. Not even a single chuckle.
‘Get out of the way!’ she snarled at the driver of a pickup truck blocking the intersection ahead. Her temper was not improved when the guy waved as they roared past.
This trip was taking for ever, and every kilometre gained seemed long and tortuous. Finally Steph swung into Michael’s drive and turned off the siren. Kath was already in the back with the kit in her hand, so Steph leapt out and ran. Up the path, around the house and aimed for the back porch, where Michael sat on the step, pale, obviously in pain—and angry.
‘Michael, what happened?’
She raced up the steps and dropped to her haunches beside him, already reaching for the blood-soaked jersey wound around his thigh, with the fingers of his right hand splayed over it, applying pressure to slow the bleeding. He was shivering, shock clearly coming into play.
‘Slow down. It’s not an emergency. No need for the siren either. Now the nosey neighbours will be turning up to gawp.’
Nice to see you too. ‘What happened?’ she repeated. ‘I need to know.’
‘The neighbour’s cat was fighting a stray and chased it through here—right across my feet. I didn’t hear the hissing and snarling until it was too late. I had only just finished sharpening the blade this morning. I was distracted. And when I knocked into the shed wall...’
Snapping on gloves, Steph began gently feeling for deep trauma in his thigh. It was a bad laceration that possibly went through to the bone. ‘When you do something you do it thoroughly.’ It must be extremely painful, though he was being stoic beyond belief.
A sudden indrawn breath had her looking up. Got that wrong. She caught him, putting her hands on his chest to stop him tipping sideways onto the porch.
‘Easy does it.’ Gripping his shoulders, she studied him as he opened his eyes slowly. He was obviously in agony. ‘Deep breaths.’
He focused on her as his chest lifted.
‘Breath out now.’
His chest stopped, held, then sagged.
Good. ‘We’ll get you on the stretcher.’
‘Right here,’ said Kath from behind her.
‘I don’t need that. I can walk to the ambulance.’
He started struggling to his feet, and there was a lot more swaying going on.
‘Sit down,’ Stephanie snapped.
She could do cranky too. Especially since Michael was hurt and not letting her help him.
To emphasis her point she pulled at his elbow until he obliged by sagging onto the step with little control.
This was a very different Michael from the one she knew.
He glared at her. ‘I’m the doctor here. We’ll do it my way.’
Resisting the urge to run the back of her finger down his pale cheek and reassure him that she’d do everything he needed, she dug deep for a retort.
‘I’m the paramedic, and in case you’ve forgotten that means I’m in charge at an accident scene.’
She couldn’t have him thinking she was going soft on him.
‘That jersey isn’t doing a good enough job, so I’ll have to remove it and wrap bandages around the wound.’
‘Need some readings done too.’ Kath added her bit as she reached for his left wrist and got growled at for her trouble.
‘What’s wrong with your wrist?’ Steph asked.
He held it awkwardly. ‘Must’ve cracked it when I fell over.’
Cracked or broken? ‘When were you going to mention that?’ she snapped, her patience wearing thin. ‘Michael, we need to know everything. You understand that.’
The eyes looking at her were darker than she’d ever seen them before, filled with pain and anger—and a message she couldn’t interpret. As if he was angry with her for some reason.
She was doing her job—nothing more or less. But her heart was thumping and her breathing was too fast.
Slowly drawing in a lungful of cold air, she laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly. ‘We won’t make a big deal of anything, I promise.’
nally he dragged his gaze away. ‘Go ahead. I do know what you’ve got to do.’ The sharpness had gone, and his voice was suddenly heavy and lethargic.
Until Kath said, ‘Right, let’s get you on the stretcher.’
‘I’ll make my own way, thank you very much.’ But the curse he bit out afterwards wasn’t that quiet.
‘Michael, stop being an idiot. That injury is serious—as in probably needing surgery serious.’
‘I know that,’ he snapped.
He might be a doctor and know what was ahead, but he was also a man in pain, and clearly not looking forward to the coming hours.
‘At the moment you’re a patient.’
‘It has dawned on me,’ he snapped.
He wanted to walk to the ambulance so she’d give him that—but nothing more. If she slipped her arm around his waist what would he say?
She was about to find out. Swinging the kit over one shoulder, she put her arm around him, took a step, and stopped when he didn’t join her.
* * *
‘Stop hovering,’ Michael growled.
He hated it that Stephanie was intent on hanging around right beside him—with him, holding him—ready to catch him if his head did that spinning, floating, not getting a grip on reality thing again.
As if she could hold him off the ground. She was small and soft—he was big and muscular. Didn’t she realise that he could do her some damage? He should’ve taken the offer of the stretcher. Was he going soft in his old age? He’d taken plenty of hard knocks playing rugby and not once been stretchered off. Nothing was changing today. He might be acting like a prat, but a man was entitled to his pride.
‘Where are your house keys?’ Steph asked in her professional voice.
He’d hurt her with his determination not to let her help him, but that was who he was—how he’d got through the painful take-downs on the rugby field, how he’d survived a broken heart.
He groaned in pain and frustration. Why Stephanie and Kath, when there were dozens of ambulance crews working in the city? What were the odds? It seemed that when it came to Stephanie and him they were fairly short.
‘Hello? I asked a question. As a patient you’re supposed to answer so I know how alert you are.’