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.

 

This is Your Fault: Frank Lashes Out

Chapter 64

Liz is assisting me with Nathan’s trach care. The stoma is healing well, but still a tender pink, with frothy secretions. Carefully, I swab around the collar, while Liz measures and cuts new ties to replace the old ones.

“It sounds like Nathan’s going to begin weaning from the ventilator soon,” I say, trying to sound cheerful. “He’s starting to do more breathing on his own since Dr. Polk had us lighten his sedation.”

“He opens his eyes every now and then too, that makes me so happy,” says Liz. “I swear he squeezed my hand when I was talking to him last night. Maybe he’ll regain some movement in his hands.”

“That would be great, Liz. I’ve known patients who were able to use a computer, and navigate their mobility chair independently, using a single hand. He’s strong, and young.”

“Should we wash Nathan’s hair this morning, Niki?”

Before I can answer, I sense in my peripheral vision a shadow standing in the doorway. It’s Frank. He grasps the side of the doorway with one hand, swaying a little. I can smell the alcohol he’s been drinking from across the room.

He’s staring at Nathan in the bed, but doesn’t step further into the room. Something about him blocking the doorway sets me on edge.

“Hello, Frank.”

He doesn’t take his eyes off of Nathan.

Liz looks uneasy too, but ventures to speak to him, “We’re just finishing Nathan’s bath and trach care. He had a good night.”

Frank turns to Liz, fury in his voice. “You raised our boy to be a fucking pussy. How’s he going to learn to be a man and toughen up when you keep letting him be sensitive and all that shit? I told you time after time, and now look where he is. You made this happen, Liz. This is your fault!”

“Frank, that’s enough,” I say to him. I need you to calm down.”

“You’re a cruel asshole,” mumbles Liz, barely audible.

Frank takes a step forward into the room. “What did you just say?”

“Nothing, Frank. I didn’t say anything.”

Frank looks at Liz, and his shoulders relax. In a voice frighteningly calm, he says, “Oh, it was nothing.”

Then, with the speed, and precision of a striking rattlesnake, Frank grabs Liz by the throat, pulling her away from Nathan’s bed, and slams her head against the wall. He releases his grip, and she slides to the floor, unconscious.

I scream, “Call security! I need help!” from the room to the nurses’ desk.

And then Frank pulls out a handgun, and points it at my head.

Kris (The Pale Green Bed)

Chapter 59

She woke up choking for air, strangling. When she opened her eyes she saw it was only that she was tangled in the pale green silk bedspread. She had neglected to turn it down the night before. A trail of drool left a dark pool on its edge. She hoped it would dry unnoticed so she wouldn’t have to take it to the dry cleaner. But the concern was quickly forgotten with awareness of her blinding headache. She considered whether it was worth the trouble of going to the bathroom and hunt for ibuprofen.

It was. Naked, she climbed out of the bed, head down, and a hand shielding her eyes from the sunlight streaming in through a gap in the vertical blinds. After stumbling, she remembered the three carpeted steps leading down from the raised platform where the circular bed perched. Gingerly, she made her way to the bathroom. The reflection of her face in the mirror changed her opinion about the ibuprofen, and she took an Oxycodone from its orange prescription vial instead. Groping the dark wood paneled walls of the hallway, she felt her way to the kitchen, swigging down the pill with a mouthful of flat sparking wine from a bottle she didn’t remember opening, and left overnight on the counter. Then she made her way back to the bed, covering her head with the stained, pale green bedspread.

Twenty minutes later, the warm, lightheaded feeling with a twinge of nausea arrived. She was ready to face another day.

Still naked, this time she remembered the three shallow stairs and stepped onto the shag wall-to-wall carpeting. She didn’t open the blinds, instead creating a space for herself between the vertical strips in front of the glass to gaze at the view.

The west wall of the room was glass with a sliding door opening onto a patio of aggregated stone. The patio formed a half-circle around the house. Beyond was an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean shrouded in the low-lying fog known as June gloom. By sight alone she understood the weather was mild and the fog would burn off by afternoon. The ocean was placid grey. “Grey, the color of the day,” she crooned, like a child singing a nursery rhyme.

Silhouetted against the sea’s brightness, a life-sized bronze sea lion stood at attention, as if barking at an intruder. The sea lion was some kind of local celebrity with a familiar name like Ed, or Bud or something. The house’s owner made the sculpture. She tried to remember: The owner was a movie producer, or something; she couldn’t remember what the property manager had told her.

She turned and faced the room, its focal point the elevated, pale green circular bed. She had never seen a circular bed. She wondered where she could find a circular bedspread to replace the one she had stained. Maybe on Amazon. The bed brought to mind Old Hollywood glamour. Or maybe it just reminded her of a bedroom in an old Hollywood movie. That’s probably more like it.

The bed rested against the wall. Above, a shelf of teak and glass defied gravity. The little bit of Kris that was still a nurse thought hanging something so heavy above a bed in earthquake prone California foolishly dangerous. She imagined it crashing down on sleeping victims. On it sat a Danish-modern vase, and a small ceramic bull.

A circular bed on a circular platform, a circle within a circle.

Strewn over the floor of the room, her clothes defied its sense of order.

 

Bruises Not Scratches (Niki Discovers Something Unsettling)

Chapter 58

“Raquel, it was absolute mayhem. The little dog took off down the hall after the bunny, and then the charge nurse called Security to help round them up. Of course, Security didn’t have any idea of what to do. Eventually, two officers cornered the animals, grabbed Rocket, and the pet therapist gathered up the bunny, but not before the blind kid, Travis, somehow felt his way to the fire alarm, and pulled it. The sprinkler system went off, and the fire department arrived. No, I didn’t leave early. After we settled everyone down, finished the shift, and gave report, it was 9 pm before I finally I got home, and reheated for dinner the lunch I didn’t get to eat. I’m ready for a second glass of wine, are you?”

This story was just to good not to call my sister Raquel and tell her about it over wine by phone.

* * *

I had a couple of days off before my next shift. Like I said before, day shift is challenging in its own ways.

“Niki, the phone’s for you.”

I take the call from the pod outside my patient’s room. It’s Finch, one of the day shift pharmacists.

“About that Ancef dose your resident ordered,” he begins.

I block, “He’s not my resident. He belongs to the attending,”

“Well, whoever he belongs to, he’s placed an order in the EMR for Ancef.”

“Yeah.”

There’s not enough Ancef in all the hospitals in the city to cover the dose. You need to call him and point out that the kiddo only weighs 10 kgs.”

“Finch, the RT is here and we’re about the re-tape his ET tube. Can you call and get the order changed, please? You can educate him about placing orders while you do it.”

“That’s not really a function of pharmacy, Niki.”

“It’s not a nursing function either, Finch. Why does everything get turfed to nursing? Health care is a team sport, no?”

I interpret the the silence on the other end of the phone to mean he’s strategizing an offense.

“Alright, Niki, I’ll do it this time.”

“Thanks Finch, you’re a real gem.”

“Phfffp,” he mutters before hanging up.

* * *

At change of shift, I give report to my old night shift buddy, Liz, first telling her about the patient, and then Finch’s one-liner that the resident ordered more Ancef than what’s available in the city that was pretty hilarious, when I notice the bruises on her neck, three of them. They’re long and suspiciously resemble fingers. I can’t help myself, “Liz, what’s up with the marks on your neck. They look like bruises. What happened?”

Her gaze drops downward, and she turns her head the other direction attempting to hide the bruises, but not before I see her cheeks flush bright red.

“It’s nothing, Niki. I scratched myself.”

She’s lying.

“Liz, those aren’t scratches, they’re bruises. It’s me, Niki. We’re friends, remember? What happened?”

“I’m having problems with Nathan. He’s skipping school and failing his classes. He got suspended for smoking pot on campus. I called his dad, hoping he could talk some sense into him.”

“Frank, you’re ex did this to you?”

“I thought he could help, but when he came over to talk to Nathan he starting hitting him. I got between them. When I started yelling at Frank to leave, things got out of control.”

“He choked you? Oh my god, are you okay? Have you seen a doctor? Did you call the cops?”

“This is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you Niki. I knew you would overreact.”

“Overreact? Jeez, Frank was strangling you! He should be in jail.”

“Mind your own business, Niki. I appreciate your concern, but mind your own business,” was all Liz said as she stood up and entered her patient’s room.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up (Niki’s easy shift )

Chapter 57

One of my two post-open heart patients has discharge orders. The better part of an hour is spent reviewing the discharge instructions with her parents, and observing them practice drawing up the right amount of each of the liquid home medications using syringes and a cup of water. This demonstrates they understand the difference between dose and volume, because too much digoxin or potassium can stop a child’s heart; not enough won’t do the job. I never get over the fact that we send parents home with newly taught skills that took weeks for me to master in nursing school. Most of them do just fine, but still…

Later, I’m helping Travis gather his things, because he’s discharging home too. When it’s time to remove his IV, I begin by carefully taking down the tape holding it secure.

“Just rip it off, Niki, okay? I want to get out of here sometime today.” He’s laughing at me, and I’m reminded again of how resilient kids are. It makes working with them so rewarding.

“Okay Boss, you got it.” I ripped off the first piece.

“Ouch! Shit! Leave some skin on my arm, would ya?”

“Okay, I’m going to get some adhesive remover. I’ll be right back.”

As I turn to leave the room, I see the animal therapy volunteer standing in the doorway. A medium sized brown rabbit is cradled in his arms.

The kid in the other bed has his little dog in his lap, and I know what will happen an instant before it does: Rocket catapults from the boy’s arms in a perfect arc, his forelegs stretched in front of him, his hind legs straight out behind. He touches down momentarily at the feet of the animal handler, bounces once, and then vertically leaps upwards nipping the rabbit’s backside. The rabbit launches from the arms of his handler, and they’re off. The animal therapist chases after, and Rocket’s boy starts screaming for him from his bed. Travis laughs, and Reege continues to lie placidly on the floor by his bed.

I run to the hallway, where Rocket is chasing the rabbit around and around the nurses’ station, until the rabbit leaps onto the desk before making a break down the hallway with Rocket in pursuit. In the other patient rooms, parents alarmed by the commotion, carry their children to the doorways to find out what’s happening. Several nurses chase the animals down the hallway, trying to catch them.

You can’t make this stuff up. There goes my quiet shift.

 

It’s Not All Cute Print Scrubs and Bunny Blankets (Niki Floats to Pediatrics)

Chapter 55

 

I leave PICU, and report to the pediatric unit.

No offense to my pediatric nurse colleagues, but no PICU nurse enjoys floating to pediatrics. Not because you aren’t incredibly good nurses, you are. It’s because you work way too hard in a way different from PICU nursing.

In the PICU, I’m assigned one or two critically ill patients. I run my butt off evaluating vital signs and pulses up to every fifteen minutes, unless the patient is on the verge of coding and then it’s at least every 5. I titrate powerful drip medications, and monitor serum blood levels drawn from a complex highway of lines criss-crossing a patient’s body as he or she rests in a drug induced coma. It’s intense, challenging work, but I’m able to focus on just one or two very sick patients, developing a dynamic rhythm of patient care.

As a patient improves, they’re allowed to come up from sedation. Keeping a three year-old intubated until an intensivist decides they can protect their airway and orders removal of the breathing tube is hell on earth for a PICU nurse, but once it’s done the patient usually transfers quickly to the general pediatric floor, right about the same time they are no longer willing to stay in their crib.

Of course, caring for children too sick to go home, but too well to stay in their crib is the job of the pediatric nurse. In the PICU, most medications are administered IV, but on the floor it’s often changed to oral. I don’t care how much the pharmaceutical company labels medications as “fruit flavored,” no kid willingly takes medication that comes from pharmacy in a syringe, even if you convince him there’s no needles involved. For infants, you can squirt a few drops of the med at a time into just enough formula to fill a nipple, and they’ll suck it right down especially if you allowed them to get hungry enough. A toddler, however, is on to you right away, and spits out the spoonful of pudding or juice laced with medication. The last alternative no one enjoys is holding the child down on his back, sliding the needless syringe into the side of his mouth, towards the back, which makes him swallow as you squirt it in.

Of course, none of these skills or the extra workload carried by pediatric nurses prevents a patient from suddenly decompensating, and a code being called. All of this, with the family watching from the bedside. It’s not all cute print scrubs and bunny blankets for pediatric nurses. Theirs is a very special brand of vigilance and expertise.

I took report from a day shift nurse I don’t know. She gave me three patients. Two are post-open heart surgery, transferred from PICU, on the mend and getting ready to discharge. The third is a 14 year-old boy who is blind as a result of treatment for childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma. He had a bout with influenza and was admitted for dehydration. He’s going home today too. His parents spent the night at home. In their place, his Seeing Eye dog, Reege, a golden retriever, lies calmly alert on the floor by his bed.

I realize they gave me a pretty simple assignment. In fact, it’s possible all three of my patients will be discharged. I might get to go home early!

 

I Hate This, All of It (Maddie Talks to Niki)

Chapter 51

“Maddie, open the door.”

“Go away!”

“Maddie, I know you’re upset, but we need to talk.”

“I don’t want to talk. I hate you! And Amber, and Dad too!”

“Maddie, I’ve heard Amber’s side of the story, now I want to hear yours. Please open the door and talk to me. 
”

I stand at Maddie’s bedroom door not hearing a sound. I’m about to knock again when I hear footsteps. The door opens revealing Maddie’s face, reddened and damp with tears.

“Can I come in?” I ask.

Wordlessly, Maddie steps away from the door, allowing me entrance. We face each other awkwardly before I give her a hug.

“So what’s going on? Amber says you’ve been picking on Wade. I thought you loved having a little brother.”

Maddie remains silent.

“I have to admit picking out all the marshmallows from the box of cereal was clever.”

Maddie cracks a smile, and we both start laughing. “You should’ve seen his face, Mom. He kept turning the cereal box upside down and shaking it, looking for the marshmallows.”

Still laughing, I work the conversation. “It is funny, but was it still funny after Wade found out you tricked him?”

Maddie stopped laughing. Her eyes squinted at the memory. “He made a face at me, and then ran into his room.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“Kind of bad. He used to look up to me. He trusted me.”

Putting my arm around Maddie’s shoulders, I guided her to her unmade bed where we sat down. “What’s this all about Maddie? What’s bothering you?”

“Ever since you and Dad got divorced, my life has changed.”

“The divorce changed all of our lives Maddie. It isn’t easy for any of us.”

“Yeah, but you and Dad got to choose. Nobody asked me what I wanted. Now Dad’s married to Amber, and she expects me to do all kinds of stuff around the house, like keeping track of Wade while her and Dad spend time together. At first I thought Amber thought I was grown up, but now I know she just wants me to stop being a kid and take care of things for her. I didn’t sign up for that. I’m still a kid.”

“I’m sorry Maddie. I didn’t know this was happening. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you’re always at work. If you’re not at work, you’re sitting around drinking tea and listening to music. I don’t think you want to hear about Dad and Amber anyway. I feel like I have to pick. And you know what, it’s not easy always having to pack my stuff back and forth between your house and theirs. Sometimes I forget my homework at the wrong house, and I get in trouble for it at school. I hate this, all of it.”

How did I not know how hard this has been for Maddie? I’ve been way too distracted with my life, and it’s hurt my daughter. I need to get my priorities straight.

“Maddie, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you felt this way. I’m glad you told me. I see I need to make some changes around here. I’m going to make things better for you, I promise.”

Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons & Green Clovers (Maddie Acts Out)

Chapter 50

Simon and Amber were married. The baby is due soon. Maddie is silent regarding updates about the birth, however. Shortly after the wedding, she stopped talking about home life with her father. I know something’s brewing.

Kris married Spider Rodrigo, and left the PICU to tour with Kushion. Her day shift position is open. I wonder if I should take it? I’d miss my friends on night shift, and I don’t know if I want to deal with the doctors, phone calls and busy-ness of day shift. The idea of a normal sleep cycle is appealing.

*  *  *

I’m finishing the housework, and thinking about dinner when Simon’s car pulls into the driveway. Before he can set the parking brake, Maddie ejects herself from the passenger seat, leaving the car door open. She’s obviously upset as she bursts through the front door. Simultaneously, the phone rings. Maddie yells, “I don’t want to talk to her! Tell her I don’t want to talk about it!” while running into her room, and slamming the door behind her.

I put down the vacuum cleaner and pick up the ringing phone. From the living room window I watch Simon back out of the driveway and drive away.

Hmmm.

“Hello?”

“Niki, it’s Amber. Put Maddie on. I want to talk to her.”

Hmmm.

“Amber, hi. Maddie, uh, doesn’t want to talk to you right now. She’s pretty upset. What happened?”

“I want to talk to Maddie.”

“That’s not going to happen Amber. Tell me what happened.”

“Your daughter is bullying Wade.”

Your daughter? Hmmm.

“I’m surprised to hear that. Maddie thinks the world of Wade. She calls him her little brother.”

“Well things have changed since Simon and I got married. Maddie’s become a stranger. She won’t talk about the new baby, and she’s picking on Wade. This last time is too much.”

“What did she do?”

“Two things, really. First, last night at dinner while Simon and I are talking, Wade throws up milk all over the table. I took him to the bathroom to clean him up and take his temperature, and he tells me he drank an entire quart of milk in one sitting. I asked him why. He said Maddie made him do it.”

“How did Maddie make him drink an entire quart of milk at the dinner table in front of you and Simon without your knowing it?”

I’m starting to wonder about Amber. And Simon.

“Well, I asked Maddie that. She said she dared him to do it, one glass of milk at a time.”

“What?”

“She pretended she was racing him. She poured herself the last glass of milk from another carton, and then poured Wade a glass from a fresh carton. She dared him to finish his glass of milk before she finished hers. So he did. Then Maddie told him, “I bet you can’t do it again,” so he did it again, and again, until he drank the entire quart. Then he threw up.”

I composed myself to keep from laughing. “Amber, I’m sorry. How old is Wade again?”

“He just turned five.”

“Well, he’s no rocket scientist,” I think to myself, but of course, that doesn’t excuse Maddie torturing the boy.

“What else did Maddie do to Wade?”

“This afternoon she took a brand new box of Lucky Charms cereal, emptied it, and picked out every last marshmallow charm, all the pink hearts, yellow moons, and green clovers. She ate them, and then put the oat cereal back in the box, and sealed it again. When Wade came home he wanted a bowl of cereal and cried because there were no marshmallow charms. Maddie told him the cereal company was to blame. She helped him write a letter to complain. I found out when he asked me to mail the letter. Maddie has to stop picking on Wade.”

Now I’m thinking my daughter is a comedic genius, but I’m going to have to teach her to use her power for good and not evil.

“Amber, I see why you’re upset, but isn’t this just normal sibling behavior? Maddie’s been through a lot of changes lately. Maybe she’s regressed a little bit.”

“I won’t have this behavior in my home! Your daughter is a bully. No wonder Simon left you.”

Okay, she’s pregnant. Allow the woman some slack.

“Look Amber, I’ll talk to Maddie. For all of our sakes though I think it’s best if you leave Simon’s and my marriage out of this.”

“Do something about your daughter!”

I’m left holding the phone after Amber slams hers down on the other end of the line.

At The Raleigh (Niki & Gerald Go Out for Drinks)

Chapter 49

In an upscale restaurant overlooking Santa Monica Bay, I’m standing behind a long table. Every seat is filled with PICU nurses, and staff from other departments celebrating Kris’s bridal shower. Above the chatter and laughter, Kris holds up a scanty piece of lacy lingerie, a gift inciting a round of cell phone photos from the group.

Gerald sidled next to me, “Hey girlfriend, you’ve been working that same drink for an hour. Can I bring you something fresh?”

I smile at his thoughtfulness, “No thanks, this is fine.”

“How are you holding up, Niki? I’m worried about you.”

“Huh? I’m fine. Why are you worried about me?”

“I’m thinking how you might feel: Kris is getting married, your ex-husband is getting married. And Corey moved to Seattle with his family. You know.”

I didn’t know Gerald knew.

“You knew about me and Corey?”

“It was pretty obvious, especially when our group beer breakfasts ended.”

“I’m sorry Gerald. I haven’t been a very good friend lately, especially to you and Liz. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry Niki. I’m thinking you’re the one who needs friends now.”

Liz joins us. She’s carrying her purse.

“Leave it to Kris to live large,” remarks Liz. “I wish I was as fearless about life.”

“Why do you assume that quitting your job, and marrying a rock star to take care of his mother on tour is a risk?” asks Gerald.

The three of us pause to think about it, and then bust out laughing.

“So Niki, when’s Simon getting remarried?” asks Liz.

“Next week.”

“How are you doing? Does it feel weird?”

“A little. Maddie’s so excited about it. Amber took her shopping for a dress, and I realized she has a stepmother now. I’m trying to see it as a positive, you know, like another adult caring about my daughter’s welfare, but sometimes I think  Maddie’s comparing us.”

“You’ll always be her mother, Niki. Nothing will ever change that,” says Liz.

“I know.”

Someone pops a bottle of champagne, while Kris cuts pieces of cake passed around to the guests. A server brings the check. I notice Dr. Polk takes it and places his credit card into the leatherette folder without looking over the bill.

“You leaving Liz?”

“Yeah. I gotta get home, and check Nathan.”

“I was just telling Niki that the three of us should go out this weekend. Have drinks, some fun, and get our group back together. Are you in Liz?”

“I’d love too, but Nathan’s grounded, which means I am too. He’s been in some trouble lately, so I’m staying close to home.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Anything I can do to help?”

“No,” says Liz, “but thanks for offering.”

“Well Niki, it looks like it’s you and me. Do you like cabaret?”

“I don’t know.”

“Meet me at the Raleigh on Saturday night, and let’s find out. Prepare for a good time.”

* * *

At the Raleigh, I hand my car key to a valet, grateful I don’t have to search for parking. Gerald’s at the club’s entrance, wearing a black v-necked tee, designer jeans, a grey sports jacket slung over one shoulder. His hair and light beard are neatly groomed. He smells nice when I hug him. I’m glad I decided to wear a little black dress, and pumps.

“Gerald, you clean up real nice!” I kissed his cheek.

“You too darling. I don’t know how toned your legs are when I only see you in scrubs. Love the heels.”

Gerald holds the door, and then takes me by the elbow, guiding us to a small table near the stage. A server in black slacks, and bow tie, but otherwise shirtless, instantly sets a scotch rocks in front of Gerald, and then waits for my order. “I’ll have a gin and tonic please.”

“Put it on my tab,” says Gerald, handing the server a bill, which he tucks into the waistband of his pants before walking away.

“I’ve never been to a male strip club,” I admit. “Or a female strip club either, for that matter”

“There’s a first time for everything,” laughs Gerald. “I think you’re going to have fun.”

Looking around, I agree. The dimly lit lounge is spacious. Couples and foursomes of men and women occupy the small tables surrounding the stage. Beyond the tables the bar is bustling and a small wooden dance floor already teems with people dancing to the heavy beat of music. Others stand around with drinks in hand, talking. In the far back a large group of women appear to be celebrating a birthday: gift wrapped packages and bottles of wine in velvet bags are piled in front of one of them.

The server returns with my drink, and places a small plate of cheeses, sliced meats, and bruschetta on the table. I notice there’s glitter on his chest.

“On the house,” he says.

“Tell Rubio, thanks,” instructs Gerald.

“You know the owner?”

“Yes. That’s how we scored a reservation for this table.”

“Very cool.”

The rest of the evening is almost a blur. The entertainers performed individually and then in groups. Our server keeps bringing us drinks. Buzzed, Gerald points out that if I look towards the stage through the bottom of his empty glass, “Things will appear larger.”

Laughing and nearly as buzzed, I wonder out loud, “What does it mean if you and I find the same dancers attractive, Gerald?”

“Does it matter?”

“No, it doesn’t matter at all.”

You Remember What Night Shift’s Like (Niki & Kris Talk)

Chapter 48

 The following morning, I gave report to Kris, beginning with what I hoped she would interpret as an apology,

“Kris, I just want to say again that I’m really happy about your engagement. You must be super excited about going on tour with Spider.”

She smiled, and then added shrewdly, “Thanks Niki, but I get the feeling you have more to say on the subject.”

Busted, I decided to charge ahead,  “Aren’t you at all worried about giving up your nursing job? I mean you’re really a great PICU nurse. Do you think you’ll miss it?”

“What you mean is, ‘Aren’t you worried that marrying a rock star is a little crazy, and what if the marriage doesn’t work’?” replied Kris. “That’s the fun of being alive, isn’t it Niki? A willingness to be surprised. Letting go of things so you can go to the next adventure. I’ve tried many things in my life, and lived in most of the United States. Not everything has worked out, but I’m still standing, no worse for wear. I’m not the kind of person to put down roots for too long anyway.”

Maybe because I’ve been up all night, or maybe because I won’t see Kris much more, I let my guard down, “Do you ever worry that in the end you’ll be all alone?”

Kris’s upper lip begins to curl into laughter, but meeting my gaze, she changes her mind. “You mean, like when you die?”

“Maybe, I’m not sure what I mean exactly, but sometimes I wonder what the right choices for my life are; if I’m doing the things I’m supposed to do, or if I’m missing the point.”

My words don’t make a lot of sense, even to me. “I guess I worry a little that it will end, and I haven’t lived the life I want, or maybe I’m not living life right.”

“I’m not sure what you mean. Right by who’s standard, Niki? Like God? Like the life your parents wanted you to choose? Who’s standard of what’s right or wrong are you judging yourself by?”

I realize I’ve said more than I’d intended. “I’m just tired Kris. You remember what night shift’s like.”

Kris looks at me brightly, and then her eyes soften. “It’s hard being a nurse, taking care of everyone all the time, feeling as though you always have to have all the answers,” she says. “Don’t over think things, Niki. It doesn’t take much to wreck the best-laid plans: a car accident, a cancer diagnosis, or a debilitating disease. Try having more fun, and let go of some the responsibility for healing the world. Have you thought about transferring to day shift? Someone has to take my place. It might open up more of a social life for you.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’d like day shift,” I hedge. “Too many phones, the doctors overrun the place on day shift.  I’d be expected to join committees.”

“Suit yourself, it was just a thought,” retorts Kris. “So tell me about this kid. Another case of measles? How many does that make this year?”