Ms. Stanfield's meteoric rise in the male-dominated field of surgery was recognised last week. Journal's "on the ground" photographer snapped Ms. Stanfield wearing a black suit (left)) and we're left wondering if rather than taking the "Old Boys Club" by storm, she's actually joined it. Rumour has it she's in negotiations with two prestigious hospitals for Chief of Surgery.
Poppy Stanfield's six a.m sip of Saturday coffee turned bitter in her mouth as she read the five line article on the back page of the Perth newspaper. She didn't give a damn about the bitchy comment on her cinch-waisted black suit but how the hell had the gossip columnist found out about the job interviews? One job interview especially; the one she'd very carefully and deliberately kept quiet because it was hard enough being female in this business, let alone having the temerity to want a top job. A top job she was determined to own one way or another which was why she'd applied to Southgate as well as within at Perth City.
And now "one way" was now her only remaining option.
Her disappointed gaze caught sight of the crested envelope from Southgate that had arrived yesterday containing a letter with the words, "unsuccessful candidate". She hadn't read past them because there'd been no point. Poppy Stanfield didn't lose; she just regrouped and planned a new strategy. The problem was that her other strategy had been the Southgate application. It would have been a huge coup to land that job ahead of the Perth City but the interview panel had been hostile from the moment she'd walked in.
The Bampton win had ruffled more than a few feathers in the surgical ranks, and the media attention had been unexpected. The memory of the ditzy and pen-less journalist with hair flying who'd arrived late to interview her, sent a sliver of irritation down her spine. Poppy re-read the article and the bald, incriminating words. Hell, why hadn't she spent more time with the journalist instead of rushing through the interview?
The faint echo of mocking laughter sounded deep down inside her. You spend all your time at work and when have you ever really spent time with anyone?
Her 3G phone chirped loudly making her jump. Given it was six a.m, the call was most likely the hospital needing her for an urgent consult and absolutely nothing to do with this tiny article buried on the back page of the paper. Yes, an emergency consult would be the best scenario. The worst scenario would be-. Stop right there. She refused to contemplate a worst scenario but that said she checked the screen before answering it.
She groaned into her hand. The name of the hospital's executive medical officer and her current boss, blinked at her in inky and unforgiving black. Damage control. Tilting her head back and bringing her chin up, she answered the call with a firm, crisp greeting. 'Hello, William.'
'Poppy.' The Professor spoke her name as if it pained his tongue to roll over the combination of letters. 'I've just seen the paper.'
Show no weakness. 'You must be pleased.' She ignored the vividly clear picture of him in her mind- tight face and stern mouth- the way he always looked when he believed a staff member had let him down. She infused her voice with enthusiasm. 'It was an excellent article about your ground-breaking in-utero surgery.'
'It was, and surprisingly accurate, but that's not the article I'm referring to.'
No way was she admitting to anything so she let the deliberate silence ride, biting her lip not to say a word.
William continued. 'In your thank-you speech at the Bampton awards you said you were committed to Perth City.'
She pushed the Southgate envelope under the paper and out of sight. 'Absolutely. City's given me every opportunity', the words of her speech flowed out smoothly in stark contrast to the reality which had involved her fighting to get into the surgery program, working harder and longer hours than her male counterparts, and ignoring the advice that surgery took beautiful young women and turned them into ugly old ones. She'd stopped thinking of herself as a woman long ago and along the way she'd given up on the dream of marriage and a family of her own. 'Should the board see fit, it would be an honour to serve as the Chief of Surgery.'
His tone bristled with sarcasm which Poppy ignored. 'Yes, indeed, and as I outlined in my interview with the board, I can start immediately and provide a seamless transition period before Gareth leaves for Brisbane.'
'The board's still deliberating on who's the best person for the position.' His voice dripped with disapproval. ' But I'm reassured by your commitment to the hospital, and by knowing how much of an honour you consider it to be working for WA Healthcare Network.'
She let go of a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding. 'Excellent.'
'So it stands to reason that you were the first person we thought of when Bundallagong Hospital requested a visiting surgeon.'
'Excuse me?' Of all the possible things she might have anticipated him saying, that wasn't one of them.
'Bundallagong Hospital,' William repeated the name slowly, a hint of humour skating along the cool steel of his voice as if he was party to a private joke.
Her brain stalled trying to think why the name of the town was vaguely familiar and with a start she frantically flicked the pages of the paper open until she found the weather map. Her gasp of surprise was too quick for her mouth to stifle. 'But that's fifteen hundred kilometres away!'
'Or nine hundred and thirty-two miles which is why they need a visiting surgeon for three months.'
Years of well-honed control started to unravel. 'William, this is ridiculous. Sending me out into the boonies is only going to make the day-to-day running at City even tighter than it is.'
'We've allowed for that.'
Her stomach clenched at his terse tone. 'We've been chasing staff for over a year and what? Now you've just pulled a surgeon out of a hat?'
'One of the east coast applicants will fill your position while you're away.'
The staccato delivery of his words shot down the line like gun-fire and she rocked back as if she'd been hit. The board was deliberately sending her away so they could observe her opposition in action without her being around to counter-act any fall-out. Incandescent fury lit through her. 'And let me guess, that surgeon would be male.'
A sharp intake of breath sounded down the line. 'Poppy, you know I can't disclose information like that. Besides, as you've always pointed out, gender is irrelevant and it's all about expertise.'
He'd used her words against her to suit his own ends.
'Let's just be totally honest shall we, William. You're seriously ticked off that I applied to Southgate and now you're punishing me for doing what any other surgeon in my position would have done.'
'Now you're being irrational which isn't like you at all. Go to Bundallagong, Poppy, do your job and let the board do theirs. My secretary will be in touch about flight details but start packing because you're leaving tomorrow.'
The phone line suddenly buzzed and she realised he'd hung up on her. Blind anger tore through her and she shredded the newspaper, venting unprintable expletives at the journalist, William, the hospital and the system in general. Who the hell was this bloody interloper from the east coast? She had contacts and she'd find out because learning about the enemy was a vital part in the strategy of winning.
But as the final strips of paper floated to the floor, her anger faded almost as fast as it had come and uncharacteristic tears of frustration and devastation pricked the back of her eyes. Suddenly she was whipped back in time to when she was a gangly ten-year-old girl valiantly trying to hold back tears after a drubbing in the first set of a tennis final; one of the few matches her father had actually turned up to watch.
He'd crossed his arms and stared down at her, his expression filled with derision. "Don't be such a girl. Do you think boy's cry? They don't. They just go out there and win."
Shaking her head as if that would get rid of the memory, she stomped into her bedroom and hauled a suitcase out of the wardrobe. If Bundallagong Hospital needed a surgeon then by God, they were getting one and the staff there wouldn't know what hit them. She'd clear the waiting list, reorganise the department, overhaul the budget, meet every target and make William and the board sit up and take notice. Nobody put Poppy Stanfield in a corner.
Doctor Matt Albright was on an island beach. The balmy tropical breeze skimmed over his sun-warmed skin as a book lay face-down on his naked chest, resting in the same position it had been for the last half hour.
'Daddy, watch me!'
He waved to his daughter as she played in the shallow and virtually wave-less water, and then he rolled onto his side toward his wife, who lay next to him reading. At that precise moment he knew his life was perfect in every way.
She glanced up and smiled in her quiet and unassuming way.
He grinned. 'You do realise I've loved you from the moment you hit me with play dough at kinder.'
Her tinkling laughter circled him and he leaned in to kiss her, knowing her mouth as intimately as his own. He reached out to curve his hand around her shoulder, trying to pull her closer, but his fingers closed in on themselves, digging into his palm. He tried again, only this time cupping her cheeks but they vanished the moment he tried to touch them.
He turned toward his daughter's voice and saw her evaporating along with the water that tore all the sand from the beach. Panic bubbled hot and hard in his veins and he sat up fast, hearing the sound of his voice screaming, 'No!'
His eyes flew open into darkness, his heart thundering against his ribs and sweat pouring down his face. His hands gripped something so hard they ached and he realised his fingers dug deep into the edge of the mattress. He wasn't on a beach.
He was in a bed.
Slowly his eyes focused and he recognised the silhouette of his guestroom wardrobe, and he heard the thumping and scratching of the goanna that had at some point in the last few months, without any protest from him, moved into the roof.
Bundallagong. He was in Bundallagong.
He fell back onto the pillow and stared blindly up at the ceiling. His heart rate slowed and the tightness in his chest eased and for one brief and blessed moment he felt nothing at all. Then the ever-present emptiness that the dream had momentarily absorbed, rushed back in. It expanded wide and long, filling every crevice, every cell and tainting every single breath.
Sleep was over. He swung his legs out of bed, walked into the lounge room, stared out into the night, and waited for the dawn.
Women have trail blazed into many previously male dominated areas including medicine, but within medicine, surgery remains one speciality that is under represented by women. I recall hearing an interview with the female neurosurgeon at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne after she led the team to separate the conjoined twins and she spoke of how hard the road had been as a woman in that profession and how some of her superiors had tried to talk her out of neurosurgery. She made many personal sacrifices for her professional career. It was this interview that sparked the idea for 'Career Girl in the Country.'
Matt Albright is in charge of the Emergency department at Bundallagong District hospital and he's barely getting through each day after a shocking personal tragedy. The last thing he needs is a bossy and opinionated surgeon from the city arriving and trying to run his department as well as his own.
But Poppy's sharp angles and hard edges are all a decoy to hide a damaged heart. Can Matt's damaged heart help heal her own?
This is a collage I made which hung in my office while I wrote the story.
The only soft thing about Poppy Stanfield is her name. She's so very close to being made head of surgery at a Perth hospital and finally everything she's worked so hard for is about to come to fruition, but she failed to factor in her wiley boss and suddenly she finds herself in the far north of Western Australia surrounded by gibber plain, heat haze and Goannas that go bump in the night. From the moment she steps off the plane at Bundallagong, she's determined to get back to Perth ASAP.
"CAREER GIRL IN THE CITY is an astounding story with great emotional and sexual tension. It has a fabulous plot, city girl in the Outback. But the sub-plot of how the hero moves pass his grief and embraces life and love again is very beautifully written. It is as much a story about past grieves and second chances as the attraction between Matt and Poppy. The author portrayed the vivid imagery of the Outback so realistically that you feel you are living there!
Fiona Lowe has once again triumphed with CAREER GIRL IN THE CITY, a story set in small communities with big hearts! " Nas Dean
Fiona Lowe has once again triumphed with CAREER GIRL IN THE CITY, a story set in small communities with big hearts!