Buy Yourself Another One (Foraging for food on night shift)

Chapter 27

While getting ready for work I struggle over wearing my hair loose around my shoulders, foregoing the usual scrunchy-bound topknot I wear when I haven’t bothered to wash it.

“Pull it together, jeez,” I reprimand myself. “He’s still married. Don’t set yourself up like this.”

Pulling into the staff parking lot, I look for Corey’s car, but I don’t find it. He may have parked elsewhere, because there are never enough close-in staff parking spaces. I unwrap my stethoscope from around the rear-view mirror, grab my tote from the passenger seat, and breathe deeply to calm my giddiness before entering the hospital.

“Jeez-us, you’re a grown woman. Calm down,” I repeat, but the butterflies in my stomach still flutter.

Corey catches me at the elevator just before I head up to the PICU. He’s holding a little pink bakery box.

“Hey, I brought you a cupcake for your break tonight. I’ll stop by if it’s not too crazy. You’re hair looks nice down.”

I take the box, hoping he sees how happy this makes me before I recover my normal expression and say, “Thank you.”

Corey waits in front of the elevator until the doors close and I am out of sight.

As it turns out, Corey’s gift of a cupcake is prescient.

***

One of the problems of nightshift nurses is foraging for food.

Budget cuts have limited hospital cafeteria hours, leaving nightshift without options besides bringing their food or snacking from vending machines. Occasionally, nurses will send a “runner” to an all night fast food place to pick up dinner for several coworkers, but that only happens if the department can spare the nurse. This was not one of those nights.

In the PICU all Hell broke loose.

The kid in bed two continually seized despite being in a medically induced coma, and no one knew why. This kept Kathy busy with frequent lab draws, adjusting drips, and administering anti-seizure medications, all the while trying to comfort distraught parents, and documenting the frequent changes.

Liz’s hands were full with a post-open heart surgery patient whose blood pressure repeatedly tanked in room five. She also had a second post-open heart patient weaning off of sedation in preparation for extubation from the ventilator in the morning; the short of this being that she had to keep that child from pulling out his breathing tube and IV’s while allowing him to breathe on his own.

And me? I was managing a new onset diabetic admitted on dayshift with a blood sugar of 400. This meant frequent blood draws for lab values, and several changes of IV fluid solutions, lowering the potassium as the insulin drip took effect, and the blood sugar normalized.

This did not prevent me from being up for the next admit, however: a stable neurology patient accompanied from the OR at midnight by his neurosurgeon, Dr. Kearney. The boy had an infected shunt, a surgically implanted device that drains excess cerebral spinal fluid from the ventricles in his brain, caused by a congenital condition. The infected shunt was removed, and a temporary external one now drained CSF through a tube into a buretrol. IV antibiotics were prescribed around the clock. Once the infection healed, the neurosurgeon would replace the implanted shunt with a new one in the OR.

Dr. Kearney sat at the nurses’ desk, calling lab for culture results, and entering orders. I overheard him saying into the phone, “What do you mean I can’t order ‘antibiotics per pharmacy protocol’?” There was a pause. “Well why isn’t there an ‘antibiotics per pharmacy’ protocol?”

Shortly before Dr. Kearney’s arrival, Liz had sat in the same seat at the nurses’ desk in which he now sat. In front of him was a small open bag of potato chips belonging to Liz, which she’d momentarily left unattended to answer an alarm in her patient’s room. She hadn’t had time to pack a dinner, and this bag of potato chips from the vending machine represented the only food she would probably eat tonight.

When she returned to the desk, the bag of chips was empty, and Dr. Kearney brushed the last crumbs from his mouth.

“What happened to my bag of chips?” demanded Liz.

“Oh, were those yours? I thought they were out here for everybody,” Dr. Kearney was unapologetic.

“That was my dinner,” growled Liz. “Now what am I going to eat?”

Dr. Kearny said, “Here,” and tossed a couple of dollar bills into the empty bag on the desk. “Buy yourself another one.” Then he left.

Liz returned to the PICU ranting. “The damn vending machine ate both of Dr. Kearny’s dollar bills without giving me a bag of chips, even after I kicked it!”

Kathy and I shared our food from home with Liz, and I divided Corey’s cupcake three ways.

A Mid-Tone Grey

Chapter 26

With his body wrapped around mine, Corey falls asleep before I do. Outside, the bright morning sun filters through the heavy window drapery, illuminating the bedroom to a mid-tone grey. I watched him sleep, wondering what will happen next.

As if he feels my gaze touching him, Corey wakes with a start, realizes where he is, and then nuzzles my ear and neck with his lips. “Hello, Beautiful. What time is it?”

“Ten, and I haven’t made breakfast yet,” I breathed back. “Is there time?”

“Not now. I work again tonight. You too, right?”

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“I better get going. Do you mind if I take a quick shower first?”

“No that’s fine. Any chance that Sheila’s going to be there when you get home?”

“It’s not likely. She has coffee with her friends after yoga class, but you never know.”

“What will you tell her if she is?”

“I haven’t gotten there yet. I don’t really have anything figured out past this moment, Niki.” He rubs my shoulders, and I want him again.

We make love sweetly. Languorous, I lie in bed listening to the running water while Corey showers. He’s humming.

I watch him put his scrubs back on before getting out of bed and slipping on my old flannel robe. Together we walk to the front door. Corey puts his hands on both sides of my face, and kisses me long and deep.

“You better go.”

“See you tonight Niki.”

Closing the door quickly, I watch him walk up the street to his car from behind the living room curtain.

“Oh lordy, what am I doing?” I’m smiling.

In the kitchen, I throw out the eggs, placing the bowl and whisk in the sink to wash later. I refill my tote bag with its scattered contents collected from the floor and place it back on the table.

Before sliding back into bed, I make sure the alarm is set, and the phone ringer off. There’s a text message from Corey on my cell, “Sweet dreams, Lovely.”

I text him back with an emoticon of a smiley face blowing a kiss.

I sleep better than I have in months. I wake up looking forward to going to work.

He’s Not Here For Omelets (Eggs are broken)

Chapter 25

Corey’s car is in my rear view mirror the entire drive home. For a moment I ask myself, “What are you doing?” but the thought is overcome by that floaty, out-of-body feeling I get sometimes. From here on out, I’m both audience and actor in a disconnected state.

I park in the driveway, but Corey does not pull in next to me. Instead, he parks down the block. It occurs to me that we can no longer be seen alone together outside of the hospital. Sex most certainly does change friendship between men and women.

Instead of entering through the garage as usual, I let Corey and myself in through the front door, conscious that the neighbors may be watching. Then I remember, “I’m divorced.”

Corey breaks the silence. “Nice house.”

“Thank you. It’s rented,” I don’t know why I think it’s important to announce this. “Come on back to the kitchen. I’ll fix breakfast.” I have no idea how to do this.

I put a pan on the stovetop. Then I place a bowl on the counter, and crack a few eggs into it. “What are you doing?” I chide myself. “He’s not here for omelets!”  Despairing, I viciously beat the eggs with a whisk.

Corey rises from the stool and stands behind me. His arms encircle my waist. He places small, warm kisses on the back of my neck. I continue to beat the eggs fiercely, but he presses the length of his body against my back, taking the whisk from my hand, and pushing away the bowl. His hands go up my scrub top, and lightly run across my breasts before unhooking my bra. I turn into Corey, and our mouths connect.

With our bodies locked, we stumble towards the kitchen table. Corey knocks my tote bag off of it. Then I’m lying on my back, with Corey kissing me and our hands are everywhere.

“Where’s your bedroom, Niki?” he murmurs into my ear.

Half naked, I lead him by the hand to the bedroom, where again, I’m struck with doubt. I haven’t been with a man except Simon for years.

Corey slips what’s left of my clothing to the floor, then pauses to take me in. My doubt melts away for the appreciation on his face. He pulls me close. “You’re beautiful Niki,” he whispers in my ear.

I lay on the unmade bed while Corey undresses. He’s perfect: broad shoulders, and a six-pack. I didn’t know they make nurses like him.

Corey slides into bed next to me.

Corey is above me. He kisses the small scar of my c-section. My hands are on his shoulders. Out of nowhere, I think of a dumb thing I read about nurses being the best lovers because we are so knowledgeable of the human body.

“Oh yeah,” I moan agreement towards the ceiling.

 

Follow Me Home (Niki changes her mind)

Chapter 24

Liz and I stop talking about my patient once we enter the elevator.  We leave the hospital, walking to the staff parking lot together.

“Who’s that standing by your car, Niki?”

“I’m not sure. It looks like Corey.”

It is Corey. He sees us.

“Hey Corey,” Liz says. “How was your shift?”

“The usual madness and mayhem of the ER.” He’s acting nonchalant, but I can tell he’s nervous.

“Well, it’s good to see you. Don’t be a stranger. And Niki, I’ll see you again tonight for another shift.” Liz heads off to her car, leaving Corey and I in awkward silence.

“So what’s that goofy expression on your face about, Corey?”

“Good to see you too, Niki. You’re not going to make this easy for me are you?”

“Sorry, Corey. My filters don’t work so good after a twelve-hour night shift. The truth is I’m really hurt that you’ve avoided me the past couple months, and now here you are! What do you want?”

“I’m sorry. I wanted to talk to you sooner. I miss you. Then Gerald told me you and Simon were divorcing, and then I felt like you’d think I was swooping in, and that’s not what I’m doing. I just miss you. I care about you Niki. I really do. That’s all. I’m sorry.”

The sincerity of his expression reveals the  eight-year-old boy in a man’s body. My God, he’s adorable. My rehearsed reserve melts just a little.

“Why does sex always ruin friendship between men and women?”  Groping for something to say, I resorted to cliché.

“We didn’t have sex, remember?” Corey pokes back. “You didn’t want me. That’s what hurt our friendship.”

I think about this for a minute.

“Corey, do you want to have breakfast?”

“Sure. Meet at the diner?”

“No. Follow me home. I’ll cook you breakfast.”

It Makes Me Shudder (When the line between victim & perpetrator blurs)

 Chapter 23

 The police officer stands silently in the doorway of my patient’s room, watching as I listen to her chest with my stethoscope. Her breath sounds are clear and equal on both sides. Next, I check the tube threaded through her nose into her stomach. It’s draining dark green fluid into a suction canister fastened to the wall. I measure the amount of fluid in the canister and record that number in the electronic chart. I feel her pulses. They’re strong, and easy to find, coinciding with the numeric value for her heart rate on the monitor overhead.

When I’ve finished the assessment, the officer speaks. “I don’t know how you nurses do it. I couldn’t work with hurt kids. It would break my heart everyday.”

“I don’t know, I guess I think of it more as helping,” I offer. “I couldn’t be first on the scene like you police officers. I mean, putting yourself in lethal danger in order to protect the nameless public takes more heroism than I could muster.”

“I guess we just sort of pick the kind of work we’re able to do, then. By the way, my name is Mike.”

“Hi Mike, I’m Niki. I’d shake your hand, but I need to wash it first, after I take off the glove.  I don’t want to be rude, but I’m pretty cautious about spreading germs.”

“Understood. Thanks for the information.” Mike has a cute smile, and gentle eyes. “Well, I gotta go and see if the detective has any new information for me. If she’s cleared for now, is it okay if I send the mother in to see her kid?”

“Sure.”

“Well, Nurse Niki, if you have any questions about the case, or information for that matter, feel free to give me a call. Here’s my business card.”

I watch Officer Mike leave the PICU, holding his card in my hand. He seems like a nice guy. Maybe in a few weeks I will call him. Maybe it’s time I stop wearing my wedding ring on my right hand and take it off altogether. I put his card in the pocket of my jacket.

Half an hour later, my patient’s mother enters the PICU. She’s young, early twenties. She’s wearing grey sweats that hang from her slim hips over a pair of black plastic flip-flops. A blue and black hoodie drapes over her ribbed white tank top, revealing an equally skinny torso.  She looks like she doesn’t get enough to eat, but her acrylic nails sport elaborate nail art. She’s wearing huge gold hoops in her ears too. ‘Go large or go home,’ comes to mind.

Mariella, our social worker, accompanies her, and introduces me to the mother, who looks me up and down suspiciously before noticing her unconscious daughter on the hospital bed with all the tubes connected to her. She starts to cry. This is the cue I depend upon in order to form some sort of therapeutic bond with parents of abused children until who hurt the child? is established.

I drag a lounger from the other corner of the room to the child’s bedside, and Mariella settles the mom into it, and then fetches a cup of coffee, and a blanket from the PICU’s warmer. She wraps the blanket around the mom’s shoulders, before handing her her card, and leaves the unit.

An awkward silence fills the room.

“So. Do you have any questions?” I begin.

“How long is she going to be in the hospital?”

“We don’t know that yet. Hopefully, she’ll come off the breathing machine sometime tomorrow. She’ll probably stay another night here, then be transferred to the regular pediatric unit, and spend some days there too. She’ll go home when there’s no bleeding and the surgeon lets her up out of bed.” I avoided adding, “Unless social services removes her to their custody.”

“Why would she bleed? I thought the surgeon fixed her?” She eyes me suspiciously again.

“She repaired your daughter’s liver, that’s right, but a lot of the body’s blood travels through the liver. There’s always a chance that the wounds will still bleed. She could lose a lot of blood again if that happens. We’re watching her closely to prevent that. That’s what all of these machines are helping us do.”

“Oh.”

In my experience, parents involved in their child’s abuse take one of two stances with nurses: They are either angry and argumentative, or they campaign to win our sympathy. This mom chose the latter.

“He didn’t kick her, you know. He works hard, and when he comes home he expects things to be in order. Sasha isn’t a good girl. She doesn’t do what she’s told. I have to get on her all the time. She lies too. I don’t know why they think he kicked her. Maybe she’s got cancer and it’s making her bleed.”

“Sasha doesn’t have cancer. The doctors can see that with all the tests, and during the surgery too. He’s not Sasha’s father, right?”

“Naw. He left before Sasha born. He was no good.”

I fall silent taking in this information.

“Has he hurt you or Sasha before?” I know I’m going to have to chart her answer.

“He’s only mad when we deserve it. He don’t hit when we do what we should.”

“Have you ever thought that you and your daughter deserve to be safe in your home? That a man shouldn’t hit a woman or child, ever?”

“You got a man, Nurse? You know how hard to raise a child alone is?”

A sudden realization slapped me in the face: This woman and I are both single mothers, wanting to have relationships with men who are not the father of our children. I could be her. The thought chilled me.

We didn’t talk much the rest of the shift. In the morning, Mariella returned with a female police officer. They escorted the mother out of the PICU. Soon afterwards, Mariella returned.

“They’re taking her down to the station. The boyfriend is saying she kicked the girl. He says he tried to stop her.  We’re hoping she’ll file a report against him with the details of the assault, so he can be charged.”

“You might want to know,” she added, “The mom is known to us. We have an open file on her. Sasha was the result of rape by her mother’s boyfriend. And our boyfriend, we’ve seen him before too, when his father was arrested for breaking his arm.”

I can’t believe Mariella earned a Master’s degree to do this kind of work. I think her job is more difficult than mine.

Later, I talk to Liz about it. “I hate when the lines between victim and abuser are blurred like this. I don’t understand how a mother wouldn’t choose a better life for herself, and especially for her child.”

“You’re new at being a single mother Niki,” she said. “You’d be surprised how lonely it can be out there.”

Something about the way Liz says it makes me shudder.

I know I won’t be giving Officer Mike a call anytime soon, either.