Small and Scattered (Niki makes another decision)

Chapter 20

The next day was Saturday. Simon and a buddy drove the rig with the jet skis back to the dealer.

I hadn’t slept well.

I kept telling myself:

  • It’s no big deal; anyone can have a lapse in judgment.
  • People spend more money than they make all the time. I shouldn’t get so upset.
  • Simon had good intentions. The gift was meant to bring us closer together. Isn’t that what celebrating an anniversary is all about?

Then why am I so angry?


I made coffee. In the family room, Maddie sat on the floor watching TV with her chin resting on  the coffee table, intermittently scooping spoonfuls of cereal and milk up and over the edge of a bowl into her mouth.  Her backpack leaned against the sofa beside her. She’s spending the day with her friend Kaylee, and staying overnight. Kaylee’s mom will pick her up soon.

After Maddie left, I went for a bike ride, took a shower, and thought about lunch.

Simon returned without the rig. He smiled sheepishly.

“The dealer agreed to resell the rig for us. It was already a great deal, but now that it’s priced as used, he says it will go fast. We’ll probably only make one, maybe two payments before it sells.”

“How much of a loss will we take?”

“Less than $10,000, I figure.”

I had nothing to say.

“Okay, Niki, I get it. I was wrong to buy the jet skis, and cancel the Coronado trip without talking to you first. I get it. I won’t do it again. Can you just get over it, and let’s move on?”

I felt anger rising like a pot boiling over. I steeled myself to say the words I’d rehearsed,

“Simon, I want a divorce.”

“WHAT! Over jet skis? What’s wrong with you, Niki?

That’s right Simon, it’s me not you,” sarcasm escaped my mouth.

“Damn right it’s you! How can you break apart a family? Our family? Over jet skis!”

I paused before blurting out, “A family? Yeah, a single parent family! You’re impulsive, Simon. It’s like being married to a child. You’re a crisis about to happen. You only think about your needs, your wants. Putting us in debt without talking to me about it is just a part of our problems.

I take care of people all night long at work, then I come home and take care of you. The kitchen sink is always full of dirty dishes from the night before, and the garbage overflows. I get up, clean house, and go back to work, while you watch sports on TV.

If I go on like this, I’m going to shatter, Simon, and the pieces will be so small and scattered, I’ll never gather them up and put myself back together. I need a partner Simon, not another child. For all I do around here, I may as well be a single parent. It can’t be any harder than this already is.”

Well, it’s not like you work five days a week like I do, Niki.”

I hissed at him, “I want a divorce, Simon. I want to be happy.”

“Is this about that ER nurse, what’s his name? Are you sleeping with him?”

“No I’m not sleeping with him. Corey’s married. I’m not a home wrecker!”

“Yes you are, Niki.  You’re wrecking our home.”

Different Sides of The Family Room (Niki talks to Simon)

Chapter 19

I fumed in the car while Simon loaded Maddie into his. He knows me well enough to realize how furious I am, but neither of us wants to have an argument in front of our daughter, or in the driveway where the neighbors will hear. So I smiled with gritted teeth while waving to Maddie as they drove off to school. In the kitchen, I ignored the dirty dishes in the sink and the piled up garbage in the wastebasket. Throwing my tote bag on the table, I grabbed my cell phone from it, texted SOS! and waited for Raquel to call.


“Oh no, he did not!” was the first thing out of Raquel’s mouth after telling her about the near collision with the trailer, truck, and jet skis.

“Oh yes he did,” I chimed.

“And Simon cancelled the Coronado trip? We made all kinds of plans anticipating having Maddie for the weekend. Our kids will be so disappointed that she’s not coming.  Niki, what are you going to do?”

“He must have put us nearly $40,000 in debt. I still can’t believe he’d spend that kind of money without talking to me first.  He can’t keep them. I think we have twenty-four hours to change our minds about the purchase contract.”


What, Raquel?”

“Niki, I’m sorry, but there’s no grace period on new automobile contracts once you drive off the lot. I don’t know about the jet skis, but I’m pretty sure the truck is yours.”

I could feel panic coming on.

“Don’t panic Niki. I’ll talk to Grant. He’s a sharp lawyer. Maybe he knows a way out of this.”


At dinner, the only words Simon and I speak are in response to Maddie’s chattering. The tension frizzles through the air, dispersing the aroma of meatloaf and potatoes. After clearing the table, I put a brownie and a small scoop of ice cream in a bowl, handing it to Maddie to take to her room along with a DVD movie. I explained to her that Daddy and I have some grown up business to talk about.


Simon and I face each other from different sides of the family room. He starts.

“So, I get it. The jet skis were a bad idea. I’ll drive the rig back tomorrow and return it.”

“It’s a bigger problem than that, Simon. There’s no return policy for trucks or the jet skis. They belong to us. And so does the debt.”

“Niki, the dealer said …”

“Simon, I talked with Grant this afternoon. Once they left the lot, they became ours. That’s the law.”

Simon contemplated this news silently. “Well, I’ll drive them back tomorrow, and see what the dealer says.”

“Grant suggests asking the dealer to consider keeping them on the lot, and reselling them for us. We’d take a loss, but not the entire amount,” I instructed.

“You’re sure you don’t want to see if we like them first, Niki?”

“No, Simon. I don’t,” my voice was icy. I couldn’t bring myself to say the rest of the words.

Just then, Maddie came into the room. “Are you guys fighting?”

“No, honey, Mom and Dad are having a discussion. Go back to your room.”

“Can we keep the jet skis?”

“No honey, they’re going back.” You need to go back to your room and get ready for bed.”

“I hate it when you fight,” she grumbled, and rolled her eyes at me before trudging to her room.

Why am I the bad guy?

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.

Is Everything Okay? (Niki’s nursing assessment saves a baby)


Chapter 17

I woke up in the afternoon having slept poorly after the bad dream. Schlepping my way into the kitchen, I made a cup of tea.

Simon dropped Maddie off from school, and then went back to coach practice. I helped Maddie with her homework while starting dinner.

During dinner Maddie chatted animatedly about what her friends at school are up to. Simon tells us about a new project he’s introduced to his students. He notices my distraction and asks, “Is everything okay, Nik?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine. I just didn’t sleep well today.”

Simon gives me a curious look, but makes no comment.

I kiss them good-bye before leaving for work.


Corey brings a ventilated baby with pneumonia to the PICU at change of shift. He turns his head away, but not before giving me a look so sharp I catch my breath.

Pointedly, Corey gives the report to Kathy. As he leaves the unit, he looks at me again. Silently, I mouth the words, “Can we talk?” but he puts his head down, rapidly disappearing down the corridor outside the PICU.

Kris is finishing her day shift charting at the nurses’ desk. I suddenly realize she’s seen all of this.

“Everything okay, Niki?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I’ve never seen Corey transfer a patient so fast when you’re here, that’s all.”

“Mind your own business, Kris.”

She raises an eyebrow at me, and returns to her charting.


Later in the shift, the pulse ox alarm in Kathy’s patient’s room sounds, and she gets up to check on it. Poking her head out the room’s door, she says, “Niki I need to suction him. Would you help?”

At the crib, I manage the ambu bag; manually giving the baby breaths of oxygen while Kathy suctions its breathing tube to remove secretions. Nothing comes up, so she places a few drops of normal saline down the tube before making another pass. A bit of yellow-green mucous comes up. She replaces the ventilator tubing, and silences the pulse ox alarm again when it continues to read 90%.

“That’s funny. His oxygen saturation should improve after suctioning,” she observes out loud.

“Maybe he’s due for a respiratory treatment,” I offer. “I’ll page Gerald.”

Gerald administers an aerosolized medication into the ventilator tubing, and then gently taps on the baby’s chest and back with a soft rubber percussor. Kathy suctions again, while Gerald bags. Still, no significant secretions. The baby’s oxygen saturation drops to 85%.

I listen to his chest with my stethoscope. There’s breath sounds on both sides. However, the little guy begins pulling hard with every breath. We watch as the tiny muscles between his ribs pull in with the work of breathing.

“He’s getting worse.”

Gerald takes him off of the ventilator, and starts hand bagging again. I suction without secretions, while Kathy pages Dr. Polk.

“He’s down in the ER, assisting with a pediatric trauma. He said to keep bagging.  He’ll be up as soon as he can.”

“I’m not sure we can wait that long,” I said. Not only were the sats less than 80%, but now the baby’s heart rate was dropping.

“What’s wrong?” Kathy called out.

Insight flashed before me, “His breathing tube is blocked.”

“Are you sure? asked Kathy. “How do you know?”

“It has to be. His chest sounds are good. He’s moving air, but he’s not getting oxygen from either the vent or the bag. We’ve got to pull the tube out now!”

“Dr. Polk said to continue bagging until he arrives,” warns Kathy.

“The baby is going to code if we don’t pull the tube now,” I insisted.

“Yeah, and who’s going to take responsibility for that, Niki?” Gerald cautioned.

“I will,” I said. “I’m pulling the ET tube.”

I removed the tape from the baby’s face, allowing the tube to slide out easily. At its end was a glob of thick, white secretions half the diameter of a ping-pong ball. It resembled a wad of chewed up bubble gum. I laid the mucous-blocked tube on a paper towel, and placed it on the bedside table. The baby started to cry.

“Well lookee there,” said Gerald. Immediately the oxygenation returned to 100%, and his heart rate returned to normal.

The three of us remained at the baby’s crib, watching him breathe; Gerald helping him out with occasional bagged breaths until Dr. Polk arrived.

Flying into the room, Dr. Polk saw Gerald bagging his extubated patient.

“Who pulled out the goddamn ET tube?” he roared.

“I did, Dr. Polk.” I held up the gelatinous ET tube for him to see.

“Good job,” he said. “Everything looks okay.”

The Most Important Thing (Niki makes a decision)

Chapter 16

Corey put his arms around me, holding me close. My face nestles in the warm triangle where shoulder meets neck, and I can feel his carotid pulse beating against my cheek. He smells like soap and water, clean and nice. I place tiny kisses against his smooth neck, tears welling in my eyes.

“I want this Corey, I really do, but I’m not going to.”


I can’t. I’m not happy, but that doesn’t give me the right to hurt others. Maybe Liz is right. Maybe being happy isn’t the most important thing.”


He tightened his hold of me, burying his face in my shoulder. I felt the sob rack his body, and when he released me, there were tearstains on my scrub top. Looking at me, he did not wipe the tears from his face.

“I get the idea there’s no discussion here.”

“I’m sorry Corey. This hurts me too. I’ve gotta go.”

I fumbled with the car door handle before opening it, and slipped inside. Corey stood immobile, watching me with tears silently streaming his face. I choked back my own, started the car, and drove away. In the rearview mirror, Corey stood among the empty cars of the parking lot. The morning sun cast a sharp shadow from him, as if he were a statue.


In the garage, I slide off my scrubs, dumping them into the laundry hamper. I’m always worried about bringing home germs from the hospital, and spreading them to Maddie. I put on the robe I keep on a hook before entering the kitchen.

Simon’s left the dirty dishes from last night’s dinner in the sink, and the wastebasket is brimming on the edge of overflow. Its contents defy gravity. Although exasperated, I admire Simon’s flair for sculptural design.

He’s left a sticky note in his methodical printing on the counter:

“I’ll take care of the dishes and trash when I get back.”

I wash the dishes, but leave the trash. I’ll sleep better the less Simon clanks around in the kitchen. I’ll clean the rest of the house tonight when I wake up.

I take a quick shower, towel off dry and practically fall into the unmade bed in our darkened bedroom. I cry into my pillow before falling asleep.

I dream I’m still at work. The monitor and pulse ox alarms are going off in a patient’s room. Inside, a crowd of people is gathered round a crib with a baby in it. The baby is blue. Horrified, I see the ventilator is disconnected. Triumphantly, the child’s mother holds up the breathing tube she has pulled from her own infant’s throat. She turns to me with zombie-like eyes, and says,

The roar of a passing motorcycle outside wakes me up abruptly before I can make out what she says. I sit up in bed, clutching the blanket to my chest while my heart beats wildly.