Not a Morning Person (Niki Starts Dayshift)

Chapter 54

I am not a morning person.

The alarm of my cell phone rings loudly while the device vibrates maniacally against the top of the nightstand. Trying to silence it, I accidentally knock it to the floor where it continues to thrash. I get up and turn the damn thing off, replacing it on the nightstand. Padding to the kitchen I hit the start button of the coffee maker, filled the night before. I take a shower while it brews.

Transferring to day shift during the middle of winter was a bad idea. I wake up in the dark, drive to work in the dark, and then drive back home after a twelve-hour shift, in the dark. The PICU lacks windows, so on a three-day stretch I only have the vaguest idea of the weather outside, other than IT’S DARK.

I transferred to days to be home more with Maddie, and it’s working. Her grades have improved. She’s getting along better with Amber and Wade too, now that she’s home at night during the week, and only spends every other weekend with them and Simon.

Together we plan the grocery list, and in the evenings Maddie helps make dinner. Instead of eating in the dining room where Simon’s chair is conspicuously empty, we eat casually at the coffee table, watching a movie or TV. Some nights Maddie is quiet, but others she talks throughout evening about her friends, school, and her perspectives on life. I’m happy that we’re growing closer again, even if it means getting up in the dark.

I make sure Maddie’s up and getting ready for school before I leave.

“Bye Mom. I hope you have a good shift.”

“Thanks, Sweetie. You have a good day too. Don’t forget your lunch and homework.”

“I won’t Mom. You say that every time.”

“Love you Maddie.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

 

* * *

The challenges of day shift nursing differ from those of night shift.

For one thing, the residents arrive early to place orders. When they can’t locate what they want in the electronic medical record, they go ahead and order them wrong, and then we have to call them to change it, but they still don’t get it right. Eventually we put it in ourselves, and then the pharmacist calls nursing to say the medication can’t be ordered that way either. If the pharmacist is particularly nice, he calls the resident himself and gets the order corrected. So much for physician order entry.

There’s more friends and family members at the patient’s bedside on day shift too. At first it felt as though they were in the way, but lately I find I enjoy talking to them, explaining what I’m doing, and what they should expect. I like teaching so much in fact, I’ve volunteered to precept nursing students during my shifts.

Today as I enter the unit, I’m greeted by the day shift charge nurse, Margaux. “Niki, we’re overstaffed today in PICU. It’s your turn to float to pediatrics.”

 

Night Shift’s Dirty Little Secret (Niki comes to a realization)

Chapter 53

 If you ask night shift nurses they will tell you the truth: There are times we don’t remember driving home from work. It’ s not a case of being asleep behind the wheel. It’s more like getting into a zone or trance-like state. It’s night shift’s dirty little secret.

For me, the way it happens is I get into my car, drive out of the hospital parking lot, and the next thing I know I’m pulling into my driveway. It’s eerie. I’ll if remember the drive if another driver cuts me off or something like that. I’ve never run a red light. I’d know this, because California drivers are fast on their horns.  The slightest traffic infraction or lingering at a green light for more than a second will trigger the blare of a horn or a shouted expletive from another driver. That would get my attention. It’s like conscious sedation.

Some night shift nurses nap in their cars in the hospital parking lot before driving home. I never have. Instead, I’ll turn up the radio and if the weather’s good, roll down a window for fresh air.

This morning though, the weather’s not so good. It’s chilly, so I leave the windows rolled up. I turn on the radio, start the car, and drive home.

In my drive way, I use the remote to open the garage door and park the car inside. I turn off the radio, and then close my eyes for just a minute before going inside.

“Wake up! Wake up!”

The sound of someone pounding on the car’s windows wakes me abruptly. Through the glass I hear muffled voices:

“Tom, what if she’s trying to kill herself?”

“Well, if she is, she’s not very good at it!”

“Wake up!”

Oh God, it’s my elderly neighbors, Tom and Vera. I’ve fallen asleep in my car and the engine’s still running! Oh God!

Now that I’m awake, Tom puts his arm around Vera, who’s standing on the driver’s side of my car. Concern draws deep lines to their already wrinkled faces. I turn off the engine, and roll down the window.

“Niki, are you all right? Tom, call 911.” directs Vera

“911 don’t come out if no ones hurt, Vera. Are you hurt? Tom sticks his head partially through the open window, further assessing my condition. “You haven’t been drinking have you?”

“No! I worked last night. I’m fine. I just fell asleep in my car. I’m sorry I frightened you.”

“The garage door was open, and your car was running. I got Tom, and we found you slumped over the steering wheel. We thought you hit your head or something,” explained Vera, still visibly shaken.

“You were drooling,” comments Tom.

Note: All night shift nurses drool when we fall asleep. Try staying awake while rocking a baby in a bedside chair in a dark patient room during a twelve-hour shift on a slow night. Welcome to pediatric and neonatal nursing.

“No, I’m fine really. I’m sorry I worried you. Thank you for checking on me.”

I am so embarrassed.

Tom and Vera walk slowly across the lawn to their home. I gather my tote and enter my house as the garage door closes behind me.

As if scaring my neighbors isn’t bad enough, Maddie’s algebra book glares at me accusingly from the kitchen counter. She forgot it there when I took her to Simon and Amber’s house yesterday. I hope she didn’t need it.

It’s time to move to day shift.

Their Pounding Hearts (parenthood is hard)

 

Chapter 52

“Maddie certainly is your daughter, Niki. The family resemblance is startling,” laughs Gerald when I tell him and Liz about Maddie’s pranks.

“Gerald, are you calling me a smart ass?”

“Uh, yeah.

“Amber should lighten up a little,” says Liz. “I’d give anything if Nathan pulled simple hijinks like that instead of staying out all night, and skipping school. Amber has no idea how difficult a teenager can become.”

“How is Nathan?” I ask.

“He was suspended for smoking on campus again. When his locker was inspected, they found some pot. He’s missed so much school this year I’m afraid he will have to repeat his junior year unless I can get him into summer school. He used to be such a good student, a good boy. I can’t find a way to reach him.”

“Is his dad any help?” asks Gerald.

“Frank? No Frank’s part of Nathan’s problems. He’s an alcoholic. Our marriage was pretty bad. It took me a long time to learn that I couldn’t save him from his drinking. Or that it wasn’t my fault he hit me. Nathan got between us once, and Frank hit him really hard. That was when I finally realized we needed to leave. I thought I was helping Nathan by keeping our family intact, but I stayed too long.”

“That’s a hard decision to make sometimes, Liz. I’m sure Nathan will have more understanding when he gets older,” I volunteer.

“I can only hope. His behavior is so reckless, I fear for him. Every time we admit a trauma from the ED, my heart pounds with dread, wondering if it’s Nathan.”

I give Liz a hug, and Gerald pats her shoulder.

“Have you considered taking Kris’s day shift position, Liz? Would that help things at home?”

“It wouldn’t help. I’ve lost control. Nathan walks in and out as he pleases. I can’t afford to lose the night shift differential either. Money’s tight on a single income.”

Something about Liz’s words gives me goose flesh.

* * *

We get two admits from the ED. The first is an eight-year-old new onset Type 1 diabetic. He’s admitted with a blood sugar of 550, and semi-comatose. Dr. Polk intubates him, and we start IV fluids and an insulin drip, drawing blood sugars hourly.

His parents are devastated by the news that their child needs daily blood sugar monitoring, and insulin shots. Then Dr. James, the pediatric endocrinologist arrives. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night a new diabetic is admitted to our PICU; Dr. James shows up and spends as much time as needed to explain to the parents that their child’s diabetes is manageable. He cheers them up with stories of athletes and celebrities who are diabetics. He’s so kind and gentle. I love standing in the room watching the parents’ anxiety come under control while he teaches. He is passionate about his practice, and my favorite physician.

The second admit is a six month old with a respiratory infection. After failing to respond to Gerald’s inhalation treatments and chest percussion, he buys an intubation tube and ventilator. His mother sleeps in the cot by his crib, finally able to rest after hours of worry about her baby.

It’s three in the morning before I sit down to eat the sandwich I brought from home  while catching up on my charting at the nurses’ desk.

I Hate This, All of It (Maddie Talks to Niki)

Chapter 51

“Maddie, open the door.”

“Go away!”

“Maddie, I know you’re upset, but we need to talk.”

“I don’t want to talk. I hate you! And Amber, and Dad too!”

“Maddie, I’ve heard Amber’s side of the story, now I want to hear yours. Please open the door and talk to me. 
”

I stand at Maddie’s bedroom door not hearing a sound. I’m about to knock again when I hear footsteps. The door opens revealing Maddie’s face, reddened and damp with tears.

“Can I come in?” I ask.

Wordlessly, Maddie steps away from the door, allowing me entrance. We face each other awkwardly before I give her a hug.

“So what’s going on? Amber says you’ve been picking on Wade. I thought you loved having a little brother.”

Maddie remains silent.

“I have to admit picking out all the marshmallows from the box of cereal was clever.”

Maddie cracks a smile, and we both start laughing. “You should’ve seen his face, Mom. He kept turning the cereal box upside down and shaking it, looking for the marshmallows.”

Still laughing, I work the conversation. “It is funny, but was it still funny after Wade found out you tricked him?”

Maddie stopped laughing. Her eyes squinted at the memory. “He made a face at me, and then ran into his room.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“Kind of bad. He used to look up to me. He trusted me.”

Putting my arm around Maddie’s shoulders, I guided her to her unmade bed where we sat down. “What’s this all about Maddie? What’s bothering you?”

“Ever since you and Dad got divorced, my life has changed.”

“The divorce changed all of our lives Maddie. It isn’t easy for any of us.”

“Yeah, but you and Dad got to choose. Nobody asked me what I wanted. Now Dad’s married to Amber, and she expects me to do all kinds of stuff around the house, like keeping track of Wade while her and Dad spend time together. At first I thought Amber thought I was grown up, but now I know she just wants me to stop being a kid and take care of things for her. I didn’t sign up for that. I’m still a kid.”

“I’m sorry Maddie. I didn’t know this was happening. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you’re always at work. If you’re not at work, you’re sitting around drinking tea and listening to music. I don’t think you want to hear about Dad and Amber anyway. I feel like I have to pick. And you know what, it’s not easy always having to pack my stuff back and forth between your house and theirs. Sometimes I forget my homework at the wrong house, and I get in trouble for it at school. I hate this, all of it.”

How did I not know how hard this has been for Maddie? I’ve been way too distracted with my life, and it’s hurt my daughter. I need to get my priorities straight.

“Maddie, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you felt this way. I’m glad you told me. I see I need to make some changes around here. I’m going to make things better for you, I promise.”

Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons & Green Clovers (Maddie Acts Out)

Chapter 50

Simon and Amber were married. The baby is due soon. Maddie is silent regarding updates about the birth, however. Shortly after the wedding, she stopped talking about home life with her father. I know something’s brewing.

Kris married Spider Rodrigo, and left the PICU to tour with Kushion. Her day shift position is open. I wonder if I should take it? I’d miss my friends on night shift, and I don’t know if I want to deal with the doctors, phone calls and busy-ness of day shift. The idea of a normal sleep cycle is appealing.

*  *  *

I’m finishing the housework, and thinking about dinner when Simon’s car pulls into the driveway. Before he can set the parking brake, Maddie ejects herself from the passenger seat, leaving the car door open. She’s obviously upset as she bursts through the front door. Simultaneously, the phone rings. Maddie yells, “I don’t want to talk to her! Tell her I don’t want to talk about it!” while running into her room, and slamming the door behind her.

I put down the vacuum cleaner and pick up the ringing phone. From the living room window I watch Simon back out of the driveway and drive away.

Hmmm.

“Hello?”

“Niki, it’s Amber. Put Maddie on. I want to talk to her.”

Hmmm.

“Amber, hi. Maddie, uh, doesn’t want to talk to you right now. She’s pretty upset. What happened?”

“I want to talk to Maddie.”

“That’s not going to happen Amber. Tell me what happened.”

“Your daughter is bullying Wade.”

Your daughter? Hmmm.

“I’m surprised to hear that. Maddie thinks the world of Wade. She calls him her little brother.”

“Well things have changed since Simon and I got married. Maddie’s become a stranger. She won’t talk about the new baby, and she’s picking on Wade. This last time is too much.”

“What did she do?”

“Two things, really. First, last night at dinner while Simon and I are talking, Wade throws up milk all over the table. I took him to the bathroom to clean him up and take his temperature, and he tells me he drank an entire quart of milk in one sitting. I asked him why. He said Maddie made him do it.”

“How did Maddie make him drink an entire quart of milk at the dinner table in front of you and Simon without your knowing it?”

I’m starting to wonder about Amber. And Simon.

“Well, I asked Maddie that. She said she dared him to do it, one glass of milk at a time.”

“What?”

“She pretended she was racing him. She poured herself the last glass of milk from another carton, and then poured Wade a glass from a fresh carton. She dared him to finish his glass of milk before she finished hers. So he did. Then Maddie told him, “I bet you can’t do it again,” so he did it again, and again, until he drank the entire quart. Then he threw up.”

I composed myself to keep from laughing. “Amber, I’m sorry. How old is Wade again?”

“He just turned five.”

“Well, he’s no rocket scientist,” I think to myself, but of course, that doesn’t excuse Maddie torturing the boy.

“What else did Maddie do to Wade?”

“This afternoon she took a brand new box of Lucky Charms cereal, emptied it, and picked out every last marshmallow charm, all the pink hearts, yellow moons, and green clovers. She ate them, and then put the oat cereal back in the box, and sealed it again. When Wade came home he wanted a bowl of cereal and cried because there were no marshmallow charms. Maddie told him the cereal company was to blame. She helped him write a letter to complain. I found out when he asked me to mail the letter. Maddie has to stop picking on Wade.”

Now I’m thinking my daughter is a comedic genius, but I’m going to have to teach her to use her power for good and not evil.

“Amber, I see why you’re upset, but isn’t this just normal sibling behavior? Maddie’s been through a lot of changes lately. Maybe she’s regressed a little bit.”

“I won’t have this behavior in my home! Your daughter is a bully. No wonder Simon left you.”

Okay, she’s pregnant. Allow the woman some slack.

“Look Amber, I’ll talk to Maddie. For all of our sakes though I think it’s best if you leave Simon’s and my marriage out of this.”

“Do something about your daughter!”

I’m left holding the phone after Amber slams hers down on the other end of the line.

At The Raleigh (Niki & Gerald Go Out for Drinks)

Chapter 49

In an upscale restaurant overlooking Santa Monica Bay, I’m standing behind a long table. Every seat is filled with PICU nurses, and staff from other departments celebrating Kris’s bridal shower. Above the chatter and laughter, Kris holds up a scanty piece of lacy lingerie, a gift inciting a round of cell phone photos from the group.

Gerald sidled next to me, “Hey girlfriend, you’ve been working that same drink for an hour. Can I bring you something fresh?”

I smile at his thoughtfulness, “No thanks, this is fine.”

“How are you holding up, Niki? I’m worried about you.”

“Huh? I’m fine. Why are you worried about me?”

“I’m thinking how you might feel: Kris is getting married, your ex-husband is getting married. And Corey moved to Seattle with his family. You know.”

I didn’t know Gerald knew.

“You knew about me and Corey?”

“It was pretty obvious, especially when our group beer breakfasts ended.”

“I’m sorry Gerald. I haven’t been a very good friend lately, especially to you and Liz. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry Niki. I’m thinking you’re the one who needs friends now.”

Liz joins us. She’s carrying her purse.

“Leave it to Kris to live large,” remarks Liz. “I wish I was as fearless about life.”

“Why do you assume that quitting your job, and marrying a rock star to take care of his mother on tour is a risk?” asks Gerald.

The three of us pause to think about it, and then bust out laughing.

“So Niki, when’s Simon getting remarried?” asks Liz.

“Next week.”

“How are you doing? Does it feel weird?”

“A little. Maddie’s so excited about it. Amber took her shopping for a dress, and I realized she has a stepmother now. I’m trying to see it as a positive, you know, like another adult caring about my daughter’s welfare, but sometimes I think  Maddie’s comparing us.”

“You’ll always be her mother, Niki. Nothing will ever change that,” says Liz.

“I know.”

Someone pops a bottle of champagne, while Kris cuts pieces of cake passed around to the guests. A server brings the check. I notice Dr. Polk takes it and places his credit card into the leatherette folder without looking over the bill.

“You leaving Liz?”

“Yeah. I gotta get home, and check Nathan.”

“I was just telling Niki that the three of us should go out this weekend. Have drinks, some fun, and get our group back together. Are you in Liz?”

“I’d love too, but Nathan’s grounded, which means I am too. He’s been in some trouble lately, so I’m staying close to home.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Anything I can do to help?”

“No,” says Liz, “but thanks for offering.”

“Well Niki, it looks like it’s you and me. Do you like cabaret?”

“I don’t know.”

“Meet me at the Raleigh on Saturday night, and let’s find out. Prepare for a good time.”

* * *

At the Raleigh, I hand my car key to a valet, grateful I don’t have to search for parking. Gerald’s at the club’s entrance, wearing a black v-necked tee, designer jeans, a grey sports jacket slung over one shoulder. His hair and light beard are neatly groomed. He smells nice when I hug him. I’m glad I decided to wear a little black dress, and pumps.

“Gerald, you clean up real nice!” I kissed his cheek.

“You too darling. I don’t know how toned your legs are when I only see you in scrubs. Love the heels.”

Gerald holds the door, and then takes me by the elbow, guiding us to a small table near the stage. A server in black slacks, and bow tie, but otherwise shirtless, instantly sets a scotch rocks in front of Gerald, and then waits for my order. “I’ll have a gin and tonic please.”

“Put it on my tab,” says Gerald, handing the server a bill, which he tucks into the waistband of his pants before walking away.

“I’ve never been to a male strip club,” I admit. “Or a female strip club either, for that matter”

“There’s a first time for everything,” laughs Gerald. “I think you’re going to have fun.”

Looking around, I agree. The dimly lit lounge is spacious. Couples and foursomes of men and women occupy the small tables surrounding the stage. Beyond the tables the bar is bustling and a small wooden dance floor already teems with people dancing to the heavy beat of music. Others stand around with drinks in hand, talking. In the far back a large group of women appear to be celebrating a birthday: gift wrapped packages and bottles of wine in velvet bags are piled in front of one of them.

The server returns with my drink, and places a small plate of cheeses, sliced meats, and bruschetta on the table. I notice there’s glitter on his chest.

“On the house,” he says.

“Tell Rubio, thanks,” instructs Gerald.

“You know the owner?”

“Yes. That’s how we scored a reservation for this table.”

“Very cool.”

The rest of the evening is almost a blur. The entertainers performed individually and then in groups. Our server keeps bringing us drinks. Buzzed, Gerald points out that if I look towards the stage through the bottom of his empty glass, “Things will appear larger.”

Laughing and nearly as buzzed, I wonder out loud, “What does it mean if you and I find the same dancers attractive, Gerald?”

“Does it matter?”

“No, it doesn’t matter at all.”

You Remember What Night Shift’s Like (Niki & Kris Talk)

Chapter 48

 The following morning, I gave report to Kris, beginning with what I hoped she would interpret as an apology,

“Kris, I just want to say again that I’m really happy about your engagement. You must be super excited about going on tour with Spider.”

She smiled, and then added shrewdly, “Thanks Niki, but I get the feeling you have more to say on the subject.”

Busted, I decided to charge ahead,  “Aren’t you at all worried about giving up your nursing job? I mean you’re really a great PICU nurse. Do you think you’ll miss it?”

“What you mean is, ‘Aren’t you worried that marrying a rock star is a little crazy, and what if the marriage doesn’t work’?” replied Kris. “That’s the fun of being alive, isn’t it Niki? A willingness to be surprised. Letting go of things so you can go to the next adventure. I’ve tried many things in my life, and lived in most of the United States. Not everything has worked out, but I’m still standing, no worse for wear. I’m not the kind of person to put down roots for too long anyway.”

Maybe because I’ve been up all night, or maybe because I won’t see Kris much more, I let my guard down, “Do you ever worry that in the end you’ll be all alone?”

Kris’s upper lip begins to curl into laughter, but meeting my gaze, she changes her mind. “You mean, like when you die?”

“Maybe, I’m not sure what I mean exactly, but sometimes I wonder what the right choices for my life are; if I’m doing the things I’m supposed to do, or if I’m missing the point.”

My words don’t make a lot of sense, even to me. “I guess I worry a little that it will end, and I haven’t lived the life I want, or maybe I’m not living life right.”

“I’m not sure what you mean. Right by who’s standard, Niki? Like God? Like the life your parents wanted you to choose? Who’s standard of what’s right or wrong are you judging yourself by?”

I realize I’ve said more than I’d intended. “I’m just tired Kris. You remember what night shift’s like.”

Kris looks at me brightly, and then her eyes soften. “It’s hard being a nurse, taking care of everyone all the time, feeling as though you always have to have all the answers,” she says. “Don’t over think things, Niki. It doesn’t take much to wreck the best-laid plans: a car accident, a cancer diagnosis, or a debilitating disease. Try having more fun, and let go of some the responsibility for healing the world. Have you thought about transferring to day shift? Someone has to take my place. It might open up more of a social life for you.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’d like day shift,” I hedge. “Too many phones, the doctors overrun the place on day shift.  I’d be expected to join committees.”

“Suit yourself, it was just a thought,” retorts Kris. “So tell me about this kid. Another case of measles? How many does that make this year?”

Rashes & Fevers (measles admission)

Chapter 47

Once I clock in, there isn’t time to contemplate Kris’s engagement, Simon’s remarriage, Amber’s pregnancy, or Corey’s move to Seattle with his family. As charge nurse, I took the call from an ER nurse requesting three beds for immediate admissions.

“Three beds? What’s happening down there? Was there a bus accident?”

“No, but maybe as bad. We’ve got three kids from two different families with fevers and red rashes. It’s measles. We’re coding a three year-old now”

Ten minutes later the ER nurse calls back with an update, “The three year-old’s stabilized, but maybe not for long. He’s intubated. We’re transferring him to you guys now. We’ll get back to you about the other two.”

While Gerald sets up a ventilator for the three year-old, Liz helps me take vital signs, and change the IV fluids to our pumps. “I really hate seeing a child suffer when this could be prevented by immunization,” she comments. “Why have so many parents lost trust in science and medicine? If you mention vaccinations to some, they react like you want to poison their child.”

“I think measles, pertussis, and polio decreased so much from recent memory that today’s parents don’t believe there’s a threat. I’ve heard some say, ‘Gosh, what’s the big deal about a fever and rash?’ or, ‘We have antibiotics now, so these diseases aren’t as serious as they were in the old days.’

“Yeah, everyone thinks childhood diseases are a thing from Little House on The Prairie,” added Liz.

“Yeah, well measles killed a daughter of Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory in the sixties, before the vaccination was readily available,” I agree.

Once Gerald finishes setting up the ventilator, he joins the conversation, “I remember the first kid with measles I saw in the PICU. That time, the ER nurse reported they had a kid with a high fever, and unidentified red rash. No one knew what it was. So we wore respiratory masks, and isolation gowns, which was a good thing after infectious disease diagnosed measles. None of us had ever seen it.”

” I was sure grateful the hospital makes us have updated MMR immunizations. It’s supposed to protect the patients, but they protect us too,” said Liz.

A fever and rash don’t sound particularly lethal, but what is often not remembered is that measles is a virus, so antibiotics are not effective, although they are used to treat secondary pneumonia or infection.  High fevers can cause febrile seizures, and encephalopathy, which may result in deafness or permanent brain damage. That’s what happened to the child with the first case of measles I saw. Previously a healthy third-grader, she has permanent brain damage and lives in a home for medically fragile children.

“No one knows better than PICU nurses the dangers of childhood,” I added. “Kids die from so many causes: Motor vehicle accidents, drowning, falling out of upper storey windows, SIDS, choking, cancer, school shootings, heart defects and illness. The list is practically endless. If medical science can shorten it through vaccination, I’m for it. My kid is vaccinated.”

“So’s mine,” says Liz.

* * *

Report on the newly admitted three year-old with measles goes like this: The outbreak started when one of the kids was exposed at his pediatrician’s office.

“Wow,” says Liz, “The kid catches measles from another kid in a doctor’s office. Go figure.”

“Yep, and he exposed the neighbor’s kids: Four kids from one exposure. What if there were infants too young to be immunized in that waiting room?”

By the end of the shift, the remaining two children have cases mild enough to be admitted to isolation rooms on the regular pediatrics unit. They’ll be treated with IV fluids, and comfort measures. If their conditions improve, they’ll go home in a few days. If they worsen, they will be admitted to the PICU.

Moving On (more changes)

Chapter 46

Taking Maddie and Kaylee out for dinner distracts me from the sadness of saying good-bye to Corey in the mall. We watch movies in the family room until I’m too tired to stay awake. In bed, alone in darkness, I listen to their laughter until sleep overtakes me.

The next morning I deep clean the house in a burst of energy. When every surface is scrubbed clean and polished, I start on the closets, pulling out their contents and filling boxes with items for donation. Having stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, the girls are asleep, curled in sleeping bags in the family room, only their is hair visible from the fabric cocoons. Though I pass them several times while loading the boxes of used household items into the car, they remain asleep. I drive the boxes of old clothes, flower vases, and linens to a parking lot donation site, where a volunteer asks me the estimated value of the goods, for the receipt. I struggle to come up with a dollar price for items I’ve already deemed disposable.

At the nearby big-box store, I buy three baskets of fuchsias, and hang them from the porch rail at home. The anticipation of hummingbirds feeding from them while I watch through the window, drinking coffee, tea, or a glass of wine makes me happy.

“Moving on,” I tell myself.

* * *

The next day is Monday. After dropping Maddie off at school, I finish drinking coffee at home, and then go for a run, weaving and bobbing between roller bladers, bicyclists, and people walking their dogs along The Strand. The morning low clouds usually clinging to the coast are gone, and sunspots glitter on the surface of the sea. Mothers with young children arrive, making a patchwork quilt of the sandy beach with their blankets and coolers.  It’s a beautiful day.

Before school lets out, Maddie texts:

DAD PICKING ME UP WILL BRING ME HOME L8R

Around 7:30, Simon’s car pulls into my driveway, and Maddie pops out. She slams the car door shut before running into the house, laughing and smiling. She gives me a hug, and then blurts out, “Mom, guess who’s getting married?”

I knew this was coming.

“Your Dad and Amber?”

“Yes! I’m so excited! I get to be a bride’s maid. Amber says I’m too grown up to be a flower girl, and she wants us to be really, really good friends!”

“Well, that’s wonderful Maddie. I’m sure they’ll be really happy. When are they getting married?”

“In six weeks. Guess what else?”

“What?”

“Amber’s pregnant. I’m going to have a new brother or sister!”

* * *

The next night I wear the new scrubs, clogs, and lipstick I bought at the mall. Once again there’s a cake in the PICU. This one has Congratulations Kris! scrawled across its top in blue icing. Kris stands in the middle of the room with her left hand extended. The diamond is so big and sparkly I can see it from the door.

“Congratulations Kris! You and Jon the bass player decided to get married?”

“Niki, where have you been? Liz laughs. “She’s not marrying Jon the bass player.”

“That was so four months ago, says Kris. I’m marrying Spider Rodrigo.”

“The lead singer of Kushion? That Spider Rodrigo? What happened to the rock band rehearsing in your garage, and that guy you were living with?”

“That was Kushion.”

“But they’re huge! How did I not know Kushion rehearses in your garage, and you’re marrying Spider Rodrigo?” I blush, realizing how I sound.

Kris just looks at me.

Liz intervenes, “You’ve been a little self-absorbed lately Niki. You’ve had a lot going on.”

I try to recover. “I’m sorry Kris. Really, I’m very happy for you. Congratulations!” I give her a hug to prove it.

“Thanks Niki. That’s not all. Kushion is touring to promote their debut album, and I’m going with them. Spider’s mother is a diabetic. He won’t leave her. I’m going to keep track of her blood sugars, and be her companion. I’ll be the tour’s nurse.”

“Congratulations, Kris,”

I mean it. I really do.

Your Problem Arises (Niki Confronts Corey)

Chapter 45

As soon as I realize I’ve bumped into Corey, I turn to run back into the women’s restroom, but he caught me by the shoulders before I reached sanctuary.

“Let go!” I hiss.

A woman shoulders past us, looks back, but determines I’m not in danger so she keeps going.

“Niki, will you just wait a minute, and hear me out?”

“I don’t have anything to say, Corey.”

“Don’t be like that. This isn’t only about you. It’s about us, and I have things to say to you.

I turn towards him, and he releases me.

“What do you have to tell me?”

“Okay then, um, first, I want to apologize Niki. I never thought about something happening to Sheila; that maybe I wouldn’t be the one leaving first. I mean, we have our problems, but I never wanted anything bad to happen to her.”

With an intentional look of annoyance, I interrupt him. “Corey, we already went through all of this. I get it. You’re not leaving Sheila. Go away, and leave me alone!”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you Niki. I can’t leave you alone. I love you.”

“Right, you love me, but you can’t leave Sheila. Corey, your problem arises from between your legs.” I turned to escape down the hall, but Corey’s retort stopped me.

“Yeah, but what do you really think of me, Niki?”

Leave it to an ER nurse to know how to diffuse a tense public moment.

I laugh despite myself, and softly reply, “I really think I’m going to miss you, Corey.”

“I know. I miss you terribly, and that’s why we’re leaving.”

“Leaving? Where?”

“Seattle. You know, Sheila’s from there. She’s stayed in touch with her boss in the realty office. He’s offered her a job. The housing market has improved, and he needs someone. She’s nearly done with chemotherapy, and he said she could pick her own hours until she’s fully recovered. Her oncologist referred her to someone else; Seattle has a renowned cancer center.

Having cancer made Sheila see my skills are important, and how much she needed me to navigate the health care system for her. Now she understands that nursing is complex and an important job. She understands that she can’t expect me to carry everything on my shoulders. She’s ready to become a full partner in our marriage.”

I’m feeling annoyed again. “Well isn’t that special. What about you, Corey?”

“There’s more Niki. Remember I told you I applied to NP programs? Well, I was accepted to a program in Seattle. Sheila and I have a long way to go to make things right between us, but I owe it to her and our children to try. We don’t have the connection that you and I have Niki. You and me, we’re the same. So moving is a good idea. I’m too tempted by you.”

“What am I supposed to say, Corey?”

“Good luck?” He reaches out tentatively for a handshake.

I hesitate, staring at his hand. A flood of memories engulfs me. I reach out, pulling him into a tender hug. He lightly kisses my forehead.

“Good luck.”

“Thank you, Niki.”

Releasing me, Corey turns, and I watch him walk down the hallway to the food court and his family without looking back.