I’ve given report on Nathan to the nightshift nurse relieving who’s me. He’s had a central venous line, an arterial line and an intercranial monitoring device inserted. He’s heavily sedated. I watch his vital signs normalize on the monitor above his bed while I finish cleaning the blood off of his face. I gently comb his hair as best I can. Liz is in the waiting room; she hasn’t seen her son yet. She must be out of her mind with fear for him. Hopefully my interventions will make seeing him like this for the first time just a little less shocking.
Quinn, the nightshift nurse, completes her assessment of Nathan’s vital signs, pulses, and infusions. “Okay, Niki, I’m ready for you to bring in Liz.”
I notice Quinn placing a box of Kleenex on the bedside table.
A social worker from the emergency department sits beside Liz in the waiting room. Liz has been crying, but when I go to her an hug her she’s stoic with shock. She feels utterly fragile in my arms, and I start to cry.
“It’s going to be okay Liz,” I blubber. We both know it’s untrue. Nothing’s going to be the same.
In Nathan’s room, Liz goes to his bedside, and holds the fingers of one his hands. I notice a bit of dried blood I missed between his thumb and index finger, and curse myself. Liz knows he’s been sedated unconscious, but like every parent of a child admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit, she quietly calls his name. “Mommy’s here, Nathan,” she says, looking at the monitor for a blip in his heart rate or breathing that might indicate he hears her, and knows she’s with him.
There is no blip.
“Frank is not going to be able to handle this,” she says.
“Why don’t I call a social worker to be here with you when he arrives?” I suggest.
“Sure, why not,” Liz agrees with a faraway look in her eyes, and then, “Nothing is going help with Frank.”
A shiver of fear travels down my spine.