Fortunately, the next two shifts are uneventful, which actually feels weird after a traumatic shift like the last one. There’s not enough time in between to process what happens to our patients, and the role nurses play.
Every so often, someone in hospital administration suggests holding “debriefing” meetings for the nurses after a particularly distressing patient death, but the meetings never develop meaningfully. In my opinion, this is because the meetings happen on day shift, which is too busy for those nurses to leave the unit to attend, and too late in the day for night shift to stay up. Besides, in units requiring ICU technology skills, many a nurse’s days off are consumed at the hospital in the form of mandatory in-services, skill competency workshops, CPR renewal, PALS re-certification, staff meetings, etc. We get paid for the time spent attending, but at a certain point, it’s a case of diminishing returns to spend more time at the hospital. So I don’t attend the few debriefings that occur. Besides, I don’t want to talk about my feelings and sing Kumbya in front of my coworkers.
What I do enjoy with coworkers is going out for breakfast after a shift, especially if I don’t work the following night. This morning, a few of us are meeting at a popular diner a few blocks from the hospital to do just that.
Besides Corey from ER, Gerald the respiratory therapist, and Liz join us in the booth. The guys order large, while Liz and I share an omelet, and order coffee. Corey and Gerald drink beer. When Liz comments on this, Corey speaks up,
“Because Liz, that’s what dudes do after work. We go out for beer.”
“If I have a beer after a twelve hour night shift, I’ll have to sleep in my car before driving home,” I laugh.
“That’s because you’re a light weight female nurse Niki,” Corey teases. “ER nurses are manly men, despite the media’s and society’s feminization of our kind.”
Changing the subject, I interject:
“Hey Gerald, guess what happened last night in the PICU.”
“No really, Gerald. You know that mom from bed two? Well, she came over to the nurses’ desk, and told me,
‘I don’t know who to report this to, but someone working in this hospital is hitting a child on the chest and back in room seven.’
So I get up and look in room seven, and Gerald, it’s YOU, giving chest percussion to a toddler!! I almost burst out laughing trying to explain to her that you’re a respiratory therapist, and what you were doing helps the patient breathe. I told her the kiddo’s doctor prescribed it.”
“Gee thanks, Niki. I owe you one. Probably saved me from being arrested as a child abuser or something. You nurses complain about not getting recognized for your work, but when was the last time you saw a respiratory therapist character on a TV show?”
“Whatever possessed you to become a respiratory therapist anyway, Gerald? You hold nebulizers in patients’ faces, and then suction snot out of their tubes. I nearly gag just listening to someone with a wet, hacking cough. How can you stand your job?”
There’s laughter around the table.
“Well, Niki, it’s because I want to work ‘in the exciting world of doctors,’ and have my life choices questioned by bitchy nurses like you. Keep your opinions to yourself girlfriend, and kindly ask the server to bring me some coffee while I go use the head, okay?”
There’s more laughter, followed by a brief silence while the server brings our food, and Gerald’s coffee.
Corey asks, “Does your husband take your daughter to school in the mornings after your shift Niki?”
“Yeah, and brings her home. Simon’s a school teacher.”
“And what about you, Liz, do you have kids?”
“Yes, a son. His name is Nathan. He’s fifteen, and takes the bus. Next year, he’ll learn how to drive, and I won’t have to depend on other people to shuttle him to baseball, and basketball practices while I work.”
“How long have you been divorced, Liz?”
“Are you dating anyone?”
“It’s probably hard being a single mom, but on the other hand, maybe it’s not so bad having control over your own life,” I realize I’m musing out loud.
“There’s a lot to be said for marriage, Niki, like having someone there to divide up the work. Sometimes I think people are too caught up pursuing happiness, and it gets in the way of commitment. Maybe being happy isn’t the most important thing in life,” says Liz.
“I don’t know, that’s sort of heavy,” says Corey. “Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you have a partnership. I think it depends on expectations. Sometimes one spouse has more expectations than the other. It doesn’t always work. I don’t know if sticking it out for the sake of commitment is the right answer.”
“I’ve always felt that a happy marriage or partnership is a wonderful thing,” says Gerald. “But it’s better to single than married and unhappy. Nothing is lonelier than an unhappy marriage.”
“You can say that again,” I mumble while shoving a bite of omelet into my mouth.