Brian Belden sank onto a hard plastic chair and immediately leaned forward to cradle his head on his folded arms. He managed to set down the cup of thick black sludge the hospital cafeteria optimistically and, in his opinion, erroneously called coffee, and closed his eyes. Five minutes. That was all he needed. Five minutes of undisturbed sleep, and then maybe he'd be able to function without his body actually aching from fatigue. Without having to concentrate to keep his eyes open. Without struggling to make sense of what people around him were saying.

Just five minutes.

The low rumble of conversation and the rattle of dishes around him grew fuzzy, and his body relaxed even further. Never before had sleep felt so good, he thought, no longer even trying to pretend that he was alert.

The buzzing of his pager startled him, and he bolted upright. The Styrofoam cup of coffee toppled over, scalding his hand and trickling down onto his scrubs. But it didn't matter, he thought, ignoring the flash of searing pain. In a way, as he raced back to the emergency room, he was grateful for the pain. Because he was most certainly fully awake. At least for the moment.

"Dr. Belden!" The triage nurse greeted him breathlessly as he finally reached his destination. She rattled through the symptoms of the patient on the gurney, and Brian found himself struggling to keep up.

"Where's Dr. Gallagher?" he asked, referring to his chief resident, who was supposed to be on duty.

"Weren't you listening?" she asked, slowing her breathless update long enough to glare at him. "This is a multiple victim incident! He's working on the most serious case right now."

Brian nodded vaguely. Right. Of course he was. Which meant that he was completely on his own for whichever patients were left.

Which was fine, of course. It wasn't as if he hadn't treated patients on his own before. But never had he been unsupervised when he was this incredibly exhausted. His chest tightening with a dull sense of dread, he followed the triage nurse past the flimsy curtain and saw his first patient.

And Brian Belden, the calmest, most unflappable resident the hospital had seen in years, blanched. Without even looking closely, he knew that this patient would require everything he had.

Possibly more.

"He's bleeding out!" a voice called, but he could already see that. Propelled by an extra burst of energy that he didn't realize he still possessed, he took his place at the patient's side and listened to the nurse's update, forming his medical judgement of the situation.

"I'm going to have to go in," he decided, studying the scope of the injuries in front of him.

He felt the nurse beside him stiffen, but he couldn't take the time to wonder if she was second guessing him. Moving with smooth precision, she rolled a cart filled with surgical utensils to him, and he quickly chose the instrument he needed. Twenty seconds and a small amount of pressure later, he could see what the problem was.

"Page Dr. Gallagher," he snapped, his voice taking on a more autocratic tone than he had ever used before. The injury was much more severe than it had appeared, and Brian knew full well that he didn't have the experience necessary to perform the procedure that would be required to save the patient's life. It wasn't just a matter of his lack of experience—he suspected that only a top-notch surgeon would be able to repair this damage. But time was running out, and due to his proximity, Dr. Gallagher was obviously the patient's best hope for survival at the moment.

A nurse hurried to the phone, but soon reported that the chief resident was in the middle of a delicate procedure and couldn't leave.

"Then get someone from surgery down here! And two units of O negative!" he exclaimed, eyes still firmly fixed on the gaping wound. "We're running out of time!"

Ten long seconds later, Brian heard the tense, clipped voice of the head surgeon on duty come through the speakerphone. "You're on your own," Dr. Miller said. "I'll send someone down as soon as possible, but we have to focus on the crash victims up here."

It went unsaid that they had to focus on the patients who actually had a chance of survival. Even with expert care, Brian knew that the man on the gurney in front of him was facing impossible odds. Dr. Miller was right. She usually was. It didn't make sense to pull a surgeon away from a patient that could likely be saved for another patient who probably had only minutes left, no matter what course of action they took.

But that didn't mean he couldn't do his best by the man.

He'd read about the procedure, and studied it, but it was so rare and specialized that he'd never seen one performed, or even talked to someone who had performed it. But the patient would die unless it was performed immediately.


The nurse handed him the instrument. "Dr. Belden, are you sure?" she asked.

He used the scalpel to get a better look at what he was dealing with, and ignored her question. She was a good nurse, and he knew that she wasn't asking in an attempt to undermine his decision. Still, he couldn't afford to focus on anything except the task in front of him.

"I'm going to need—" he began, but was interrupted by an elderly man in a white lab coat who walked into the room.

Brian sighed in relief, amazed that Dr. Miller had sent someone down so quickly. Of course, if a surgeon had been freed up so quickly, it probably meant that one of the surgeries upstairs had not gone well, but he couldn't allow himself to dwell on that. Not when he had his own patient in front of him, depending on him.

"A lot of help," the new doctor said, completing Brian's statement. "As well as—" and he rattled off a list of implements.

"What do you need, doctor?" the nurse (Brian was pretty sure her name was Sophie) asked, her eyes trained on him and not, as he would have expected, on the obviously more experienced surgeon who had entered the room.

Brian repeated the list of surgical implements, and took a calming breath. Everything was going to be okay now. The new doctor would take care of everything, and, if Brian was lucky, let him assist. This was what was obviously best for the patient, and it would certainly be an invaluable learning experience for him.

"Well, don't just stand there," the doctor said, his tone mild. "If you're going to save this one, you need to get to work."

Brian's eyes bulged. "I'm going to save this one?" he questioned, changing the doctor's statement to a question.

"I hope so," Sophie said softly, and waited for his instructions.

"Right," Brian said, shaken. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. Dr. Bosworth, or so he assumed from the identification clipped to the man's lab coat, was supposed to do the saving! Not throw him in the deep end!

"You'll need the number two blade," Dr. Bosworth instructed.

"Number two blade," Brian repeated blankly.

Sophie handed him the surgical blade.

And before he could quite picture the textbook page that had outlined the procedure, Dr. Bosworth was coaching him, giving him clear and concise directions in a voice completely devoid of tension. Brian didn't hear his own voice repeating the older doctor's instructions. He didn't feel Sophie using a towel to blot the perspiration dripping from his forehead. He didn't see the shocked expressions of the nurses in the room, and he certainly didn't notice as Dr. Gallagher, Dr. Miller, and several other surgeons filed into the room at different intervals during the delicate procedure.

When the extensive damage to the patient's organs had been repaired, and the incision sealed, Brian felt his earlier fatigue return, and his vision blurred slightly.

"There," he said, his voice faint. "I think that's it."

The unexpected sound of applause had him blinking and taking in his surroundings with surprise.

"Well done," announced Dr. Miller, head of surgery. She studied him intently. "I haven't seen that procedure performed successfully in three years. How did you know how to do it?"

I didn't, Brian thought. "Dr. Bosworth..." he said, and glanced to where the doctor had been standing only seconds before. He frowned in confusion, wondering how the older man could have left the room without anyone noticing.

"Of course," Dr. Miller agreed. "He was a pioneer in this form of surgery. It was a shame he died before he could personally train more doctors."

"But..." Brian frowned. It had been Dr. Bosworth's name on the nametag... hadn't it?

"You must have read about him in one of your classes," she continued. "He's mentioned in nearly every textbook."

Yes. Now that the pressure of the situation had passed, Brian could remember more than just the bare outline of the surgical procedure described in his text book. He could recall the photograph of a man who looked very much like the doctor who had guided him through the complicated surgery.

"Remarkable," observed a doctor from the back of the room, whom Brian didn't recognize. "I was here watching for the last thirty minutes, and you didn't hesitate once. Very impressive that you're so familiar with a rare technique," he complimented him. "I hope to see you up on the surgical ward soon."

Brian flushed with a mixture of pride and guilt. The only reason he hadn't hesitated, the only reason that he'd had any real inkling of what to do was that Dr. Bosworth had walked him through it, practically holding his hand the entire time. "Thank you, sir," he managed to say. Blinking wearily, he shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind.

"Your shift ended forty minutes ago," Dr. Gallagher informed him. "Go home, Belden, and get some rest. Tomorrow will be soon enough to see about transferring you to a surgical rotation."

A surgical rotation? He'd been waiting for the coveted position for what felt like years. But was he gaining it under false pretenses? Dr. Miller gave him a curt nod and smile before leaving, telling him without words that he would, indeed, be visiting the surgical floor the next day.

Barely registering his actions, Brian walked wearily to the doctor's lounge and discarded his coffee, sweat, and blood-stained scrubs to don his regular attire of Dockers, a shirt and tie. Waving to his co-workers as he stepped out into the crisp October night, he replayed the events of the night in his mind. Was it possible that he had actually seen Dr. Bosworth? Or, he supposed, the ghost of Dr. Bosworth?


His sleep-deprived mind must have played a trick on him, taking the information from the text book that he didn't even realize he'd absorbed so thoroughly and projecting it into a form that would give him the confidence to put the knowledge to use.

Yes. It was the only reasonable explanation.

Except that sleep deprivation didn't make a person perform better.


As he sank into an empty seat on the subway, his thoughts jumbled chaotically. The only coherent thought he could muster as he forced himself to stay awake was to wonder which was more incredible: a phantom guiding him and directing his hands?

Or that his exhausted mind and body had recalled a textbook description of a rare, specialized technique well enough to perform it brilliantly?

It was no contest.

Was it?

Author’s Notes

This was written for Mal and Ryl's Annual Halloween Challenge. As always, Mal was an absolute dream to work with. Thanks for taking on this project once again, my dear!

Thanks to MaryN, Mal, and (can you believe it?) my dad for editing. For a very short story, there was an astonishing amount of editing necessary. *grin*

And thanks to MaryN for performing her magic with graphics again!

The scenario depicted in this story definitely falls under the umbrella of TV medicine and not, you know, actual medicine.

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Story copyright by Ryl, October 2011. Graphics copyright 2011 by Mary N.

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