I Thought Only Old People Died

Chapter 76

“Can I refill your coffee, Dad?”

“Sure sweetheart. Thanks”

Dad and I are drinking coffee this morning in my kitchen. Mom was up before either of us, did her morning yoga and meditation, and is now taking a walk to the neighborhood park.

“How’s Mom doing, you think?”

“Well, the news you were held hostage at gunpoint in the hospital shocked both of us. Neither of us could handle losing another child. Thank God, it didn’t happen.” Dad pauses, and looks at the ceiling, but not before I see he’s blinking back tears.

“I think she’s going to be okay, Niki. Just give her time to process. You know how she gets.”

Yeah, I know how Mom gets.

Later, Mom is busy cleaning the kitchen, and Dad has gone to a gym. I sit down with my journal. The therapist suggested I write down my thoughts. This morning, my thoughts are about my parents, and Joel:

Like I said, I was six when Joel was born, and I adored being his big sister. He was named after my grandpa. Joel was cherubic, with pale skin, and blue eyes that lightened and darkened with his mood, like the sea. He laughed easily, and was almost always smiling.

When he cried, I would race to get to his crib before my mom. I wanted him to know I would always be there for him. I loved pretending he was my child.

Joel was walking, just after his first birthday. He grew and thrived until the middle of his second year. Gradually, he became fussy, and less easy to console. He was a picky eater, and lost weight. Mom took him to the pediatrician, who assured her his behaviors were part of The Terrible Twos.

A few weeks before second birthday, Joel fell while standing in front of the TV. When he stood back up, he wobbled when he walked. Joel fell again, and then he threw up. I was scared. I called for Mom, who was in the kitchen, doing dishes.

Mom called Dad at work, and told him she was taking Joel to the emergency room. He met her there. Then she called our neighbor, who came over to watch me.

I was scared. I prayed that God would make Joel better.

When they came home, my parents told me Joel had a cancer in his brain, and he was going to need surgery. They said they needed to stay with him at the hospital when he had the surgery, and I was going to have to be a brave girl while they were away. My grandparents came to stay with me.

When my parents came home from the hospital with Joel after his surgery, I thought everything was going to be okay. I was extra careful to be gentle with him.

But Joel wasn’t okay. There were more doctor appointments. He had chemotherapy and radiation appointments. At home, Mom held him almost all of the time, even while he slept. Dad took over cooking dinner when he came home from work. On the days Joel and Mom stayed in the hospital, Dad went there after work, and sometimes stayed the night too.

Grandma and Grandpa stayed with us a lot. They drove me to school, and back. Grandma made me bagged lunches in sacks decorated with cute stickers. They listened to me practice reading, and spelling. They bought me presents, even though it wasn’t my birthday.

I waited for Joel to get better, but he didn’t. Dad started taking me to the hospital with him in the evenings to visit Joel at the hospital. Sometimes I had to wear a mask to see him. He was puffy, and didn’t look or act Iike Joel. I closed my eyes when I was prompted by my parents to kiss him on the forehead.

One day, Grandpa picked me up from school. I chattered away in the car, and Grandpa would smile, but his eyes looked sad.

At our house, the living room curtains were drawn closed. The room was dark. Dad, who was usually at work, was sitting in his chair. Mom sat on the sofa. Grandma sat next to her, her arms around Mom. All of them were crying.

“Come here, sweetheart,” Dad said.

I was afraid, but I didn’t know of what. I knew something really bad had happened. I couldn’t move.

“Niki, come here,”

I walked across the room to my Dad. He put me in his lap.

“Niki, sweetheart, your baby brother, Joel, died at the hospital today. He’s in Heaven now, and he’s not suffering anymore.”

I burst into tears.

“But why did he die?” I was furious. “How did he die?”

“Niki, Joel was very sick. Sweetheart, you knew he was sick. You knew he was going to the doctor’s all the time. We took you to visit him. He had a brain tumor.”

“But I didn’t know he was going to die. I didn’t know babies could die. I thought only old people died. I didn’t know I was never going to see him again. Am I going to die?”

My father held me tightly, and cried into my hair.

Cards and Flowers

Chapter 75

The doorbell rings, and Mom goes to the door. Since the Code Silver event, I’ve avoided contact with people other than my family. I don’t want to make small talk, or any talk, really.

“It’s another flower arrangement,” Mom says, carrying a striking arrangement of irises and fern fronds. “Where should I put this one?”

“Let me see it first. Who’s it from?” It’s an elegant arrangement of irises, fern, and baby’s breathe in an artisan glass vase. I reach for the small envelope tucked in, and open it.

“We miss you girl. Look forward to getting together again soon. Love, Gerald”

“Aw, it’s from Gerald. He’s my respiratory therapist friend at the hospital. This is so sweet of him.” I look around for a place to put this arrangement among all of the others, and the “thinking of you” cards covering the shelf of the media center, coffee and dining room tables. I find a place for it on the kitchen island, next to the largest arrangement of all, sent from my PICU coworkers. I should text one of them, and let them know how I’m doing, but I don’t know what to say. I feel too fragile yet, and I don’t like it.

Before she and Grant left, Raquel scheduled an appointment with the counselor the hospital social worker referred me to, for next week. I’m not sure I feel comfortable talking about myself with a therapist, but maybe it’ll be okay.

Mom’s words snap me out of my reverie, “All of these flowers and cards make me think of Joel.” She looks wistful, and sad. I try to gage the depth her emotional status, and sense it’s okay to engage. “Me too, Mom. This whole thing makes me think of Joel. I love you, Mom.”

I’m not sure she heard me. Her arms are wrapped around her shoulders. She’s staring out the window at something I cannot see.

We Need Each Other, After All

Chapter 74

Today, my parents arrived. They need to spend time with me since the hostage event at the hospital. The trauma of the situation has an impact on everyone I love.

My mom is a beautiful woman. She’s always beautiful, even when her eyes are red and puffy from crying. When she cries, I think of Michelangleo’s Pieta.

She enters my house, with Dad at her side. Despite the smile on her face, it’s obvious she’s been crying. Her eyes are demurely pink around their edges, and slightly puffy.

The moment I see the two of them, I start crying too. We hug tightly, the way people who nearly lost each other do; the way people do when they know life can change, and change you, in the blink of an eye.

I think of La Pieta.

Breaking our embrace, I do an assessment.

Mom’s long, pale hair is pulled away from her face with a barrette. Aging, the years only seem to add to her grace: Her once thin face with its high cheekbones, now padded with a few pounds of extra weight, has rounded out along its edges, making her look less fragile; stronger rather than older. I feel reassured by this.

My mom is an artist. She’s had exhibitions in many galleries, and people buy her paintings. Over the years, she’s become quite well known.

Dad has barely changed at all. An exercise fanatic, he’s the same weight he was at 25. He still fits into the suit he wore when he married mom. There’s a few more lines of worry around the corners of his eyes, and a new furrow between his brows. His hair has a bit more silver in it than when I last saw him.

“Maria Nicola,” Mom begins, holding out her arms for another hug. She must have seen me wince at my full name; she pivots: “My Niki,” and then her tears resume. “My God, Niki!”

I step forward and hug her again. “I know Mom, I know. I’m okay, really. I’m okay.”

I’m glad my parents are here. We need each other, after all.

Celebrate Nurses All Month! Nurses Get 15% Off Order of Fire Department Coffee While Helping #EndNurseAbuse

Hi, Niki here. Happy Nurses’ Day to my colleagues everywhere!

Everyone knows coffee is a nurse’s best friend. A good cup of coffee warms the soul, and jumpstarts my day.

I want to share with you a special gift for Nurse’s Month: In celebration of Nursing Week, Fire Department Coffee is offering a 15% discount on any purchase to nurses during May. Use promo code NURSE15 at checkout. 

  Fire Department Coffee features a wide variety of freshly roasted coffee including The Original Medium Roast, Light Roast, Dark Roast, Donut Shop, Backdraft Espresso and a Spirit-Infused line with Bourbon, Rum, Tequila, Irish Whiskey infused coffees. I sampled the Vanilla Bourbon, and Dark Roast. Both were flavorful and rich, with a smooth finish. For more information, please visit firedeptcoffee.com

Fire Department Coffee Partners with The American Nurses Association to #EndNurseAbuse

Fire Dept. Coffee is dedicating the month of May, which is National Nurses Month, to supporting the American Nurses Association (ANA), the premier organization representing the interests of the nation’s more than 4.2 million nurses. Throughout the month, Fire Dept. Coffee is giving customers the option of adding a donation to support ANA’s #EndNurseAbuse campaign to stop workplace violence and abuse against nurses.

The campaign focuses on raising awareness of violence and harassment against nurses in the workplace, to encourage the reporting of violent incidences, and to strengthen ‘zero-tolerance’ policies through multi-faceted strategies, position statements, calls-to-action, and grassroots efforts that influence public policy and legislation. Through ANA’s work on #EndNurseAbuse, the U.S. House passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1195) on April 16.

“Every nurse deserves to feel safe and protected in the workplace. Any level of violence or abuse is wholly unacceptable and should not be tolerated. ANA’s #EndNurseAbuse campaign was developed to support nurses to ensure that every health care setting and health system are safe work environments for nurses. We extend a heartfelt thank you to Fire Department Coffee for their valued partnership and support on this critical issue. A health care system that works for all Americans is a health care system that values nurses. Together we can #EndNurseAbuse,” said Senior Policy Advisor for Nursing Practice & Work Environment at ANA, Ruth Francis, MPH, MCHES.

According to a 2019 survey, more than half of respondents have said they have been verbally assaulted and 1 in 4 have reported being physically assaulted in the workplace. According to these statistics, health care workers are exposed to violence at a higher rate than prison guards or police officers.

“Nurses and other health care professionals deserve to be treated with the utmost respect at all times,” Fire Dept. Coffee Founder and CEO Luke Schneider said. “By joining with the American Nurses Association, we are expressing our support and inviting our customers to do the same so that we can play a role in improving these unacceptable statistics.”

When customers place an order during the month of May on FireDeptCoffee.com, they will see a message offering the opportunity to include with their purchase a donation to support the #EndNurseAbuse campaign. Each donation helps support ANA’s efforts to advocate for the safety of nurses and to work with health care organizations to initiate safety protocols that protect nurses, so they can protect their patients.

ANA is observing National Nurses Month for the second year, in an effort to expand recognition of nurses’ vital position in transforming health care, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The evolution from Nurses Week (May 6-12) to Nurses Month is a meaningful way to allow for greater engagement, participation, and appreciation of nurses by many stakeholders, growth that will occur over several years.

About Fire Department Coffee

Launched in 2016, Fire Department Coffee is veteran-owned and run by firefighters with the mission to make great coffee and an even greater mission to support our nation’s heroes in need. Ten percent of the net proceeds go to help first responders who are injured on the job, mentally or physically, or who are facing other serious health challenges. Fire Department Coffee features a wide variety of freshly roasted coffee including The Original Medium Roast, Light Roast, Dark Roast, Donut Shop, Backdraft Espresso and a Spirit-Infused line with Bourbon, Rum, Tequila, Irish Whiskey infused coffees. For more information, please visit firedeptcoffee.com.

About the American Nurses Association (ANA)

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is the premier organization representing the interests of the nation’s 4.2 million registered nurses. ANA advances the profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting a safe and ethical work environment, bolstering the health and wellness of nurses, and advocating on health care issues that affect nurses and the public. ANA is at the forefront of improving the quality of health care for all. For more information, visit www.nursingworld.org

About Nurses Month

Honoring our nation’s nurses is more profoundly significant during the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes this month of recognition in May even more important. Whether it is a national health emergency or routine daily care, nurses’ vital contributions impact the health and well-being of our communities, which is why ANA selected the theme for May as Nurses Make a Difference. To honor nurses and support the nursing profession, ANA will promote weekly themes and activities. While continued physical distancing may limit our face-to-face activities, we encourage everyone to think of creative ways to virtually engage. The month will be divided into four weekly focuses: Self-care, Recognition, Professional Development, and Community Engagement.

To request samples for media, contact Madeline Hayes

(779) 772-4707

madeline@firedeptcoffee.com

I’d Like to Go Home Now

Chapter 72

Simon, and Grant are standing by my gurney. Raquel is seated precariously on its edge, holding my hand. The IV saline bag is nearly empty. The nurse comes back to check my IV, and takes my blood pressure.

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Calmer, with the lorazepam on board. When can I go home?”

“Medically, you’re probably good to go, but I’ve been instructed not to discharge you until the police say it’s okay. I don’t know if they’re going to file your report now, or later.”

Just then, a woman in business attire enters the tent. She’s carrying a clipboard with papers, and a pen.

“Niki, I can’t tell you how relieved everyone is that this is over, and all of you survived. We’ve been very concerned about your wellbeing.”

“Everyone didn’t survive. Frank didn’t survive. I saw him shot in the head.”

“No, of course; I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… I realize this has been horribly traumatic for everyone involved. I’m Jane Merger. I’m a resource manager from HR, and human resource liaison during your leave of absence that I assume you’ll want to take as you recover from this, um, event. Here’s my business card.”

“Thank you, Jane.”

She hands me a card. I take it with the same hand that’s holding Mike’s business card. I look at them blankly.

“Here, I’ll keep those for you, Nik. I’ll start taking notes and keeping track of your paperwork,” says Raquel.

“Thank you.”

“I’ll be in touch with you through email, and by phone, Niki. Don’t hesitate to contact me when you have questions. We don’t need to do anything about forms right now, except I do need you to sign this nondisclosure agreement between you and the hospital. We would like you to refrain from speaking with the media about this, um, event. That includes posting about it on your social media sites, like Facebook.” Jane reaches to hands me the clipboard, and a pen. Grant intercepts it.

“Hi Jane, I’m Grant, Niki’s brother-in-law, and legal counsel. I’m going to insist that Niki doesn’t sign any agreements at this time. I will be reviewing all legal agreements between the hospital and my client. Here’s my business card.”

Grant hands back the clipboard to Jane, along with his business card.

I’m beginning to realize that although the crisis is over, my life has changed.

“I’d like to go home now.”

There Must Have Been Some Kind of Disaster

Chapter 69

“Niki, are you okay? Did he hurt you?

“Officer Mike?”

“Mike, yeah. It’s just Mike. Officer isn’t part of my name.”

I let that sink in for a moment, before beginning to tremble violently. Officer Mike, I mean Mike, looks concerned, and grasps me by both elbows.

“I need a wheelchair over here now!” he shouts.

“Hey, that’s my line.” I try to smile, and then I realize he’s calling the wheelchair for me. A nurse brings one, just before my legs buckle out from under me.

Mike runs alongside the wheelchair, while the nurse rapidly pushes it to one of those medi-surg tents set up in the hospital parking lot. Off to the sides are reporters with cameras flashing, held back from the tent by armed men in fatigues.

There must have been some kind of disaster while I was in the room with Frank.

With Frank…Frank’s dead. He had a gun pointed at my head. He wanted me to euthanize Nathan. He held me hostage…hostage. Oh my God, Frank is the disaster!

Suddenly, I’m sweaty and nauseous. I my vision starts getting black at the edges, as though I’m looking through a telescope.

“Get her out of the chair and on the gurney! Start an IV and hang NS! Get her supine, she’s passing out!”

On the gurney, I barely feel the IV poke. The NS is chilly in my vein. I’m shivering. The nurse who got the wheelchair has a warmed blanket, which she places over me. It feels nice. “Better?” she asks, while taking my blood pressure and temperature.

“Yes, the warm blanket feels good.”

A doctor introduces herself, but already I’ve forgotten her name. “Niki, are you hurt anywhere? Did he assault you in anyway?”

I feel sick again when I realize what she means.

“No, no he never touched me. He had a gun pointed at my head. He slammed Liz up against a wall though, she’s unconscious…Oh no! Where’s Liz? Is Liz okay? What about Nathan? Are they okay?”

I start to cry.

The doctor takes my hand, and with the other wipes the hair from my forehead. “They’re in separate bays. We’re checking them over for injuries now. Liz is conscious. She’s getting a CT. Nathan is sedated. He’s going to be fine.”

She examines me, and then asks, “Niki, would you like something for anxiety, something to calm you?”

“Yes.”

I feel warm as the medication does its job.

Then Everything Happens So Fast

Chapter 68

“Pick up the phone!”

I stop pushing the plunger, and set the syringe of fentanyl on Nathan’s bed, then reach for the phone on the nightstand. Hesitantly, I put the receiver to my ear.

“Hello?”

“Don’t say anything. Put down the receiver and move away from the window, NOW.”

There’s a click on the other end of the line.

Simultaneously, I see the red beam of a laser scope track a bead to Frank’s head from the window on the right side of Nathan’s room.

I step back further towards the head of Nathan’s bed, clear of the window.

Frank looks puzzled.

Then he turns toward the light, closes his eyes, and bows his head, before it shatters into a mosaic of fragments on the wall behind him.

The PICU room’s glass door slides open, and a two canisters roll into the room. The first makes a terrifying BANG! as it explodes in a burst of light. The other emits what looks like smoke, but the immediate burning irritation of my eyes tells me it’s gas. I begin coughing.

Then everything happens so fast.

A blanket is thrown over me, and my head pushed down, while someone drags me forward through the doorway. From this view, I see pairs of booted feet, followed by clogged feet, and then the wheels of three gurneys charge past me into Nathan’s room.

Still covered by the blanket, I’m pushed forward, almost faster than I can keep up, to the hospital’s exit stairway. At times I’m shoved against a wall to make room for more sets of booted feet charging up the stairs.

Eventually, we reach the lobby.

At the exit to the hospital’s parking lot, a familiar sounding voice I can’t place says, “Thank you officer. I know her. I’ll take her to the command center.”

I feel two sets of arms exchange me between them like a package.

“Niki, are you alright? You must be so scared. You’re safe now, Niki. I got you.”

Only then do I pull the blanket away from my head and stand up straight.

Leading me out of the hospital, with his arms around my shoulders, is Officer Mike.

Betting That Frank Doesn’t Know

Chapter 67

I forced myself to take a deep, inaudible breath before beginning.

Speaking slowly, I try to ignore Frank’s gun aimed at my face.

“Frank, okay. If you want me to put Nathan’s sedation back the way it was, then I need to take this little pump here off the IV pole, and put it on his bed. Is that okay, Frank? Is it okay for me to unclamp the pump from the pole so I can put the sedation back the way it was?”

Frank tilts his head and squints eyes, indicating he’s unsure if he believes me. Then he smiles, remembering he still has the gun. He answers confidently,

“Sure, that’s okay, but don’t try anything funny. I will shoot you.”

I nod my head to acknowledge I understand him. Gingerly, I unscrew the pump’s clamp lose, and remove it from the pole. I now have a projectile in my hands, but I’m unsure when or how to use it.

“Okay Frank, now I have to turn off the pump, and slide the syringe of sedation medication out of it. I’m going to give Nathan more of the sedation to make him sleep by pushing the plunger on the syringe.”

I know that if I push too much fentanyl too fast into Nathan, his back will arch stiff as a board from the bed, and he will code. But I’m betting Frank doesn’t know this. Maybe I can stall for time by giving Nathan just a tiny bit at a time.

God, please send someone to rescue us.

Like an answered prayer, the bedside phone rings.

Frank and I stare at it.

“Answer it,” demands Frank.

The phone rings again.

“Answer it!”

“Hello?”

Exactly What I Hoped He Would Say

Chapter 66

My eyes are fixed on Frank and the gun, as I very slowly walk backwards towards the head of Nathan’s bed. Frank doesn’t say anything about hurrying up. The arm holding the gun has a bit of a tremor, which he tries to hide by bracing his wrist with the opposite hand.  

For a minute, I consider he might not be fully committed to euthanizing Nathan. He’s drunk and out of control. Maybe he’s as terrified of himself as I am. 

 Peripherally, I take a quick inventory of what makeshift weapons are available to me. Next to me are the IV poles, supporting their multiple pumps. There’s the board at the foot of Nathan’s bed that OT has us using intermittently to prevent foot drop. On the bedside table is the bottle of hydrogen peroxide I used to clean Nathan’s trach. I’m afraid to get close enough to Frank while he’s holding a gun to use them though. I look again at the IV pumps on the pole, and get an idea.  

“Frank, I utter softly, “Frank…”

“What?”

“Dr. Polk started weaning Nathan’s sedation medication this morning, because his trach is healing.” I point to the mini infuser pump clamped to the IV pole, with its syringe of fentanyl. “That means Nathan is more awake now, and can breathe some on his own, without the ventilator. If I unplug the ventilator from the wall, Nathan will struggle to breathe. He won’t die quickly. Frank, he’ll suffer if we unplug the ventilator.”

Frank looks confused. “You’re lying! How can that be?”

“I told you, Frank, Nathan isn’t brain damaged. He’s paralyzed. The parts of his brain and spinal cord that control his breathing still work. He’ll suffocate slowly, gasping for air if I unplug the ventilator.”

“I don’t know if I believe you.”

“He’ll suffer, Frank. Is that what you want?”

No! Goddamnit! I want to stop his suffering. That’s why I’m here. I don’t want my son to suffer like this!”

We stare at each other in silence. I’m afraid to push Frank further. He’s too volatile and unpredictable. 

“Put the sedation back the way it was.”

“What?”

“I said, put the sedation back the way it was. Make him sleepy so he doesn’t feel anything.”

That’s exactly what I hoped he would say.

Code Silver

Chapter 65

Frank has a handgun aimed at my head.

Liz, still unconscious, lies motionless on the PICU room  floor.

I didn’t sign for this when became a nurse.

Silently, I begin to cry, thinking about Maddie, and that I may never see her again. Did I kiss her before she went to school today? Probably not; she’s too old for that. What was the last thing I said to her? I hope she knows how much I love her.

Frank slides the PICU room door shut.

“Code Silver! Pediatric Intensive Care Unit! Code Silver! Pediatric Intensive Care Unit!” is called loudly on the hospital’s PA speakers.

Thank God. Someone saw the gun.

Frank and I stare at each other, the gun pointed at my head. Facing each other, we stand like this for what feels like hours. How long have we been standing here?

I need to calm down if I’m going to survive. I need to keep my wits about me. I begin counting my breaths, focusing on the exhale.

Frank starts sobbing. “My son, my only son. Nathan, my Nathan. How could your mom let this happen? I’m not going to let you be a vegetable, son. I’m going to let you die like a man.”

I feel sick to my stomach, and try not to retch. “Frank, Nathan’s not a vegetable. He doesn’t have brain damage. He can probably hear us talking about him. He can probably hear you talking about him.”

“You fucking nurses are all alike; all positive, and thinking you can change people and fix everything. You don’t see what’s real, what’s really happening even when it’s in your face. You think if you keep cleaning up the messes, they’ll stop happening.

My boy is damaged. What kind of man lives his life in a chair? That’s no life for my son. You should of let him die the night of the accident.”

“Frank, Nathan’s heart never stopped. He never tried to die. He’s strong. He can go to college, get an education. He can inspire others going through something similar. He still has a meaningful life. This is a challenge, yes, but it’s not the end.”

“Shut up!”

“Frank…”

“I said shut up! Now, go over there, and pull the plugs.”

What?”

“I said, go over there, and pull the plugs to all the machinery out of the wall. Especially the plug to that breathing machine.”

“Frank, I can’t…”

The gun is still pointed at my head, and I hear it click.