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  • Published: 1 September 2020
  • ISBN: 9780143773702
  • Imprint: RHNZ Black Swan
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $36.00

The Silence of Snow


Chapter 1

There was no peace, even in the loo. Rory’s pager and phone were going simultaneously. Rory was wishing he hadn’t downloaded the Doctor Who theme song into his notifications. He was wishing he hadn’t been on the bevvy last night. Rory was wishing he were anywhere other than on an evening shift with three pregnant women. Three pregnant women wanting epidurals within an hour of each other. He hadn’t seen it this busy before. So much for rural hospitals being quieter.


‘Will you hold on,’ he said to the pager-phone symphony reverberating through the bathroom. He stood up and heard the distinct beep-clunk of his pager falling off his trousers and into the—

‘Shite.’ Rory stared at the toilet bowl, which now contained not only the grim contents of his gut, but also the dying pager.

‘No,’ he said. ‘This is not Trainspotting.’ And flushed.

That was almost the highlight of his evening.


The labour ward was like a casino — timeless, with lots of flashing lights, including the Christmas tree in the patients’ lounge. Ten pm, ten am; it was all the same to the patients. Rory strolled up to the ward station, his eyes roving over the list of names.

Crystal Taylor, room 2.

‘Sweet,’ he said, before putting his ceaselessly ringing phone to his ear. ‘Hello, Rory MacBride.’

‘Hi, are you the anaesthetic fellow?’ She sounded young; probably one of the newbie house surgeons who had started a couple of weeks ago.

‘That’s me,’ Rory said, waiting for the inevitable I can’t get the IV in, can you help?

Instead, the young woman said, ‘Um, I’m trying to do a lumbar puncture on this guy with query meningitis. I’ve tried three times already, but I’m not having any luck.’ From the other end of the phone, he heard a pager beeping. No doubt her list of jobs was as long as his.

Rory grimaced. ‘Yeah, OK, but I’ve got an epidural to do first, so it could be half an hour or so.’

‘No problem. I’m Jodi, by the way. Do you want my phone number?’

‘Just text it to me.’ Rory pressed End. As he approached room two, he heard a moan, followed by a very loud voice.

‘Piss off, would you? You’re not the one who has to squeeze a melon-sized head out of your vag.’

Rory poked his head around the door. The soon-to-be-mother barely looked old enough to drive, let alone take care of a baby. She was wearing a hospital-issue nightie, her lips clamped around a plastic mouthpiece attached to tubing running into a cylinder beside her.

The midwife, who had been peering between the girl’s legs, raised her head. ‘Hooray, it’s the anaesthetist,’ she announced, peeling off her gloves. ‘Doctor MacBride, right?’

‘That’s me. Laughing gas not doing the trick?’

The patient took the mouthpiece out long enough to say ‘It’s fucking useless’, before jamming it back between her lips. Rory heard the familiar rattle of the cylinder as she sucked in the nitrous oxide.

‘Seems like you’re getting plenty of gas.’ He glanced at the weedy guy in the corner, who was tapping on his phone as if waiting for a bus. The boyfriend, Rory figured, although he’d learned never to assume anything.

‘Failure to progress,’ the midwife said. ‘We’re going to hang some syntocinon once you get the epidural in, to see if that helps.’

‘Okey-dokey.’ Rory wheeled a trolley up to the bed. ‘Crystal, I need you to sit with your legs hanging over the bed and your arms up on this tray. You’re going to need to curve your spine like a cat, OK?’

‘That will be . . . impossible,’ Crystal panted, before letting loose with a string of particularly inventive expletives involving her boyfriend and his testicles. Unable to stop his grin escaping this time, Rory cajoled the patient into a seated position with a promise of some really effective pain relief ASAP.

‘Is it morphine?’ Crystal bent over the trolley. ‘I don’t want the baby to get addicted or anything.’

‘Hardly any of this will get through to the baby,’ Rory said. ‘The baby won’t get addicted, don’t worry. Neither will you, because we’re using it for pain.’ After waiting for the next contraction to pass, he injected local anaesthetic between Crystal’s lumbar vertebrae to the tune of ah Jesus, that stings. Next he drew back the syringe, watching the colourless cerebrospinal fluid swirl into the barrel.

‘I can’t feel my legs,’ the girl said, a couple of minutes after he’d injected the local anaesthetic into her epidural space.

‘Perfect.’ Rory nodded at the midwife, and they helped Crystal lie against the pillows. ‘You should feel numb from your waist down.’

The girl stroked her tightening belly. ‘That was a strong one,’ she said, as if she were passing comment on the weather.

‘Awesome job, dude.’ The weedy guy stood up, scratching at his scrubby goatee. ‘Have I got time for a smoke?’

‘No,’ Rory said, and sloped off before the waste-of-space boyfriend could ask any more stupid questions. As tired as he was, after he’d injected the anaesthetic and watched the girl’s whole demeanour change, he’d felt powerful, omnipotent. He’d felt as if he were making a difference.

And, really, wasn’t that all anyone ever wanted?


Rory didn’t help the house surgeon next, not immediately. First he stopped off at the resident medical officers’ lounge, usually called the RMO lounge for short — although the acronym only enticed him to come up with alternatives, such as ‘Really Munted Officers’ and ‘Ratty, Mad and ’Orrid’. There he made a very strong coffee and peered into the thick Nelson night as he swallowed a couple of painkillers. He was going to have one mother of a headache by the time he collapsed into bed, probably after midnight at this rate. He’d been on call since eight that morning.

And miles to go before I sleep. Recalling the Robert Frost line, Rory yawned.

He gulped on his coffee and called the house surgeon. The phone rang four, five, six times. Rory was about to give up when a harried voice came over the line.

‘Hi, it’s Jodi.’

‘Jodi the house surgeon?’ In the distance, an ambulance siren — coming or going, he couldn’t tell.

Her voice lifted. ‘Yes. Is that Rory? The patient’s in Emergency, shall I meet you there?’

‘See you in five.’ Rory dropped the phone into the front pocket of his scrubs and pressed his nose into the window for a moment, breathing in the cool air. Stepping away, he traced an M in the fog of his breath before wiping the glass clear with the back of his hand.

‘Query meningitis,’ he said, before striding onto the landing and slamming the door behind him.

It was ten thirty-seven pm.



Text copyright © Eileen Merriman, 2020

The Silence of Snow Eileen Merriman

When you can't block out the past . . .

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