The Center of This Body’s Universe (Niki needs caffeine and meets a nice family in the PICU)

Chapter 7

I can’t tell if my headache is caused by too much sleep or not enough.

Without coffee my night shift tuned body doesn’t know whether to wake up, or go to bed, since neither daylight nor darkness have circadian relevance anymore. Caffeine, not the sun,  is the center of this body’s Universe.

I fill the coffee maker and hit “start.”

Maddie is still asleep. Pausing in the doorway of her room I watch the even rise and fall of her chest. She is perfect, her skin creamy and unblemished. I’m constantly wonderstruck by her healthy color, unlike that of the sick children in the PICU.

Silently, I count the blessings: Despite her premature birth, we’ve made it safely past Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and without childhood febrile seizures. Her bout with Chicken Pox was mild. Maddie’s learned to swim, and is forbidden from riding her bike without a helmet. I calculate my next bout of parental anxiety will begin when she’s old enough to drive.

Although I fix breakfast for Maddie and Simon, I only have coffee. I pack Maddie’s lunch while Simon showers before they leave for school together.

Simon got the teaching position at Woodman middle school, which Maddie will attend this fall. He’ll even supplement his pay by coaching after school, which he’s excited about.

This takes a lot of stress off of me, and things are better in our marriage. In fact, Simon and I have planned a weekend getaway to Coronado for our anniversary in a few weeks. We booked a luxury suite with an ocean view. Maddie’s staying with my sister and her family while we’re away. Simon and I haven’t taken a trip in years. I’m hoping this will refresh our marriage. Things are stale lately; actually it’s been longer than lately.

After Simon and Maddie left, I dressed in riding gear and rode my bike along the beach on the Strand, almost to Santa Monica. It’s not too crowded on a weekday. This morning the sun is out, and sunspots sparkled and danced on the ocean. I love how bicycle riding provides an opportunity to both see and interact with my surroundings.

The rest of the day I spent cleaning the house, followed by a short nap. There’s enough time for a quick dinner with my family before I leave for work.

In the PICU, Kris gives me report on an intubated fourteen year-old boy with an ICP bolt surgically implanted in his skull. It’s recording the pressure in his brain, which is represented as a number on the monitor screen overhead. During report, the number is normal. I assume that’s because he’s sedated.

“No ma’m, no sedation,” Kris informs me. “That’s the problem. He was at basketball practice and took a header into a wall. The coach and his teammates witnessed it. According to them, he didn’t hit the wall all that hard, but he lost consciousness. He’s roused a little, but he’s in and out, mostly out. The CAT scan showed a small bleed, which neuro removed in surgery, but he still isn’t coming to. He has a MRI tomorrow morning. In the meantime, they bolted him, just in case. This is a weird one.”

“It is weird. Is his family in the waiting room? I asked.

“Yeah,” said Kris. “They’re the nicest family.”

Of course they are. The nicest families always have the sickest kids. When a PICU nurse starts report by saying, “This is the nicest family,” you know something is going to go wrong.