For the third night in a row, I returned to the PICU. Shortly after shift report, the father of the child I told how to ask for pain meds for his kid walks in carrying three large boxes of pizzas. He sets them in front of me, on top of the nurses’ desk.
“My wife and I want to thank you PICU nurses for the extraordinary care our daughter received while she was a patient in this unit, and we are treating you to a pizza dinner.” He looked at me.
“So how is your daughter doing tonight?” I ventured.
“Great!” Her surgeon talked to us by phone. He wanted to make sure her pain medications kept her comfortable. We really appreciate his concern for her well being. She had a very good day, and we’re going home tomorrow.”
“That’s great news,” I told him. “Thanks for the update, and the pizzas.”
“It’s our pleasure,” he replied. “Enjoy!”
After he left, Liz looks at me quizzically, but only says, “Well Niki, you certainly excel at the ‘concierge service’ the hospital keeps pushing on us. Obviously that family thinks you’re the bomb. Way to score pizza! Thanks!”
At breakfast the next morning I swear Corey to secrecy, and tell him about Dr. Eubanks, the dad, and the pizzas. It was two of us, because Liz had to take her mother to a doctor’s appointment.
“That’s awesome, Niki. Way to advocate for your patient. I’m tired of being told to ‘manage up’ without a way to honestly speak up when I see something wrong. What administrator’s going to support a nurse’s concern about an under medicated patient over a surgeon’s insistence that his patients don’t need it? Nurses are hospital employees, and in most cases, doctors are not.”
“I think nurses could push on an issue like this in nurse council, but it takes forever to change hospital policy. My patients can’t wait that long for help. It’s a problem.”
“Amen,” agrees Corey.
The server brings Corey’s breakfast. I only ordered coffee because of the pizza I ate last night, but Corey’s ordered bacon, eggs, hash browns, and his usual beer. The bacon smells so good, and Corey notices me eyeing his.
“Go ahead Niki, have a piece.”
“Oh no. I ate all that pizza last night. I don’t need any more calories. Plus it’s your breakfast.”
“No, really have some,” he insists, placing a couple strips of bacon on my plate with his fork.
Corey watches me eat the bacon. It tastes heavenly. I love bacon.
A smile breaks across his dimpled face, making him adorable. I smile back.
“So, Niki, maybe it’s none of my business, but last time we had breakfast with the gang, it sounded like maybe there’s trouble at home.”
“Oh I don’t know… No, that’s not true. Maybe I expect too much from Simon. I mean he’s a good man, and an affectionate father. He was out of work for a while, but now he’s teaching again. You’d think that would get us back on track, but when he tells me about his day, like normal people do, I try to be sympathetic, but I’m thinking, “When I have a bad day at work, somebody’s child died.” He doesn’t understand why I can’t let my work go when I get home, like he does. How about you Corey? You didn’t say much about your marriage.
“My wife, Sheila, is beautiful. When I met her, she was a high-powered realtor selling spectacular homes for the wealthy. She was so girly, you know: blonde hair, pumps, always wore dresses. I fell hard.
I think I’m a big disappointment to her. I know she doesn’t consider three 12-hour nights shifts a week in a trauma center full time employment. She actually says that out loud,
‘You know, Corey, it’s not like you work five days a week like my friends’ husbands. They don’t sleep all day either.’”
“When the bottom fell out of the real estate market, Sheila went on hiatus. She’s home with the kids while I work, “single mothering it,’ as she calls it. On my days off I get the girls ready for school, drop them off, pick them up, shuttle them to and from dance classes, and then start dinner. Sheila leaves the house early in the morning for a full day of Pilates, a pedicure, her book club or shopping, and then happy hour with her girlfriends, but not before making a ‘honey do’ list of repairs around the house for me. Occasionally she texts me something she forgot. It’s pretty clear she doesn’t respect nursing as a career for a man.”
“Corey, I’m sorry. Your wife should spend a night watching you work in the ER. A lot of people are alive because you’re a great nurse.”
“Sheila would never willingly enter a hospital. She doesn’t want to know about the ‘blood and guts’ of my job. When I try to explain it to her, she tells me it’s not an appropriate conversation for our daughters to overhear.
“So, I pick up as much overtime as I can handle. I don’t know if it’s for the extra money, or to avoid being home anymore, but I get a lot of satisfaction from nursing. I’m part of a team there. It’s like I matter to something larger than myself.”
Corey and I have a silent moment of eye contact. He reaches across the table and touches my hand.