I Guess We’re Going to Find Out

Chapter 73

I’ve been home for three days now. Maddie stayed home from school too, but I think she’s comfortable that I’m safe now, and wants to go back to being with her friends.

Raquel and Grant are staying in the guest room. Grant handles all media inquiries with an authoritative, “No comments at this time.” Raquel took all household tasks from me, and cooks a meal when take-out doesn’t sound appealing.

Honestly, I’m grateful to let them take charge. I’m not sleeping very well. It takes a long for me to drift off, and once I do, I’m wakened by horrible nightmares: sometimes Frank has me up against the wall, with his fingers around my throat, instead of Liz. Or, I am forced to pull the plug to Nathan’s ventilator from the wall, only to discover it’s Maddie in the hospital bed, screaming silently.

The ER doctor gave me a prescription for Ativan. I take one before going to bed, but it doesn’t work.

I’ll need the Ativan soon though. My parents are arriving any day now to relieve Raquel and Grant. I begged them not to come, but they insist.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my parents. I really do. Our family isn’t unusual for having some dysfunction, but as Tolstoy pointed out, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Once upon a time we were a happy family.

I was six years old when my brother Joel was born. It was just like getting a living baby doll. I quickly adapted to the role of big sister, or more accurately, self-appointed co-mother.

I sat near (my mother would say, practically on) him all of the time. When mom nursed him, I sat beside her, shirt up, with my baby doll held against my bare chest in imitation. I got so close up when mom changed his diaper that more than once I was hit in the face with a stream of his urine. Whenever mom let me hold him, I was ecstatic with love for my tiny, baby brother with curly black hair…

“Hey Niki, you’ve been journaling with that faraway look in your eyes for awhile now. Are you okay? Can I get you anything?”

I put down my journal and pen. “No, thanks Raquel. I’m okay. I’m writing about Joel. I guess Mom and Dad’s visit is making me think about him.”

Raquel tenses and pales. The corners of her mouth and eyes slacken a bit.

“Honey, are you sure it’s a good idea to dwell on that right now? I have the phone number of the therapist the social worker gave us. Would you like me to schedule an appointment for you?”

“No Raquel, really, I’m okay. I’m sorry for upsetting you. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“It’s okay, Niki. I’ve been thinking about Joel too. I hope Mom’s doing okay.”

“I guess we’re going to find out.”

At The Time I didn’t Know Either

Chapter 70

The nurse comes back. “You have a few visitors. “

Raquel rushes into the makeshift bay, and tries to hug me as best she can while I lay on the gurney. Following close behind are Grant, and Simon, escorted by Officer, I mean, Mike

“Raquel, Grant, how did you get here? And Simon?”

“You listed me with the hospital as your emergency contact,” says Raquel. “They called me. It just happened Grant had a legal conference in LA today, and I came along to do some shopping. We weren’t far when I got the call. Oh, Niki…” Raquel starts to cry. I look for a box of tissues, but don’t see one. I let it go.

“Then I called Simon. I called Mom and Dad too. I’ll call again later and let them know I talked to you. If I call them now, we’ll never get either of them off of the phone.”

“Oh God, Mom and Dad know?”

“I had to call them Niki, after I found out. It was too serious for me to wait. I didn’t know if…”

Raquel doesn’t finish the sentence. I know what it was she didn’t know.

At the time, I didn’t know, either.

When Emotions Get in The Way of Judgement

Chapter 62

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.

Nothing is Going to Help: Liz’s First Visit to Nathan’s Bedside

Chapter 61

I’ve given report on Nathan to the nightshift nurse relieving who’s me. He’s had a central venous line, an arterial line and an intercranial monitoring device inserted. He’s heavily sedated. I watch his vital signs normalize on the monitor above his bed while I finish cleaning the blood off of his face. I gently comb his hair as best I can. Liz is in the waiting room; she hasn’t seen her son yet. She must be out of her mind with fear for him. Hopefully my interventions will make seeing him like this for the first time just a little less shocking.

Quinn, the nightshift nurse, completes her assessment of Nathan’s vital signs, pulses, and infusions. “Okay, Niki, I’m ready for you to bring in Liz.”

I notice Quinn placing a box of Kleenex on the bedside table.

A social worker from the emergency department sits beside Liz in the waiting room. Liz has been crying, but when I go to her an hug her she’s stoic with shock. She feels utterly fragile in my arms, and I start to cry.

“It’s going to be okay Liz,” I blubber. We both know it’s untrue. Nothing’s going to be the same.

In Nathan’s room, Liz goes to his bedside, and holds the fingers of one his hands. I notice a bit of dried blood I missed between his thumb and index finger, and curse myself. Liz knows he’s been sedated unconscious, but like every parent of a child admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit, she quietly calls his name. “Mommy’s here, Nathan,” she says, looking at the monitor for a blip in his heart rate or breathing that might indicate he hears her, and knows she’s with him.

There is no blip.

“Frank is not going to be able to handle this,” she says.

“Why don’t I call a social worker to be here with you when he arrives?” I suggest.

“Sure, why not,” Liz agrees with a faraway look in her eyes, and then, “Nothing is going help with Frank.”

A shiver of fear travels down my spine.