The next morning I report to work, and request Nathan for my patient.
Sue, our charge nurse, looks at me with squinted eyes, weighing the request.
“Niki, I’m not sure that’s a good idea…You’re too close to Liz.”
I’m ready for this. “Sue, everyone in the children’s hospital is close to Liz. You’re going to run out of staff fast if you’re using that as criteria.”
She shakes her head at me. “Okay, but if I sense for a minute that your emotions get in the way of your judgement, I’m going to pull you out of the room.”
“If my emotions get too strong, I’m going to be the first one to tell you.”
Liz is sitting in the bedside chair next to Nathan, still holding his hand. The cot made up for her hasn’t been slept in.
“Hey,” I say in what I hope is a normal voice. “How’s he doing?”
“His kidneys are working,” she smiles wanly. “He only needed mannitol once during the night. His blood pressure and CVP are normal.”
“That’s good news,” I affirm. “He’s young and strong. He’s going to make it through.”
“We haven’t been told the results of his cervical spine imaging yet. The neurologist said he wanted to see how Nathan did overnight.”
We look at each other in silence. I start my assessment, charting the results in the computer as I go.
“Can I bring you some coffee, Liz?”
“No, I’ll head down to the cafeteria when you guys start rounds. Maybe take a shower. The nursing supervisor offered me access to an empty patient room for as long as it’s empty.”
“That was thoughtful.
The silence becomes awkward, until Liz says, “Frank was here last night.”
“How did that go?”
“He cried. He raged a little, but then he went home. He said he’d be back later. I imagine he needed a drink.”
“Liz, I’m worried about your safety around Frank. Is there family or someone who can be with you when he’s here? I think we should let security know he’s volatile and have a plan in case he comes in drunk and angry.”
“Niki, I’ve dealt with him for years. I can handle him.”
She looks so small and helpless in the bedside chair. I wonder how someone as smart, sweet and kind as Liz ended up married to an abusive alcoholic like Frank.