Angst and Cake (Niki’s smiling face)

Chapter 43

 “So what happens to Melissa now, Grant?”

“The hospital can file a complaint against her with the Board of Nursing if they choose, but that’s unlikely. She isn’t named in the suit, so she’s off the hook for that. Like I said, Dr. Straid filed against the hospital to protect his financial interests. With Melissa’s testimony, it’s clear the hospital has responsibility for not preparing their pediatric nurses better, and we can successfully throw in understaffing the unit too. There will be more discussions, but ultimately, the hospital will settle with the family out of court.”

“And Dr. Straid will still be a bully, and a child is dead.”

“I defend clients Niki, I don’t have to necessarily like them. You said it yourself, even if Straid had come in, the child still might not have survived.”

I drove home from La Jolla with feelings of angst. I think about how lucky I am to work with a good group of doctors in the PICU. Dr. Polk is respectful, even if he does sometimes forget he’s in a pediatric unit and cusses. He knows if a nurse says, “Come in and see this kid,” he’d better.

At home I sort through the pile of mail that collected while I was away, and am shocked by my smiling face on the cover of the latest issue of Call Lights Magazine: summoning the power of nurses! I remembered Todd saying, “Niki, look into the camera and smile,” before snapping the photograph. I had no idea it would be on the cover. Should I be happy or embarrassed? Have my friends at work already seen it? Probably. I’m sure I’m in for teasing of some kind.

I was right. I enter the PICU at change of shift to find every nurse on both shifts has a tiny photocopied print of the cover with my face taped over their picture of their employee name badges. Dr. Polk is there, and he’s wearing my face on his name badge too. So’s Gerald, and standing beside him, Corey, giving me a shy smile. It cracks me up; it’s so funny.

Kris walks over holding a copy of the magazine. “Great picture of you Niki. It’s too bad they didn’t Photoshop that crease between your brows though. You know, not taking care of that with a little Botox is sort of like having a unibrow.”

Is she kidding? I can’t tell. “Thanks Kris, I’ll keep that in mind.” I make a mental note to look more closely in the mirror when I get home tomorrow morning.

There’s a sheet cake in the staff lounge with the Call Lights Magazine cover airbrushed on it in sugar and food coloring. I cut into my face with the knife, and everyone has a piece during report.

Before taking his cake down to the ER, Corey touches my elbow, saying, “Congratulations, Niki,” and then quietly, “Let’s meet during our breaks tonight. I need to talk to you.”

“Okay. Text me.”

* * *

Around 0100, Corey texts me to meet him in the stairwell between our floors. Instead of bringing the lunch I’d packed from home, I cut two slices of what’s left of the ravaged cake, and bring them on paper plates with plastic forks. When I reach Corey several flights down, I see he read my thoughts: he’s holding two cups of coffee. I’m touched to see he’s remembered I like mine with half and half.

“You guys have half and half in your fridge?”

“No we don’t. All I could find was that irradiated or whatever stuff in those tiny plastic tubs that don’t need refrigeration. Sorry.”

While arranging the coffee cups and paper plates on the stairs, we’re uncharacteristically shy with each other. Seated, our hips touch on the narrow stair. He smells clean, of soap and water. Corey turns towards me, and I think he’s going to kiss me, but he pauses before placing his hand on the side of my face, brushing away the hair that fell loose from my ponytail.

“You’re beautiful, Niki. No wonder your face made the cover of the magazine.”

I don’t know what to say, so I start in,

“How’s Sheila? What’s been happening?” I’m afraid to go down this road, but we only have half hour breaks.

“She’s a fighter. She’s got a positive attitude, and the oncologist says there’s every chance they caught it early and she’ll beat it. I never knew Sheila was so strong, so vital.”

Uh oh. I braced myself for what was coming next.

“You’re staying, aren’t you Corey?”

“Niki, I,”

“No don’t, I get it. She needs you. You see her in a different light. She’s the mother of your girls.”

“Niki, it’s not that simple. I really love you.”

I will not cry.

“Corey, stop, it’s okay. We were both going through a rough time. No harm, no foul.”

“Niki, don’t, it’s not like that.”

I’m not going to be able to hold back the tears much longer. Shit, I have sick kids to take care of for the rest of the shift. I will not let this wreck me. I pick up my paper plate and cup, standing to leave.

“Thanks for the coffee Corey. I wish you the best.”

Corey’s also standing, and calls after me as I hurry up the stairs back to the PICU. “Niki, wait!” Behind me, the fire door closes more loudly than I’d intended, and I can’t hear the rest of what he’s saying.

Leaning against the door, I bite the inside of my mouth until the metallic taste of blood overcomes the sugary residue of cake. The pain forestalls my tears. I dump the cake and coffee into a wastebasket in the PICU’s empty family waiting room before entering the unit and return to my shift.

There’s Always Photoshop (Niki has a revelation about modeling)

Chapter 31

I arrive too early for the Call Lights Magazine photo shoot, because I was nervous about finding the location, but it was easier than I’d thought. So I’m waiting alone in the lobby of a small convention center room until the other real nurse models arrive.

The email from Call Lights Magazine with instructions about the shoot was rather vague, except in its insistence that all releases be signed and returned beforehand.

I have no idea what “real nurse” models wear, so I defaulted to the slacks, blouse and blazer I usually reserve for job interviews. I left my hair down, and wore some make-up.

One by one the other “real nurse models” arrive, dressed much the same way as me. The group of us looks to be in our late 20’s to mid-thirties. One of us is a man. I didn’t think to invite Corey to apply with the rest of us. Does that make me gender biased, I wonder?

Soon the doors open, and we’re ushered into the conference room, transformed into a photo shoot. There are three makeshift dressing rooms made of drapery hanging from curtain rods fastened to the walls. Two garment racks on wheels each hold dozens of scrubs sets of varying sizes, colors, and styles. Beyond these are make up, and hair styling stations. Floor lights and silver colored reflectors ring a fake hospital room backdrop. The carpeted floor is crisscrossed with thick cables secured by duct tape. At the back of the room is a buffet table laden with bottles of water, juice, coffee, hot water and an assortment of teas. I’m too nervous to drink anything at the moment, so I stand around with the other nurses making small talk.

“Niki?” I turn my head in the direction I hear my name called.

The voice belongs to a vaguely familiar man about my age wearing jeans, a white tee shirt and a light grey sports jacket with the sleeves artfully rolled up three-quarter length. He’s holding a camera with a huge professional lens in one hand.

“Niki Rossetti, is that you?”

Now I recognize Todd from high school. At least I think it’s Todd. He’s taller, or maybe just skinnier than I remember. He has a manicured, stubbly beard. His hair blonder than I remember.


“Hey, yeah, Niki! It’s me Todd. It’s been a really long time. What are you doing here?”

“I’m one of the ‘real nurse models’ for this Call Lights Magazine photo shoot. Are you a nurse?”

Todd laughs. “Hardly. I’m the photographer. So you became a nurse. This is wild!”

Before we could talk more, the heavyset lady with hipster glasses appears in the middle of the room, calling out, “Ladies, oh, I guess I’d better say, ‘and gentleman,’ we do have a male nurse model in our presence. Please gather by the make up and wardrobe stations where you’ll be matched with scrubs for the photos.

I stand with the other nurses waiting while the wardrobe woman sizes each of us up, selecting suitable sets of scrubs. Half of us are sent to the makeshift changing rooms to put on the scrubs. The rest of are directed to the hair and make up stations.

I’m instructed to sit on a stool under a lamp, by a woman wearing a white lab coat over her tattooed décolletage and black tube top.

“Hi. I’m Niki.”

“Hmmm,” she says, while placing a hand on my chin turning my face this way and that under the light.

“I need to add more make up. You’re supposed to look like a real nurse for these photos.”

“I am a real nurse,” I retort.

“Hmm,” she repeats, as if she didn’t hear me. “You should consider getting Botox for that furrow between your brows. These days, it’ almost as bad as having a unibrow. You’re pretty. Botox would make you look less tired.”

“Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

“Well, don’t make it any deeper by worrying about it. If the editor feels it’s distracting, there’s always Photoshop.”

I have the sense that this “real nurse model” stuff is separated from real nursing by a chasm much deeper and wider than the furrow between my brows.

Call Lights Magazine: Looking for Real Nurses (Niki & her friends apply for modeling)

Chapter 30

Walking into the staff lounge, I find Kris, Liz, and Kathy laughing and talking excitedly.

“Here she is,” says Liz. “I bet Niki will come with us.”

I head towards the phone to clock in and ask, “Go where?”

Kris holds up a magazine. “Call Lights Magazine is looking for real nurse models for an article on different types of scrubs. It’s an open call on Tuesday. The three of us are going. Wanna carpool with us?”

“What’s Call Lights Magazine?”

“It’s a new lifestyle magazine for nurses,” explains Liz. They print stuff like healthy recipes for packed lunches, tips on keeping your make up fresh during a twelve-hour shift, and articles about relationships. It’s pretty cool.”

“I read it, but I’m not sure why nurses need a magazine like this. There’s not much clinical information in it.” This from Kathy.

“There are over three million nurses in the United States, Kathy,” interjects Kris. Magazines like Call Lights give advertisers access to an otherwise untapped market. It’s pretty smart.” Kris is worldly wise, no doubt.

“Oh yeah, I’ve read that magazine. They’re looking for real nurse models? That sounds like fun. Yeah, I’ll go,” I say.

“Awesome! We’ll meet in the hospital parking lot on Tuesday at seven. We’ll stop for coffee. Liz will drive.

“This will be a blast, even if I’m not chosen as a model,” I muse.

“You never know. You can’t win unless you play,” adds Kris.


On Tuesday, Kris, Liz, Kathy and I pile into Liz’s car, and head over to a coffee shop close by the hospital. As the four of us enter the shop, we stop just short of bumping into a police officer making his way out.

“Excuse me,” says the officer, and then, “Hey, Nurse Niki!”

It’s Officer Mike, the cop who accompanied the child abuse patient a while ago.

“Officer Mike, hi! Finishing a coffee break?”

“Yeah, and now it’s back to work. Good to see you again, Nurse Niki.”

“And you, Officer Mike. Bye.”

“Didn’t we meet him in the PICU, Niki? asks Liz.

“Yeah, he brought in that kid with the lacerated liver, remember? He gave me his business card.”

“So did you go out with him? Kris asks.

“No, I’m not ready to start dating. It’s too soon after my divorce.”

Liz gives me a funny look, but doesn’t say anything.

With lattes in tow, we get back into the car and arrive at the address where screening the potential nurse models will take place. In reality, it’s a tiny, vacant storefront, with sheets in the window concealing a heavyset woman wearing hipster glasses, and designer jewelry. She’s seated at a folding table next to a fortyish looking man, also wearing hipster glasses. We don’t know this right away, however, because when we arrive we take our place in line on the sidewalk behind approximately 100 other nurses also wanting to be models.

The line moves slowly. Latecomers collect behind us. My feet are starting to hurt. Why is it I can run continually for a twelve-hour shift without my legs bothering me, but standing still in line is killer?

After a couple of hours, Kris, Liz, Kathy, and I are at the head of the line, where we’re handed clipboards bearing several forms to fill out.

“Wow, you have quite a turnout,” I remark to the woman in hipster glasses.

“Yes, we certainly do,” she agrees. “We used to do our nurse model calls by email, you know, asking for a jpeg photo, and information about the applicant, but we were getting applications from would-be actors, and models pretending to be nurses for the exposure. So now you have to present your nursing license or employee badge in person, and sign this declaration stating you are in fact a nurse before we accept your application. After that, we’ll take a photo of you, and attach it to your application. You’ll be contacted in a few weeks after we’ve made our decision.”

“How many nurses will you choose? asks Kris.

“Six for this particular shoot,” says the woman, “but we’ll keep everyone’s information; you may be contacted for future issues.”

After completing the forms we hand them to the guy wearing hipster glasses. He leads us further back into the storefront, where a camera is set up and a floor light next to it. He directs us to sit, one at a time, on a stool in front of the camera, and takes a full-face picture. Then he has each of us stand, and takes a full body shot too.

“Okay, ladies, that’s it for today,” he announces. Thank you very much for participating in a Call Lights Magazine event. You’ll be hearing from us soon.”

Several weeks later, we did in fact, and I was chosen as a Call Lights Magazine real nurse model!