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.”

Is Everything Okay? (Niki’s nursing assessment saves a baby)

  

Chapter 17

I woke up in the afternoon having slept poorly after the bad dream. Schlepping my way into the kitchen, I made a cup of tea.

Simon dropped Maddie off from school, and then went back to coach practice. I helped Maddie with her homework while starting dinner.

During dinner Maddie chatted animatedly about what her friends at school are up to. Simon tells us about a new project he’s introduced to his students. He notices my distraction and asks, “Is everything okay, Nik?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine. I just didn’t sleep well today.”

Simon gives me a curious look, but makes no comment.

I kiss them good-bye before leaving for work.

***

Corey brings a ventilated baby with pneumonia to the PICU at change of shift. He turns his head away, but not before giving me a look so sharp I catch my breath.

Pointedly, Corey gives the report to Kathy. As he leaves the unit, he looks at me again. Silently, I mouth the words, “Can we talk?” but he puts his head down, rapidly disappearing down the corridor outside the PICU.

Kris is finishing her day shift charting at the nurses’ desk. I suddenly realize she’s seen all of this.

“Everything okay, Niki?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I’ve never seen Corey transfer a patient so fast when you’re here, that’s all.”

“Mind your own business, Kris.”

She raises an eyebrow at me, and returns to her charting.

***

Later in the shift, the pulse ox alarm in Kathy’s patient’s room sounds, and she gets up to check on it. Poking her head out the room’s door, she says, “Niki I need to suction him. Would you help?”

At the crib, I manage the ambu bag; manually giving the baby breaths of oxygen while Kathy suctions its breathing tube to remove secretions. Nothing comes up, so she places a few drops of normal saline down the tube before making another pass. A bit of yellow-green mucous comes up. She replaces the ventilator tubing, and silences the pulse ox alarm again when it continues to read 90%.

“That’s funny. His oxygen saturation should improve after suctioning,” she observes out loud.

“Maybe he’s due for a respiratory treatment,” I offer. “I’ll page Gerald.”

Gerald administers an aerosolized medication into the ventilator tubing, and then gently taps on the baby’s chest and back with a soft rubber percussor. Kathy suctions again, while Gerald bags. Still, no significant secretions. The baby’s oxygen saturation drops to 85%.

I listen to his chest with my stethoscope. There’s breath sounds on both sides. However, the little guy begins pulling hard with every breath. We watch as the tiny muscles between his ribs pull in with the work of breathing.

“He’s getting worse.”

Gerald takes him off of the ventilator, and starts hand bagging again. I suction without secretions, while Kathy pages Dr. Polk.

“He’s down in the ER, assisting with a pediatric trauma. He said to keep bagging.  He’ll be up as soon as he can.”

“I’m not sure we can wait that long,” I said. Not only were the sats less than 80%, but now the baby’s heart rate was dropping.

“What’s wrong?” Kathy called out.

Insight flashed before me, “His breathing tube is blocked.”

“Are you sure? asked Kathy. “How do you know?”

“It has to be. His chest sounds are good. He’s moving air, but he’s not getting oxygen from either the vent or the bag. We’ve got to pull the tube out now!”

“Dr. Polk said to continue bagging until he arrives,” warns Kathy.

“The baby is going to code if we don’t pull the tube now,” I insisted.

“Yeah, and who’s going to take responsibility for that, Niki?” Gerald cautioned.

“I will,” I said. “I’m pulling the ET tube.”

I removed the tape from the baby’s face, allowing the tube to slide out easily. At its end was a glob of thick, white secretions half the diameter of a ping-pong ball. It resembled a wad of chewed up bubble gum. I laid the mucous-blocked tube on a paper towel, and placed it on the bedside table. The baby started to cry.

“Well lookee there,” said Gerald. Immediately the oxygenation returned to 100%, and his heart rate returned to normal.

The three of us remained at the baby’s crib, watching him breathe; Gerald helping him out with occasional bagged breaths until Dr. Polk arrived.

Flying into the room, Dr. Polk saw Gerald bagging his extubated patient.

“Who pulled out the goddamn ET tube?” he roared.

“I did, Dr. Polk.” I held up the gelatinous ET tube for him to see.

“Good job,” he said. “Everything looks okay.”

The Most Important Thing (Niki makes a decision)

Chapter 16

Corey put his arms around me, holding me close. My face nestles in the warm triangle where shoulder meets neck, and I can feel his carotid pulse beating against my cheek. He smells like soap and water, clean and nice. I place tiny kisses against his smooth neck, tears welling in my eyes.

“I want this Corey, I really do, but I’m not going to.”

“Niki…”

I can’t. I’m not happy, but that doesn’t give me the right to hurt others. Maybe Liz is right. Maybe being happy isn’t the most important thing.”

“Niki…”

He tightened his hold of me, burying his face in my shoulder. I felt the sob rack his body, and when he released me, there were tearstains on my scrub top. Looking at me, he did not wipe the tears from his face.

“I get the idea there’s no discussion here.”

“I’m sorry Corey. This hurts me too. I’ve gotta go.”

I fumbled with the car door handle before opening it, and slipped inside. Corey stood immobile, watching me with tears silently streaming his face. I choked back my own, started the car, and drove away. In the rearview mirror, Corey stood among the empty cars of the parking lot. The morning sun cast a sharp shadow from him, as if he were a statue.

***

In the garage, I slide off my scrubs, dumping them into the laundry hamper. I’m always worried about bringing home germs from the hospital, and spreading them to Maddie. I put on the robe I keep on a hook before entering the kitchen.

Simon’s left the dirty dishes from last night’s dinner in the sink, and the wastebasket is brimming on the edge of overflow. Its contents defy gravity. Although exasperated, I admire Simon’s flair for sculptural design.

He’s left a sticky note in his methodical printing on the counter:

“I’ll take care of the dishes and trash when I get back.”

I wash the dishes, but leave the trash. I’ll sleep better the less Simon clanks around in the kitchen. I’ll clean the rest of the house tonight when I wake up.

I take a quick shower, towel off dry and practically fall into the unmade bed in our darkened bedroom. I cry into my pillow before falling asleep.

I dream I’m still at work. The monitor and pulse ox alarms are going off in a patient’s room. Inside, a crowd of people is gathered round a crib with a baby in it. The baby is blue. Horrified, I see the ventilator is disconnected. Triumphantly, the child’s mother holds up the breathing tube she has pulled from her own infant’s throat. She turns to me with zombie-like eyes, and says,

The roar of a passing motorcycle outside wakes me up abruptly before I can make out what she says. I sit up in bed, clutching the blanket to my chest while my heart beats wildly.