Home > Dr. Off Limits

Dr. Off Limits
Author: Louise Bay

 

 

One

 

 

Sutton


In just five days’ time, I’d be working at one of the most prestigious hospitals in London, answering to the name I’d worked hard to make mine: Doctor Scott. The thought was very likely to hospitalize me with a panic attack between now and then.

“How are the odds looking?” Parker asked me.

“Not good.” I winced at the tightness of the strap around my chin. I fiddled with the fastenings of my helmet and instantly the harness that I’d just been strapped into started to bite into my thighs. Normally being in the outdoors, in the midst of trees the height of skyscrapers, breathing in air as fresh as it got in London would be a welcome change from studying at my desk. Not today. As I took in the crisscross of wires between the trees and the so-called bridges between them that I was expected to walk along, I decided this kind of change, I could live without. “The likelihood of me having a panic attack just went to ninety-two percent.”

“But we got down to forty yesterday,” Parker said, her tone a teenager who’d been told her curfew was 9pm.

“Yesterday involved an open-top bus, an uber-enthusiastic tour guide with a passion for the fire of London, and mimosas. Today is different territory. In every sense.”

My best friend was well aware of my anxiety when it came to starting at the hospital. She’d witnessed the years I’d spent studying. The long days that ran into longer nights. The nonexistent social life, sacrificed to the study gods. The way I used to send up a tiny prayer that my clients would cancel their haircuts so I could cram in an extra forty-five minutes of study. Over the years, enough of my prayers were answered that I passed each stage of my journey on the way to being a doctor. My new job had been a long time coming, the culmination of every second of hard work I’d put in over the last seven years.

“I thought a ropes course would be the height of distracting,” Parker argued. “Pun intended.”

“Not from my imminent death, it’s not.”

“I suppose I didn’t think about that. You want me to go first?”

I shook my head. I always found it was better not to know how difficult things were about to get or you risked chickening out before even trying. If I’d known what I was going to face studying to become a doctor back when I was cutting hair and discussing people’s holidays six days a week, I would have never filled out that first application form. For many of the years since, it had been beyond hard, but if I’d known how hard it was about to get, there were a thousand times I would have given up. Naivety and blind ambition were a powerful combination.

One of the instructors clipped my harness onto the twisted metal rope and ushered me forward. “Keep moving. There are arrows showing you the direction you’re heading and instructors placed regularly along the route.”

“You all dressed in black in case we fall from fifty meters, die, and you don’t want to look like you’re ready to break out the party tunes?” I asked.

He squinted. “Wow, quite the optimist, aren’t you?”

“Just asking,” I replied.

“We dress in black so we don’t distract anyone with bright colors.”

“Sure,” I said noncommittally.

“And no one has died on this ropes course,” he added.

The elephant on my chest decided to stand and take a stroll. “No deaths” might seem like a low bar for a safety record, but I’d take what I could get.

“Not today anyway.” He gave me a little shove off the platform where we were standing, onto the first “bridge” to the next tree. The so-called bridge was a series of wooden slats spaced about fifty centimeters apart and connected by chains that tinkled in the wind. A more fanciful person might say it sounded like we were in the home of the fairies. I knew it was probably a fake soundtrack played to drown out the sound of screams.

I took a step forward onto the first plank and grabbed the horizontal wires placed either side of my head.

“All those years ago when you first considered training to be a doctor, did you always know you’d get to this point?” Parker asked.

“What, staring into the jaws of death?”

As I took the next step, I realized I was only about a meter above the ground—for now. A broken toe was the most likely scenario if I fell and the safety harness didn’t do its job. I took the next few steps more confidently, and found it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The slats were a comfortable distance apart. We weren’t too high up and things felt pretty sturdy—the same way I might have described my life after getting on my feet again following a rough few years. I had a job, a roof over my head, cereal in the cupboard, and milk in the fridge.

I stepped up onto the next platform and turned as Parker started on the other end of the bridge.

“You okay?” I asked her as she reached me.

“I will be when we’re done here.” She grinned up at me. “But at least you’re thinking about your imminent death rather than starting work.”

“Every cloud has a silver lining,” I said. She knew that I hated that phrase because it was total rubbish. Every cloud didn’t have a silver lining. When a door closed another one didn’t magically open, and I wanted nothing to do with any ill winds. I hated those kinds of platitudes. I liked reality. And reality was that life was hard. And to get anything in this life took hard work, dedication, and sacrifice.

“Okay, onto the next,” I said, following the arrows. “This one looks a little higher but not too bad.” The slats on the next bridge were arranged in a more haphazard way—some crossed, some small, some big. With a little more confidence, I stepped across the bridge and my threatening panic attack receded slightly. That was until I was just about to step up to the platform and the entire bridge started to shake.

I screamed.

Had the metal ropes holding my harness clip fallen down? I turned my head—it was just Parker stepping onto the bridge before I’d finished.

“Is that safe? Us both being on the bridge at one time?” I asked the instructor right in front of me.

He offered his hand and I took it, letting him hoist me up onto the platform. “It’s perfectly safe. A hundred people on this bridge at the same time would be perfectly safe.”

I wasn’t sure a hundred people would fit, but I wasn’t going to be one of a hundred that went on that bridge to find out.

“Next, you need to use that climbing wall to reach the platform above and commando crawl across the net to the next platform.”

I bent my head so I could see where he was pointing. About five meters above us, the next section was not only higher, but you weren’t upright. People were crawling over a rope net, forced to look down. “Who designed this thing? Sadists?”

“Some people like to push themselves,” Parker said, coming up behind me. “Like you. You’re always pushing yourself to do better.”

“The difference is I like to push myself at a desk in front of a computer. There’s no mortality risk involved.” I grabbed onto the pebble-shaped blue plastic holds on the climbing wall and started my ascent.

“Then dinner on Saturday night should be right up your street.”

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