It’s Not Like You Work Five Days a Week (Twelve-hour night shifts are hard on marriages)

Chapter 14 

For the third night in a row, I returned to the PICU. Shortly after shift report, the father of the child I told how to ask for pain meds for his kid walks in carrying three large boxes of pizzas. He sets them in front of me, on top of the nurses’ desk.

“My wife and I want to thank you PICU nurses for the extraordinary care our daughter received while she was a patient in this unit, and we are  treating you to a pizza dinner.”  He looked at me.

“So how is your daughter doing tonight?” I ventured.

“Great!” Her surgeon talked to us by phone. He wanted to make sure her pain medications kept her comfortable. We really appreciate his concern for her well being. She had a very good day, and we’re going home tomorrow.”

“That’s great news,” I told him. “Thanks for the update, and the pizzas.”

“It’s our pleasure,” he replied. “Enjoy!”

After he left, Liz looks at me quizzically, but only says, “Well Niki, you certainly excel at the ‘concierge service’ the hospital keeps pushing on us. Obviously that family thinks you’re the bomb. Way to score pizza! Thanks!”

***

At breakfast the next morning I swear Corey to secrecy, and tell him about Dr. Eubanks, the dad, and the pizzas. It was two of us, because Liz had to take her mother to a doctor’s appointment.

“That’s awesome, Niki. Way to advocate for your patient. I’m tired of being told to ‘manage up’ without a way to honestly speak up when I see something wrong. What administrator’s going to support a nurse’s concern about an under medicated patient over a surgeon’s insistence that his patients don’t need it? Nurses are hospital employees, and in most cases, doctors are not.”

“I think nurses could push on an issue like this in nurse council, but it takes forever to change hospital policy. My patients can’t wait that long for help. It’s a problem.”

“Amen,” agrees Corey.

The server brings Corey’s breakfast. I only ordered coffee because of the pizza I ate last night, but Corey’s ordered bacon, eggs, hash browns, and his usual beer. The bacon smells so good, and Corey notices me eyeing his.

“Go ahead Niki, have a piece.”

“Oh no. I ate all that pizza last night. I don’t need any more calories. Plus it’s your breakfast.”

“No, really have some,” he insists, placing a couple strips of bacon on my plate with his fork.

Corey watches me eat the bacon. It tastes heavenly. I love bacon.

A smile breaks across his dimpled face, making him adorable. I smile back.

“So, Niki, maybe it’s none of my business, but last time we had breakfast with the gang, it sounded like maybe there’s trouble at home.”

“Oh I don’t know… No, that’s not true. Maybe I expect too much from Simon. I mean he’s a good man, and an affectionate father. He was out of work for a while, but now he’s teaching again. You’d think that would get us back on track, but when he tells me about his day, like normal people do, I try to be sympathetic, but I’m thinking, “When I have a bad day at work, somebody’s child died.” He doesn’t understand why I can’t let my work go when I get home, like he does. How about you Corey? You didn’t say much about your marriage.

“My wife, Sheila, is beautiful. When I met her, she was a high-powered realtor selling spectacular homes for the wealthy. She was so girly, you know: blonde hair, pumps, always wore dresses. I fell hard.

I think I’m a big disappointment to her. I know she doesn’t consider three 12-hour nights shifts a week in a trauma center full time employment. She actually says that out loud,

‘You know, Corey, it’s not like you work five days a week like my friends’ husbands. They don’t sleep all day either.’”

“When the bottom fell out of the real estate market, Sheila went on hiatus. She’s home with the kids while I work, “single mothering it,’ as she calls it. On my days off I get the girls ready for school, drop them off, pick them up, shuttle them to and from dance classes, and then start dinner. Sheila leaves the house early in the morning for a full day of Pilates, a pedicure, her book club or shopping, and then happy hour with her girlfriends, but not before making a ‘honey do’ list of repairs around the house for me. Occasionally she texts me something she forgot. It’s pretty clear she doesn’t respect nursing as a career for a man.”

“Corey, I’m sorry. Your wife should spend a night watching you work in the ER. A lot of people are alive because you’re a great nurse.”

“Sheila would never willingly enter a hospital. She doesn’t want to know about the ‘blood and guts’ of my job. When I try to explain it to her, she tells me it’s not an appropriate conversation for our daughters to overhear.

“So, I pick up as much overtime as I can handle. I don’t know if it’s for the extra money, or to avoid being home anymore, but I get a lot of satisfaction from nursing. I’m part of a team there. It’s like I matter to something larger than myself.”

Corey and I have a silent moment of eye contact. He reaches across the table and touches my hand.

“Thanks Niki.”

It Should be Magical (Niki contemplates her marriage)

Chapter 6

At dinnertime Simon pops the macaroni and cheese into the oven to bake. I helped Maddie finish her homework, and then she helped me set the table. Simon reentered the kitchen briefly to sauté the broccoli lightly in olive oil. Transferring it to a platter, he sprinkles the broccoli with a couple of tablespoons of slivered, dry- roasted almonds, and lemon zest. Satisfied with his effort he returned to watch the rest of the game on TV.

Every now and then I jumped when Simon shouted out over a play he felt strongly about, and Maddie would giggle. “Dad,” she says, shaking her head knowingly.

I poured myself a second glass of Chardonnay before the three of us sat down for dinner.

“How’d the interview at Woodman go, Simon?”

“Oh you know. It’s always the same:

‘We’re looking for someone with more experience,’ or, ‘We’re looking for someone with less experience, this position has a limited pay scale.’ It’s all just bull-, oops, sorry Maddie. Don’t use bad language; it’s a sign of poor upbringing.  Anyway, there were a dozen other teachers interviewing for the job. At least I have something respectable to write on my unemployment paperwork this month.

“Well, you put it out there. That’s all you can do, isn’t it?”

Simon was laid off seven months ago from his teaching job, because of budget cuts. Seemingly, education ranks right along healthcare as a national priority.

We met in college. Simon was an anthropology major with a minor in education. I studied early child education, and minored in children’s literature. I switched to nursing when I realized I needed a master’s degree in order to earn enough money teaching preschool to make it worth what I owed on my Bachelor’s degree.

We married after graduation with the understanding I’d work as a registered nurse while Simon completed his Master’s in education. Once he hired into a university, I’d drop down to on-call, raise our children, and start a second career from home writing and illustrating children’s books.

It would have been magical.

Unable to get more than substitute teaching assignments in the beginning, Simon dropped out of the Master’s program when I got pregnant with Maddie, and she was born prematurely. Although my health care benefits from the hospital covered most of it, a 20% deductible for emergent obstetrics, and four weeks of neonatal intensive care is a pretty big chunk of change on a mostly single income.

Eventually, Simon found a job teaching social studies in a nearby middle school. His job lasted two years before the budget cuts. The parents of his students signed a petition begging the administrators to keep Simon, but like they say, “It isn’t personal.”

After dinner, Maddie, and I watched a movie on the laptop. Then I read her a chapter of Henry and Beezus before tucking her into bed and kissing her goodnight.

Simon was so engrossed in the game he was watching, he hadn’t turned on the lights in the family room. In the eerie glow of the television, the features of his face appeared alien.

“Is Maddie in bed?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

He got up to go kiss her goodnight, and then resumed his perch on the sofa.

Despite sleeping most of the day, I retreated to our bedroom at eleven. I’m lucky; I’ve adjusted to twelve-hour night shifts. Many nurses never do. I read a chapter of E.M. Forester’ A Room With a View before falling asleep.

***

Simon spooning me from behind wakes me from a sound sleep. Wordlessly, he fumbles at pulling my oversized T-shirt above my hips in the dark. When pretending I’m still asleep doesn’t work I become irritated.

“What are you doing?” Even I’m surprised by the fierceness of my tone.

“I’m loving you, baby. You’re so damn sexy. I can’t keep my hands off of you.”

“Simon, what time is it?”

“What does it matter?  It’s not like you have to get up early. You don’t leave for work until tomorrow evening.”

“I’m tired Simon. I need to get some sleep.”

“Just a quickie? C’mon, you know you love me.”

Silently, I wonder if I still do love Simon, but I let him have a quickie. It’s the fastest way to get back to sleep, which is what I do as soon as he finished.