Authors: Nina Hamilton
Hanging, strapped together, ten metres above a sea platform forces a quick intimacy between workmates. For Dr Brigid Adair, dangling from a helicopter wire is an everyday occurrence in her job working for the helicopter rescue crew in North Queensland, Australia.
For former US Army medic Matt Roberts, Australia means a new future; a place to escape from the war zones of his past. Despite his significant wealth, he’s taken a job as an elite helicopter paramedic, wanting to make a positive contribution to his new community.
Matt Roberts knows very well the destruction that romance can reap on a unit, so when he first arrives and sees the gorgeous single doctor, Brigid, assigned to his rescue crew, he’s nervous. Very nervous.
Dr Brigid Adair is going to need more than just her medical training to lead Matt back from his self-imposed isolation. High-pressure situations hovering over some of Australia’s deadliest land and sea and the ignition of a passionate flame might just do the trick.
Thank you to my family who have always supported me. My mother Clare patiently read every word and my father never doubted that I would be published.
I am lucky to be writing in the Internet age, with great resources, such as the Harlequin online community. Editors’ tips and the support of fellow writers have been invaluable in my writing journey.
This book is dedicated to my mother and the thousands of other Australians who so freely and unselfishly give their time for the vital work of Australia’s volunteer emergency services
First days on any job were terrible, but in this job, other people’s first days were even worse.
Dr. Brigid Adair looked out the door of the swaying helicopter to the small sea platform below. The white caps of the waves and the rush of wind against her face said this rescue could turn into a special type of hell. For the patient and the dive master below, hell had obviously already arrived. The patient had gone from having the dive of a lifetime in North Queensland’s usually sparkling waters, to coughing up blood while a helicopter circled overhead.
The tension in the close confines of the helicopter was running higher than usual and it wasn’t just the uncertain conditions that had everyone on edge. They had a new crewmember onboard. Unfortunately, for Brigid’s peace of mind, she was going to be strapped to him while being lowered on a wire. Their destination was the wildly rocking sea platform below.
All rescue teams hated the first week for new team members. The training regime was fierce and no incompetence would ever be allowed into a team as elite as helicopter rescue but, when your life depended on each other, trust was not automatic. A helicopter crew only attended the most serious of medical situations. They worked against the clock and learned to anticipate each other’s actions.
Brigid did a secondary check on the contents of her medical bag as she waited for the pilot’s confirmation that the rescue was actually going ahead. Dave, their pilot, always had the final say on any rescue attempt. While she was responsible for the life of the patient on the platform below, Dave’s first responsibility was to the lives of everyone on board the helicopter. Today, those lives numbered herself, Chris the aircrew winch operator and Matt, their new rescue paramedic.
As they waited for Dave’s final call, Brigid looked over to Matt, sitting in the jump seat opposite her. At least his eyes were calm and there were no obvious first-day jitters. In fact, she couldn’t see any emotion whatsoever in those fathomless dark eyes. He was strapping the harness around him, keeping his gaze on the conditions below.
His demeanour had a constant watchfulness that was the mark of a professional. Awareness was crucial as any change in the weather conditions could endanger their lives and the life of the patient they were here to save.
Thinking of that patient Brigid couldn’t help the warning that popped out of her mouth. “Once we get on the platform we immediately need to get the oxygen on the patient if his breathing is as compromised as reported.”
“That’s protocol. So yes, I’ll be able to do it,” he answered.
From the bite in his tone, her attempt to keep the doubt out of her voice wasn’t entirely successful. Well, he would have to lump it. Out here, no-one’s abilities were taken for granted; no matter how highly decorated a medic they had been in combat.
The final check came through the intercom.
“Rescue Doctor ready,” confirmed Brigid.
“Rescue Crew Member One ready,” said Matt.
It was still slightly jarring to hear Matt’s American accent, coming through her headphones on the helicopter’s intercom. She couldn’t help but note it was an extremely masculine sound, deep, with just a touch of Texan drawl. The confidence she could hear must be a remnant of his US Army background.
At six foot two, Matt pushed the height restrictions of the rescue crew and his body, while obviously strong, was sleekly muscled rather than bulky. Brigid was not sure how comfortable she was with the appeal she found in his square jaw and closely cropped dark hair. It was a strict policy of Brigid’s not to date men she worked with. She had grown up watching her surgeon father create hurt and havoc by treating the nurses he worked with as disposable sexual playthings. That experience made her policy non-negotiable. Anyway, as she had to remind herself, she was not into overly confident men.
“We’re a go,” said pilot Dave, finally. “I’ll drop Brigid and Matt on the corner opposite the patient. That way we won’t hit the guys on the platform with too much updraft.”
Matt stood against the doorframe and clipped Brigid’s harness onto his own. She stepped out of the door after him and allowed the harness to take her full weight. No matter how many times she did this she couldn’t help feeling that, with the two of them on the winch, they were breaking the laws of physics.
Chris, the wire operator, slowly released Matt and Brigid down, face to face, with only the heavy medical bag between them. Suspended on the wire, they were totally buffeted by the wind and considerable updraft. This was often the most perilous part of any air rescue operation.
Not many people had to get this physically intimate with their co-workers. Then again, not many people had to trust their co-workers not to drop them into the sea from a height of twenty metres.
“Right?” Matt had to put his mouth almost on her ear in order to ask the question. She nodded her agreement.
Matt’s feet touched down on the platform first and he guided Brigid to stand beside him. At once, she couldn’t help but be grateful for the protection his supple strength offered.
When Brigid’s feet touched the deck she knew the success of the next part of the mission depended on her. She was now in charge of this rodeo.
Brigid walked across the unsteady dive platform with unfailing balance. Who would have thought a talent for gymnastics would have become so useful in her practice of medicine?
She glanced across to Matt. He too was moving without hesitation, carrying all the equipment they were going to need in the next few minutes. The waves crashed onto the platform and the resulting sea mist stung at Brigid’s eyes.
When they got to the patient and the man standing over him, Brigid was glad the dive master was someone she recognised. Trent was from a reputable, safety conscious local dive company and was well trained enough to have oxygen already on her patient.
Of immediate concern was that the patient’s scuba suit was still on. It was now twenty-five minutes since the dive boat had called for help. He was still clad in wet rubber, which meant his condition had certainly not improved.
“What happened?” Brigid asked Trent, as she knelt to get a closer look at the patient. The patient was around fifty and she suspected he normally looked fit when he wasn’t pale, blue-lipped and in obvious pain.
“Joe was having a normal dive when he started looking panicked and began ascending way too quickly. Once he got to the surface he was gasping for air and soon after he was complaining of chest pains and coughing blood,” said Trent, his voice was matter of fact.
“Did you see any of his bubbles on the way up?”
“No,” was Trent’s definitive answer. The grave look on his face reflected Brigid’s fears. A scuba diver who ascends too quickly and doesn’t breathe on the way up encounters a potentially fatal hazard that even the best safety practices can’t protect against.
Brigid looked over to Matt. He’d already retrieved the spinal board that the crew had lowered and signalled the pilot to put the helicopter into a holding pattern. The movement of the helicopter gave the platform some distance from the sound of the engine’s roar.
She leaned down to the patient. “Hey Joe,” she said. “We’re going to make you feel better soon, so I want you to relax and try not to talk.”
“One, two, three.” On Brigid’s call, they rolled Joe onto his side. With difficultly, Brigid managed to get the zipper of Joe’s scuba suit halfway down. However, it was clear that without their patient able to help, they were going to have to cut him out of the suit.
Matt was even now pulling scissors out of the bag, knowing she would need to access the man’s chest for the most basic of assessments.
Matt’s ability to judge the actions needed in this situation relieved Brigid. Going by the bluish tinge to Joe’s lips, they needed to get him to the hospital, fast.
Brigid pulled back the suit as Matt made swift cuts. Within seconds they had Joe’s chest exposed, and the suit cut down to his waist.
Brigid used her stethoscope to listen to Joe’s chest.
“Decreased breath sounds on his right hand side,” she recorded to Matt.
Matt had quickly attached equipment that allowed them to measure both blood pressure and oxygen stats.
The results were borderline. In a hospital environment, she would probably perform an emergency procedure. Here, out at sea, she was glad that action was not going to be forced upon her.
On a three-by-three metre, rocking platform that was attached by a chain to the deep seabed she was less than inclined to stick a large bore needle into this man’s chest cavity. Knowing the patient would be able to wait until they reached the sterile and better-equipped environment of a major hospital was a relief. “Probable pneumothorax. It’s a scope and run,” Brigid said to Matt.
She communicated the same information to the helicopter, via the two-way radio attached to her flight suit.
She gestured for Trent to move away as she and Matt strapped their patient tightly to the spinal board stretcher. She discarded the dive boat supplied oxygen mask, and put on the one from her kit. She hoped to push up Joe’s oxygen stats, making him more comfortable for the ride back to the hospital.
The helicopter moved back into position, this time directly above their heads. The crew dropped the wire, complete with patient transport hooks, to where Matt could easily catch it. They secured the stretcher to the hooks and Matt to the stretcher board. It was his job to be winched with the patient. He needed to make sure the difficult manoeuvre of the stretcher through the helicopter doors came off as smoothly as possible. Matt would then come back down and collect Brigid and the medical equipment.