Return Policy (Niki comes home to a surprise)

Chapter 18

After recognizing that the baby’s ET tube was blocked, and having the nurse gonads to pull the tube, I drove home from the hospital feeling victorious. Dr. Polk’s words, “Good job,” played over and over in my head, but they weren’t loud enough to calm my stomach when I thought about Corey, and the silent treatment he gave me earlier in the same shift. I hoped he would eventually understand, and forgive me.

Pulling into the driveway, I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the back end of a trailer hitched to a large truck in the place where I usually park. On the trailer perched a pair of brand-new jet skis.

With the car engine still running I wondered, “What the hell? Where did that come from?”

The front door opened, and Simon strode to my car wearing a gigantic grin. “What do ya think, Nik?” Surprised?”

“I think shocked is a better word.  Simon, what are they?”

“They’re jet skis.”

“I know they’re jet skis, I meant, what are they doing in our driveway?”

“I wanted to surprise you. Happy anniversary, Niki!”

I needed a moment to take it in.

“This is an anniversary present? For me? Simon, I don’t understand.”

“I know you don’t, Niki, that’s part of the surprise. The dealer offered a package deal, and I got a rad price on all of it. It includes everything we need to go down to the marina, launch, and spend a day on the ocean, shredding waves. It’ll be a blast! And with the truck, we can haul them everywhere; try different places. We’ll spend your weekends off having fun together.”

“Simon, we’ve never rode jet skis.  We’ve never even talked about them. This must cost tens of thousands of dollars. We just paid off our debts. We should start saving a down payment on a house, and for Maddie’s college fund. I thought we agreed going to Coronado for a weekend was our anniversary gift. We can’t afford this.”

“I know, I know, that’s why I cancelled the reservations for Coronado. The money we save will off set some of the cost.”

“What do you mean, you cancelled the reservations for Coronado? I’ve been looking forward to it for months. Why didn’t you talk to me first? You can’t just spend this kind of money without consulting me!  What are you thinking?”

“I think jet skiing together will be a lot of fun. It’s something we can do together. It will be good for us Niki.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but just then Maddie ran out of the house, yelling, “Surprise! Happy anniversary, Mom! Dad says if I wear a life vest, I can ride on his with him. This is so cool!”

I sat speechless, wondering where I would find street parking for my car, and what is the return policy on jet skis.

And husbands.

Two Separate Worlds (Corey tells Niki how he feels)

Chapter 15

Corey’s hand is warm, and dry, its nails clipped and clean. I left my hand on the diner table under his longer than I should.

“Hey Niki,” he said.

I withdrew my hand.

“Um, we should go. Thanks for the bacon, Corey.”

I put a ten on the table as Corey flagged the server for the check. He pushed it back towards me. “I got this,” he said. “Wait, and I’ll walk you to your car.”

Walking alongside Corey, I felt butterflies of trepidation in my stomach, and that disconnected from my body feeling I sometimes get. We made small talk, but I don’t remember what we said.

“Well, goodnight,” I murmured, putting my hand on the car’s door handle.

Corey once again put his hand over mine, but this time his other arm encircled my back. I leaned into him sideways, resting my head on his shoulder. He smelled like soap, clean and nice. We stood that way for a minute or so before, turning me towards him, he framed my face with his hands, and placed his mouth on mine. I leaned in, kissing him back.

Corey’s touch was strong and gentle, confident. We kissed again.

Separating, I looked up at Corey’s face. His gaze was soft. I imagine it mirrored mine.

“Now what?” This time he was murmuring.

“I don’t know, I can’t bring you home,” I said.

“Sheila might show up unexpectedly at my place,” but before he finished his sentence I was already protesting, “Oh no, I can’t do that either.”

“Let’s get a room. I know that sounds bad, but this is not some cheap thing for me, Niki. I care about you. I have for a long time. You’re very special.”

“I care about you too Corey. I don’t want to, but I do.”

“Let’s get a room,” he pulled me close, his face against my neck.

I gazed past Corey’s shoulder as if I were disembodied, a member of an audience watching a movie or play. I saw the sharp shadows cast by the bright California morning sun from the empty cars in the parking lot. There was no place to hide from its glare. Everything was in clear focus to my painful eyes. Had it been the cover of night, in the parking lot of a bar instead, I would have remained lulled.

“Corey, I can’t do this, I’m sorry.”

“Niki, wait. I know it’s not right. I’m not a player. I haven’t done this before either. But you and me, we’re the same. We care deeply, and we give everything. Simon and Sheila don’t understand us like we do each other. This way, maybe we can stay married, and raise our kids with both their parents. You and I already live in two separate worlds: one in the hospital, and another not of the hospital. This will be ‘hospital.’ We deserve some happiness, Niki.”

I thought hard about his words. Their logic was seductive: Wouldn’t I be a better nurse, a better mother, and in a twisted way, a better wife by surrendering to the fact that I live my life straddling different worlds, playing different roles in each? I live a separate life from the one I lived in my parents’ home; yet keep the role of their daughter. As a mother, I play another role too, with different rules. It’s the same thing really, adapting to the different contexts of life.

I leaned back against my car, and let the morning sun warm my face.

Collusion (Niki coaches a parent on talking to doctors)

Chapter 13

The next night I returned to the PICU, and found that the eleven year-old transferred to the regular pediatric unit on schedule. As predicted, Dr. Eubanks not only discontinued the Fentanyl infusion before the transfer, but the puny IV morphine pushes too. It was out of my hands now. Or so I thought.

Later in the evening, I see the eleven year old’s Dad standing at the nurses’ desk, asking for me. I go to talk with him.

“What did you do last night to get my daughter pain medicine?” He demands.

“Um, I asked the PICU doctor for it,” I said. I didn’t think I should say that this was because I knew the surgeon wouldn’t order it.

“How’s she doing tonight?”

“She had a pretty good day. In the afternoon she rode a wheelchair to the play therapy room, played some games, and then walked back to her room. Right now though, she’s screaming in pain, and her mom and I can’t get her to stop. I asked the nurse to give her pain medicine, and she told me Tylenol is the only thing ordered. We gave it to her, but it doesn’t stop the pain. How do I get her more pain medicine?”

“Oh, boy,” I think to myself. My role of patient advocate is clear; I’m trying to think of how to word my answer without getting fired.

The child’s father, advocating for his daughter, doesn’t allow me this luxury.

“Are you a mother?” he asks.

“Yes I am. I have a daughter about the same age as yours,” I admit.

“So, if this were your daughter, what would you, as a nurse, do to get your daughter more pain medication?”

Silently, I think to myself, “Well, I was looking for work when I found this job…”

Out loud, I tell him the truth:

“Dr. Eubanks is a very good surgeon, but he doesn’t like his patients over sedated, so he doesn’t order a lot of pain medications for them. Your nurse isn’t calling him for more, because he will probably yell at her if she does. She’s afraid of him.”

“It’s only 9 pm. What I would do is tell the nurse I want to speak to Dr. Eubanks, now. She’ll make the call at the desk for you. When you get Dr. Eubanks on the phone, tell him your daughter is screaming in pain, and this is unacceptable; you expect her to be comfortable in the hospital. Tell him you want him to order appropriate pain medication for your daughter.”

“Got it!”  He said triumphantly. “Thank you.  Anything else?”

“Yeah, if you would not tell anyone that I coached you on this, I’d appreciate it. I’ll probably get written up if the pediatric nurses or Dr. Eubanks find out,” I solicited.

“Not a problem. I appreciate you honesty and help,” he promised, leaving the PICU, presumably looking for his daughter’s nurse.