Night Shift’s Dirty Little Secret (Niki comes to a realization)

Chapter 53

 If you ask night shift nurses they will tell you the truth: There are times we don’t remember driving home from work. It’ s not a case of being asleep behind the wheel. It’s more like getting into a zone or trance-like state. It’s night shift’s dirty little secret.

For me, the way it happens is I get into my car, drive out of the hospital parking lot, and the next thing I know I’m pulling into my driveway. It’s eerie. I’ll if remember the drive if another driver cuts me off or something like that. I’ve never run a red light. I’d know this, because California drivers are fast on their horns.  The slightest traffic infraction or lingering at a green light for more than a second will trigger the blare of a horn or a shouted expletive from another driver. That would get my attention. It’s like conscious sedation.

Some night shift nurses nap in their cars in the hospital parking lot before driving home. I never have. Instead, I’ll turn up the radio and if the weather’s good, roll down a window for fresh air.

This morning though, the weather’s not so good. It’s chilly, so I leave the windows rolled up. I turn on the radio, start the car, and drive home.

In my drive way, I use the remote to open the garage door and park the car inside. I turn off the radio, and then close my eyes for just a minute before going inside.

“Wake up! Wake up!”

The sound of someone pounding on the car’s windows wakes me abruptly. Through the glass I hear muffled voices:

“Tom, what if she’s trying to kill herself?”

“Well, if she is, she’s not very good at it!”

“Wake up!”

Oh God, it’s my elderly neighbors, Tom and Vera. I’ve fallen asleep in my car and the engine’s still running! Oh God!

Now that I’m awake, Tom puts his arm around Vera, who’s standing on the driver’s side of my car. Concern draws deep lines to their already wrinkled faces. I turn off the engine, and roll down the window.

“Niki, are you all right? Tom, call 911.” directs Vera

“911 don’t come out if no ones hurt, Vera. Are you hurt? Tom sticks his head partially through the open window, further assessing my condition. “You haven’t been drinking have you?”

“No! I worked last night. I’m fine. I just fell asleep in my car. I’m sorry I frightened you.”

“The garage door was open, and your car was running. I got Tom, and we found you slumped over the steering wheel. We thought you hit your head or something,” explained Vera, still visibly shaken.

“You were drooling,” comments Tom.

Note: All night shift nurses drool when we fall asleep. Try staying awake while rocking a baby in a bedside chair in a dark patient room during a twelve-hour shift on a slow night. Welcome to pediatric and neonatal nursing.

“No, I’m fine really. I’m sorry I worried you. Thank you for checking on me.”

I am so embarrassed.

Tom and Vera walk slowly across the lawn to their home. I gather my tote and enter my house as the garage door closes behind me.

As if scaring my neighbors isn’t bad enough, Maddie’s algebra book glares at me accusingly from the kitchen counter. She forgot it there when I took her to Simon and Amber’s house yesterday. I hope she didn’t need it.

It’s time to move to day shift.

Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons & Green Clovers (Maddie Acts Out)

Chapter 50

Simon and Amber were married. The baby is due soon. Maddie is silent regarding updates about the birth, however. Shortly after the wedding, she stopped talking about home life with her father. I know something’s brewing.

Kris married Spider Rodrigo, and left the PICU to tour with Kushion. Her day shift position is open. I wonder if I should take it? I’d miss my friends on night shift, and I don’t know if I want to deal with the doctors, phone calls and busy-ness of day shift. The idea of a normal sleep cycle is appealing.

*  *  *

I’m finishing the housework, and thinking about dinner when Simon’s car pulls into the driveway. Before he can set the parking brake, Maddie ejects herself from the passenger seat, leaving the car door open. She’s obviously upset as she bursts through the front door. Simultaneously, the phone rings. Maddie yells, “I don’t want to talk to her! Tell her I don’t want to talk about it!” while running into her room, and slamming the door behind her.

I put down the vacuum cleaner and pick up the ringing phone. From the living room window I watch Simon back out of the driveway and drive away.

Hmmm.

“Hello?”

“Niki, it’s Amber. Put Maddie on. I want to talk to her.”

Hmmm.

“Amber, hi. Maddie, uh, doesn’t want to talk to you right now. She’s pretty upset. What happened?”

“I want to talk to Maddie.”

“That’s not going to happen Amber. Tell me what happened.”

“Your daughter is bullying Wade.”

Your daughter? Hmmm.

“I’m surprised to hear that. Maddie thinks the world of Wade. She calls him her little brother.”

“Well things have changed since Simon and I got married. Maddie’s become a stranger. She won’t talk about the new baby, and she’s picking on Wade. This last time is too much.”

“What did she do?”

“Two things, really. First, last night at dinner while Simon and I are talking, Wade throws up milk all over the table. I took him to the bathroom to clean him up and take his temperature, and he tells me he drank an entire quart of milk in one sitting. I asked him why. He said Maddie made him do it.”

“How did Maddie make him drink an entire quart of milk at the dinner table in front of you and Simon without your knowing it?”

I’m starting to wonder about Amber. And Simon.

“Well, I asked Maddie that. She said she dared him to do it, one glass of milk at a time.”

“What?”

“She pretended she was racing him. She poured herself the last glass of milk from another carton, and then poured Wade a glass from a fresh carton. She dared him to finish his glass of milk before she finished hers. So he did. Then Maddie told him, “I bet you can’t do it again,” so he did it again, and again, until he drank the entire quart. Then he threw up.”

I composed myself to keep from laughing. “Amber, I’m sorry. How old is Wade again?”

“He just turned five.”

“Well, he’s no rocket scientist,” I think to myself, but of course, that doesn’t excuse Maddie torturing the boy.

“What else did Maddie do to Wade?”

“This afternoon she took a brand new box of Lucky Charms cereal, emptied it, and picked out every last marshmallow charm, all the pink hearts, yellow moons, and green clovers. She ate them, and then put the oat cereal back in the box, and sealed it again. When Wade came home he wanted a bowl of cereal and cried because there were no marshmallow charms. Maddie told him the cereal company was to blame. She helped him write a letter to complain. I found out when he asked me to mail the letter. Maddie has to stop picking on Wade.”

Now I’m thinking my daughter is a comedic genius, but I’m going to have to teach her to use her power for good and not evil.

“Amber, I see why you’re upset, but isn’t this just normal sibling behavior? Maddie’s been through a lot of changes lately. Maybe she’s regressed a little bit.”

“I won’t have this behavior in my home! Your daughter is a bully. No wonder Simon left you.”

Okay, she’s pregnant. Allow the woman some slack.

“Look Amber, I’ll talk to Maddie. For all of our sakes though I think it’s best if you leave Simon’s and my marriage out of this.”

“Do something about your daughter!”

I’m left holding the phone after Amber slams hers down on the other end of the line.

You Remember What Night Shift’s Like (Niki & Kris Talk)

Chapter 48

 The following morning, I gave report to Kris, beginning with what I hoped she would interpret as an apology,

“Kris, I just want to say again that I’m really happy about your engagement. You must be super excited about going on tour with Spider.”

She smiled, and then added shrewdly, “Thanks Niki, but I get the feeling you have more to say on the subject.”

Busted, I decided to charge ahead,  “Aren’t you at all worried about giving up your nursing job? I mean you’re really a great PICU nurse. Do you think you’ll miss it?”

“What you mean is, ‘Aren’t you worried that marrying a rock star is a little crazy, and what if the marriage doesn’t work’?” replied Kris. “That’s the fun of being alive, isn’t it Niki? A willingness to be surprised. Letting go of things so you can go to the next adventure. I’ve tried many things in my life, and lived in most of the United States. Not everything has worked out, but I’m still standing, no worse for wear. I’m not the kind of person to put down roots for too long anyway.”

Maybe because I’ve been up all night, or maybe because I won’t see Kris much more, I let my guard down, “Do you ever worry that in the end you’ll be all alone?”

Kris’s upper lip begins to curl into laughter, but meeting my gaze, she changes her mind. “You mean, like when you die?”

“Maybe, I’m not sure what I mean exactly, but sometimes I wonder what the right choices for my life are; if I’m doing the things I’m supposed to do, or if I’m missing the point.”

My words don’t make a lot of sense, even to me. “I guess I worry a little that it will end, and I haven’t lived the life I want, or maybe I’m not living life right.”

“I’m not sure what you mean. Right by who’s standard, Niki? Like God? Like the life your parents wanted you to choose? Who’s standard of what’s right or wrong are you judging yourself by?”

I realize I’ve said more than I’d intended. “I’m just tired Kris. You remember what night shift’s like.”

Kris looks at me brightly, and then her eyes soften. “It’s hard being a nurse, taking care of everyone all the time, feeling as though you always have to have all the answers,” she says. “Don’t over think things, Niki. It doesn’t take much to wreck the best-laid plans: a car accident, a cancer diagnosis, or a debilitating disease. Try having more fun, and let go of some the responsibility for healing the world. Have you thought about transferring to day shift? Someone has to take my place. It might open up more of a social life for you.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’d like day shift,” I hedge. “Too many phones, the doctors overrun the place on day shift.  I’d be expected to join committees.”

“Suit yourself, it was just a thought,” retorts Kris. “So tell me about this kid. Another case of measles? How many does that make this year?”