What he pictured the surgeon picturing was the distant tree-line, a sight in significant ways like the view at home in Louisiana--green-gray, smoky with humidity. Like a painting of an idea of a distant tree-line. Standing with tired arms and tired hands just outside the ferrous-smelling tent on the low plains. Not a battlefield, but worse--a surgical hospital tent just south of the battlefield. Watching the captive trees between. Like trees lining a brake in the Mississippi delta.
The unmuffled and unmuffleable screaming of men newly without limbs, soldiers with resected bowels--the results of distinct aesthetic challenge to the surgeon. With his known sewing skills.
Not poignant precisely, but more than reminiscent. Standing there in the blood-drenched boots, watching the distant trees.
Not muffled at all by the tent canvas.
Within the realms of the hospital, in the halls, in the staff meetings, the cafeteria--he imagined the surgeon avoiding the new Cambodian radiologist.
It had been implied by a certain ex-wife, though it was not true, that he got the hospital job to be near the surgeon, to watch him. How could he have ever known of the surgeon if he not taken the job first? And it wasn't like you just applied for and took a hospital job. He had to go to school for a certain specifed stretch of time before getting the job as OR tech. True, he first saw the surgeon in action as a student tech, doing clinical time. He remembered that day, too.
The word field. Sterile field. The back fields
The man was just a doctor. He was just a tech. They nodded at each other passing in the hall. It was not like they had conversations. And after a couple of years, he wasn't sure precisely when--the surgeon began to greet him by name.
It was not widely said, though it was true, that his own father had possibly seen the same foreign tree-lines and had not had the opportunity to reminisce when viewing the tree-lines back in Louisiana, because he did not come back to see them.
Like movies, he thought of music when he thought of that country and the surgeon in it: Born On the Bayou. He had seen many movies on the subject of the conflict. Many movies--or rather he had viewed them many times. His ambition was to write a grand essay one day about them. Platoon. Apocalypse Now. Hamburger Hill. The Deer Hunter. Born On the Fourth of July. Coming Home. Casualties of War. Full Metal Jacket.
The father, an older enlisted man at the upper limits of allowed age in Vietnam, he never saw because he had just been born. Now he himself was father to a child, a daughter, but divorced from her mother.
His friend in X Ray told him the surgeon ignored the new $1.2 mil specials room, preferring the archaic equipment that broke down all the time and drove the X Ray techs crazy.
Known facts: The surgeon sang in the Presbyterian choir. He drove a tractor on a rural farm he owned. There was a tennis court behind his house that had not been played upon since his children were grown and gone.
There was a nurse who once went on a campaign to do something about "the shoes." A tidy woman, but not fastidiously so. Why her, why then precisely, when he had been wearing the shoes for years, nobody knew. She had remarked for days that she was going to do it. People watched, waiting. The shoes were the same shoes all the time. In surgery there are certain rules. Inviolable rules. Strict washing and gloving and gowning and masking and adhering to sterile fields. But the surgeon would not cover the shoes.
There certainly weren't any doctors or administrators who were going to say something to him.
The surgeon was a man of few words, but not in a cliched way. There was a freshness, an appropriateness to his clipped and blunt (often exceedingly blunt) speech. It had something--or everything--to do with having been a field surgeon in the conflict, our OR tech maintained.
The shoes were covered with spatters of blood. Fresh drops overlying old flaking ones. And when he walked around the hospital, he did not take them off and he did not clean them. And no one dared say anything to him about it.
The moment of "doing something about them" passed unobserved. And unremarked for a while. Because they knew the moment had occurred. They knew the nurse and her resolve. What happened was: the surgeon continued to wear the shoes. Spatters and all. And the nurse never said anything else about them. She was retired now.
His friend the X Ray tech described the way the surgeon inserted a Seldinger needle into the femoral artery in the manner of a master casually throwing a dart. And not ever missing. And in direct contrast to the edgy maneuverings of certain known radiologists. Even the foot-long needles for the translumbar aortic puncture. It was hard to believe that could go in a person's side and come back out without causing certain fatal damage. But the surgeon did it first try every time by merely eyeballing the angle and making a few choice presses upon the patient's body.
When the femoral blood entered the Seldinger needle, it spurted out into the X Ray room in distinct pulses. One for each heart beat. Sometimes it would go across the room and hit the wall. Of course, this was only in cases of non-compromised arteries. And the surgeon calmly hooked up the extension tubing. If the blood struck someone inexperienced enough not to know to move out of the way, the surgeon made a modest apology. But he did not clean the shoes. In fact, he made tracks out of the room and down the hall when he was through. Techs scrambling on their knees wiping with towels and calling for environmental services.
Not only certain radiologists but the new wet behind the ears surgeon who the joke was he didn't know how to spell CT.
One day when his wife who at any moment was about to cease legally being his wife was standing in the hall discussing certain legal matters with him the surgeon passed the two of them and greeted the OR tech by name.
It was a moment he remembered.
The wife had merely remarked that wasn't a man who looked like he read essays.
The OR tech was frankly glad to be divorced. Though he missed the child.
Once when the tech had had a enteric situation that had lasted for weeks, with an accompanying alternatingly dull and sharp pain in the right upper quadrant, his X Ray friend did an Ultrasound and was confused by the images. It wasn't clear what was going on. The Cambodian radiologist suggested a possible gall bladder problem, and the way he said it sounded suspiciously cheerful to the tech. Though he knew it couldn't possibly be the case he was indeed aware of the selling power of gall bladders in the far east as powdered aphrodisiacs.
On the next surgery case, he casually mentioned the Ultrasound to the surgeon. This was the first time in history the tech had initiated a conversation with the surgeon. The surgeon didn't waste a minute. He whisked the tech into an unoccupied room and stretched him out and pressed heavily and almost intimately on his abdomen. "No, I think it's the gall bladders from bears they're interested in," the surgeon said. After a short session of pressing the surgeon eased up. The gall bladder was OK, he said. Simethecon might help the gas. And the next Ultrasound was completely normal.
His friend in X Ray found it funny that he didn't need surgery after all. Ha-ha funny.
It turns out, the ex-wife had pointedly/casually mentioned to the ex-X Ray friend that the tech's father had never been in Vietnam, and in fact was a Insurance salesman in town known from ingratiatingly silly TV commercials.
These were among the matters the OR tech was thinking about when he looked ahead to the schedule for the upcoming weekends. That, and the fact that calenders had to be looked at for the occurrence of alternate weekends, which was when he was allowed by the court to be visited by his daughter.
So that the carefully planned accidental gunshot (GSW to the acronym-crazy ER staff) injury to his abdomen would indeed be at a time when the surgeon was on call.
But they had the calender wrong. Or actually, it was right, but the surgeon had been forced to change call due to a request by the wet behind the ears surgeon to switch so that he could go to his own high school reunion.
"Hey there," the wet behind the ears surgeon said when he entered the trauma room where the OR tech lay with the ER nurses scrambling and the ER physician panicking because of the obviously dying spilled viscera unraveled on the OR tech's lap.
"So this is the guy who's going to teach me how to spell."