With a flourish, Jenessa signed her name to the nurses’ notes on a fourth chart. She picked up a stack of papers and the brown bag containing the lunch she hadn’t had time to eat. All day, the pace in the Intensive Care unit had been hectic. Two Codes. Three admissions in five minutes, all of them critical. Instead of twenty-seven, she felt more like seventy.
She waved at the night nurse. “See you tomorrow.”
“That’s two extras in a row,” one of the women called. “Are you some kind of glutton?”
Am I? One more thing and I’m out of here. She straight-armed the door and headed for the stairs. After stopping on two other units to collect protest forms, she entered the stairwell.
Voices, eerie and distorted, drifted from below. The echo-effect made her wonder if the speakers were male or female. “Don’t worry, if we just push them a little harder, they’ll walk.”
“You’re right. Who could resist…”
Who were they talking about? She leaned over the railing, but shadows hid the speakers. The voices faded. A door slammed. She frowned and headed to the fifth floor where she entered the Nursing Office.
Lorraine Rodgers, one of the evening supervisors, looked up. “Again? Don’t you get tired of making waves?”
“Is that what I do? I thought I was fulfilling my role as a good union member and a conscientious nurse. The contract gives us the right to protest unsafe working conditions. I just make sure they’re collected.”
The middle-aged woman shook her head. “We all know this is your personal crusade. Can’t you put the past to rest?”
Jenessa’s hands clenched and she felt the muscles in her shoulders tighten. “Could you?” She fought a barrage of memories. “See that Ms. Wallace gets these. Not that she cares.”
“You could give them to her. She’s in the house. The Board’s meeting to select the new Director and we all know who that will be.”
“Maybe they’ll choose someone else.”
Mrs. Rodgers laughed. “Do you really believe that? She’s been angling for the job since she arrived. We’ll have to learn to live with her.”
“Another petition asking for Sandra’s removal?”
Jenessa shrugged. “See you tomorrow.”
“You’re on again? Do you work all these extra shifts just to log complaints?”
“If I don’t, who’d be here for the patients?” Jenessa strode away.
Fifteen minutes later, in her apartment across the street, she stood in the shower. Hot water uncoiled her tight muscles, but not her thoughts. Would the hospital Board really name Sandra Wallace, a woman disliked by most of the nurses, as the new director? With Jim Bishop as Board president, the choice seemed likely.
After pulling on an over-sized blue tee shirt, she headed to the kitchen and zapped the spicy chicken dish she should have eaten for lunch. Though she considered working on her Master’s thesis, she felt too tired to read the stack of articles on the desk.
The apartment door slammed. She looked up and saw her roommate. Megan kicked off her shoes. “Are you ready for a bomb? Guess what the Board has done.”
“Is out.” Megan grinned. “Josh and I were at the Cove for dinner. Sam introduced Eric Bradshaw. Would you believe he’s the new Director of Nursing? And what a hunk he is.”
Jenessa pushed back long strands of dark brown hair that had come loose from her braid. “You’re kidding.”
“Not one bit.”
“It’s a ploy. Can’t you hear Mr. Bishop’s laughter? We’ll give the girls a man to drool over. That’ll shut them up.”
“Come on, Jen. At least they didn’t name Her.” Megan headed across the living room, discarding pieces of clothes as she walked. “He’s every woman’s dream. Tall, blond, broad shoulders. I positively drooled. He’s got the greatest dimples. That’s because he’s a Libra.”
Trust Megan to ask his sun sign, Jenessa thought. Her roommate’s description confirmed her suspicions of the Board’s motives. “Sounds like you’re adding him to your string.”
“Wrong. A Libra and a Pisces. Odd couple material.” Megan’s blonde curls bounced with the force of her denial. “He’s for you, my Aries friend. Remember what I always say. An opposition can be exciting.”
Not again, Jenessa thought. For the past year, Megan’s attempts at matchmaking seemed designed to drive her crazy. “Megan, no.”
“You can’t be alone forever.”
“Alone I’m not. My problem is too many and being unable to hurt anyone.” She shrugged. “Give it a shot.”
Jenessa frowned. Megan and she had been friends since they were five, but there were things she couldn’t tell her…Things about Chuck and the marriage.
“I’m union. He’s management. Can you see me falling for someone from the opposition?”
“And what will you be when you finish your Master’s?”
“Not here. I’ll work for a doctor. Head to the city. Become a consultant.” She followed the trail of clothes and gathered them as she walked. “With my reputation here, they won’t promote me.”
“Your reputation is undeserved. Just because you organized the union, sent a petition to recall Sandra, started the protest forms, negotiated the contract --” The click of the bathroom door cut off Megan’s words.
Jenessa dropped the clothes beside the door. She entered the bedroom and stared at the red brick building across the street where she worked in ICU. She liked Eastlake Community. For nearly three years, the hospital had been her refuge. She didn’t want to leave.
She returned to the hall just as Megan emerged. wrapped in a blue bath sheet that nearly reached her toes.
“...use someone who plunges to the center of a problem and won’t give up until the next one appears. You are kind of blunt though. He’ll weigh his decisions. Libras do. What’s on the agenda now?” She stumbled over the heap of clothes. “I know. In the hamper.”
“The contract. Monday, I’ll demand a meeting.”
“Why not give Eric Bradshaw a chance to settle in?”
“Why? They said they’d talk once they hired a new director and they have.” Jenessa headed to the kitchen.
“Let him size things first.”
“Do you really think a new D.O.N. will help us?” Jenessa paused at the end of the hall. “Do you know how many extras I’ve worked this summer?”
“That’s your punishment for demanding thirteen hour shifts. They can’t ask me to work seven days a week.”
“How many doubles have you pulled since Sandra took over staffing? Sometimes I think she wants to drive nurses away.”
“Why would she do that?” Megan followed Jenessa into the kitchen. Her knee length yellow tee shirt was the same bright color as the walls.
“Jen, give the guy a chance. How would you like to be in his shoes?”
She laughed. “I’d love it. You know, if I could transfer my credits, I’d be out of here.”
“It’s the same everywhere. Don’t you pay attention to the letters from the gang?”
“There are hospitals where the problems are addressed.” Jenessa picked up a fork. “Around here no one admits there are any.”
“I’m not sure there are answers. The health care system is in flux.”
“If the Board would sit down with us, we could try.”
Megan grinned. “Do I see you, sword in hand, leading the charge?”
“Don’t make fun. This is serious.”
“I’m sorry. I know how important adequate staffing is to you.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get a decent contract.” Jenessa bit her lower lip and fought a storm of memories and guilt.
Megan opened the refrigerator and poured a glass of juice. “Letters from the gang are in. Did you do yours?”
“What do you think?” The idea for a monthly exchange of letters between the members of their clinical group from the nursing program at Grantley was Megan’s project.
“When are you going to write it?”
“How about after the softball game Saturday?”
“I’m mailing copies tomorrow.” Megan raised her hand in a gesture of surrender. “I’ll write yours...About the game. Will we win?”
“We’d better. Softball is the one place where Nursing stands a chance against the other departments who, with one whimper, get everything they want.”
“He’ll be there.”
“Eric Bradshaw.” Megan left the kitchen. “Night.”
As Jenessa loaded the dishwasher, a slow grin built from deep inside. He’d be there. So would Jim Bishop and Sandra Wallace. The annual hospital picnic might be an interesting event.