Read an Excerpt
Monday morning Polly Seymour dashed into the sparkling marble-tiled lobby of New York's finest pediatric hospital, Angel's. The subway from the lower East Side to Central Park had taken longer today, and the last thing she wanted to do was be late on her first day as a staff RN on the orthopedic ward.
Opting to take the six flights of stairs instead of fight for a spot in one of the overcrowded elevators, she took two steps at a time until she reached her floor. As she climbed, she thought through everything she'd learned the prior week during general hospital orientation. Main factoid: Angel Mendez Children's Hospital never turned a child away.
That was a philosophy she could believe in.
Heck, they'd even accepted her, the girl whose aunts and uncles used to refer to as "Poor Polly". It used to make her feel like that homely vintage doll, Pitiful Pearl. But Angel's had welcomed her to their nursing staff with open arms.
Blasting through the door, completely out of breath, she barreled onwards, practically running down a man in a white doctor's coat. Built like a football player, the rugged man with close-cropped more-silver-than-brown hair hardly flinched. He caught her by the shoulders and helped her regain her balance.
"Careful, dumpling," he said, sounding like a Clint-Eastwood-style grizzled cowboy.
Mortified, her eyes shot wide open. Sucking in air, she could hardly speak. "Sorry, Dr ." Her gaze shifted from his stern brown eyes to his name badge. "Dr. John Griffin." Oh, man, did that badge also say Orthopedic Department Director? He was her boss.
She knew the routinefirst impressions were lasting impressions, and this one would be a doozy. Without giving him another chance to call her "dumpling"did he think she was thirteen?she pointed toward the hospital ward and took off, leaving one last "Sorry" floating in her wake.
At the nurses' station, she unwrapped her tightly wound sweater, removed her shoulder bag and plopped them both on the counter. "I'm Polly Seymour. This is my first day. Is Brooke Hawkins here?"
The nonchalant ward clerk with an abundance of tiny braids all pulled back into a ponytail lifted his huge chocolate-colored eyes, gave a forced smile and pointed across the ward. "The tall redhead," he said, barely breaking stride from the lab orders he was entering in the computer.
Gathering her stuff, and still out of breath, Polly made a beeline for the nursing supervisor. Brooke's welcome was warm and friendly, and included a wide smile, which helped settle the mass of butterflies winging through Polly's stomach.
Brooke glanced at her watch. "You must be Polly and you're early. I wasn't expecting you until seven."
"I didn't want to miss the change-of-shift report, and I don't have a clue where to put my stuff or which phone to clock in on." Would she ever breathe normally again?
"Follow me," Brooke said, heading toward another door, closer to the doctor. "I see you already ran into our department director, Dr. Griffin. Literally," Brooke said, with playful eyes and a wink.
Polly put her hand to the side of her face, shielding her profile from the man several feet away and still watching her. "I think he thought I was a patient."
"Did he smile at you?"
"Then he definitely thought you were one of our patients. He doesn't smile for staff."
An hour later, completely engrossed in taking vital signs in a four-bed ward of squirming children wearing various-sized casts, splints and slings, Polly heard inconsolable crying. She glanced over her shoulder. "What is it, Karen?" The little girl had undergone femoral anteversion to relieve her toeing-in when walking, and was in a big and bulky double-leg cast with a metal bar between them keeping her feet in the exact position in which they needed to be to heal.
Polly rushed to the toddler's crib and lowered one of the side rails. "What is it, honey?"
With her face screwed up so tight her source of tears couldn't be seen, Karen wailed. Polly could have easily done a tonsil check while the child's mouth was wide open, but knew that wasn't the origin of Karen's frustration. She lifted the little one, who weighed a good ten pounds more than she normally would have because of the cast, from the bed and cooed at her then patted her back. "What is it, honey, hmm?"
Perhaps the change in position would be enough to help settle down the tiny patient. No such luck. Karen's cries increased in volume as she swatted at Polly, who sang a nursery rhyme to her to calm her down. "Oh, the grand old Duke of York " Maybe distraction would work?
"Oh, look! Look!" Polly moved over to the window to gaze out over beautiful Central Park. "Pretty. See?" Praying she could distract Karen for a moment's reprieve, Polly pointed at the lush green trees, many with colorful white and pink blooms still hanging on though late June.
"No!" Karen shook her head and kept crying.
Polly bounced Karen on her hip, as best she could with the toddler's cast, and jaunted around the room with her. "Let's take a horsey ride. Come on. Bumpity, bumpity, bumpity, boom!"
"No boom!" Karen would have nothing to do with Polly's antics.
"I'm going to eat you!" Polly said, digging into Karen's shoulder and playfully nibbling away. "Rror rror rrr."
"No! No eat me."
Felicia, the five-year-old in the corner bed with a full arm cast began to fuss. "I want a horsey ride."
Polly danced over towards Felicia's crib-sized bed, which looked more like a cage for safety's sake. Factoid number two from orientation: hospital policy for anyone five or under. "See, Karen, Felicia wants a horsey ride."
Now both girls were crying, and all the goofy faces and silly songs Polly performed couldn't change the tide of sadness sweeping across the four-bed ward. Erin, in bed C, with her arm in a sling added to the three-part harmony. The only one sleeping was the little patient in bed D, who would surely be awakened by the fuss. What the heck should she do now?
"Hold on," a deep raspy voice said over her shoulder. "This calls for emergency measures."
Polly turned to find Dr. Griffin filling the doorway. He dug in his pocket and fished out a handful of colorful rubber and waved it around. Making a silly face at Karen, he crossed his eyes, stretching his lips and blowing out air that sounded like a distant elephant. Polly tried not to laugh. Quicker than a flash of rainbow he diverted the children's attention by inflating long yellow and green balloons and twisting them into a swan shape. Factoid number three: all balloons must be latex-free. How did he get them to stretch like that?
"Here you go, Karen. Now go and play with your new friend," Dr. Griffin said.
To Polly's amazement, Karen accepted the proffered gift with a smile, albeit a soggy smile in dire need of a tissue.
"Me next!" Felicia reached out her good arm, her fingers making a gimme-gimme gesture.
Dr. Griffin strolled over to her bedside and patted her hand. "What color do you want?"
"Red," she said, practically jumping up and down inside the caged crib while she held onto the safety bars.
"Do you want a fairy crown or a monkey?"
In another few seconds Felicia wore a red crown with a halo hovering above, and gave a squeaky balloon kiss to her new purple monkey friend.
Dr. Griffin glanced at Polly, with victory sparkling in his dark eyes. The charming glance sent a jet of surprise through her chest. Blowing up two more balloons and twisting them into playful objects, he handed one to the remaining child and left another on the sleeping girl's bed, then sauntered toward the door. Was he confident or what? He stopped beside Polly, who had just finished putting Karen back into her crib, and blew up one last balloon. It was a blue sword, and he handed it to her. "Use this the next time you need to save the day." He glanced around the room at the quietly contented children. "That's how it's done," he said.
Polly could have sworn he'd stopped just short of calling her dumpling again.
He left just as quickly as he'd entered and she paused in her tracks, feeling a bit silly holding her blue balloon sword. Outside she heard a child complaining to the nurse. "I'm sick of practicing walking."
Dr. Griffin joined right in. "I double-dog dare you to take ten more steps, Richie," he said. "In fact, I'll race you to that wall."
Was this really the man the staff said never smiled?
Humbled by the gruff doctor's gift with children, Polly went about her duties giving morning medications and giving bed baths to three of her four patients. At mid-morning the play therapist made a visit, relieving her of both Karen and Felicia for an hour.
Erin's mother had also arrived, which gave Polly one-on-one time with her sleeping princess, Angelica, the most challenging patient of all. She had type I osteogenesis imperfecta and had been admitted for pain control of her hyper-mobile joints. Her condition also caused partial hearing loss, which was probably why the three-year-old had slept through the ruckus earlier.
Thinking twice about waking the peacefully sleeping toddler, Polly gazed affectionately at her then drifted to the desk and computer outside the four-bed ward to catch up on her morning charting.
"How are things going?" Darren, a middle-aged nurse with prematurely white hair pulled back into a ponytail, asked. By the faded tattoo on his forearm, she knew he had once been in the navy.
"Pretty good. How about you?"
"Same as always. Work hard, help kids, make decent money, look forward to my days off."
So far Polly wasn't impressed with the general morale of the ward. Everyone seemed efficient enough, skilled in their orthopedic specialties, but, glancing around, there didn't seem to be any excess energy. Or joy. She found it hard to live around gloom, and had learned early on how to create her own joy, for survival's sake. Some way, somehow she'd think of something to lift the ward's spirit, or she wouldn't be able to keep her hard-earned title of professional people pleaser.
A physical therapist came by, assisting one of the teen patients who did battle with a walker. Polly gave a cheerful wave to both of them. The P.T. merely nodded, but the boy was concentrating so hard on his task that he didn't even notice.
Orientation factoid number four: Angel's is the friendliest place in town!
Polly turned back to Darren. "Can you show me how to work that Hoyer lift? I've got a special patient to be weighed, and I need to change her sheets, too."
"There's no time like the present, I always say." Polly finished her charting and escorted Darren into her assigned room. Together they gently repositioned and lifted Angelica from the bed. The child stared listlessly at them, her pretty gray eyes accented by blue-tinged, instead of white, sclera. "Are you from New York, Darren?"
"Yeah, born and raised. Where're you from?"
"Dover, Pennsylvania." She smiled, thinking of her tiny home town. "Our biggest claim to fame was being occupied overnight by the Confederates during the civil war."
Darren smiled, and she saw a new, more relaxed side to his usual military style.
"Don't blink if you ever drive down Main Street, you might miss it." Self-deprecating humor had always paid off, in her experience.
He laughed along with her, and she felt she'd made progress as they finished their task. She could do this. She could whip this ward into shape. Hadn't that always been her specialty? Just give her enough time and maybe the staff would actually talk and joke with each other. She accompanied Darren to the door and sat at the small counter where the laptop was, and prepared for more charting.
"Yo. Whatever your name is." Rafael the ward clerk said, peering over his computer screen. "I've got some new labs for you."
After looking both ways for foot traffic, Polly scooted across the floor on the wheels of her chair instead of getting up. "Special delivery for me? Sweet. I love to get mail."
He cast an odd gaze at Polly, as if she were from another planet. When he found her lifting her brows and smiling widely, he quit resisting and, though it was half-hearted, offered a suspicious smile back. "Just for you," he said, handing her the pile of reports. "Don't lose 'em."
Brooke came by as Polly perused her patients' labs. "How're things going so far?"
"Great! I really like it here. Of course, it's ten times bigger than the community hospital where I worked the last four years."
"We call it controlled chaos, on good days. I won't tell you what we call it on bad days." The tall woman smiled.
Orientation factoid number five: Teamwork is the key to success at Angel's Hospital.
Hmm. Maybe the staff needed to go through orientation again?
"As long as we all help each other, we should survive, right? Teamwork."
Brooke glanced around the ward, with everyone busily working by themselves, and her mouth twisted. "Sometimes I think we've forgotten that word."
Which put a thought in Polly's mind. As soon as Brooke strolled away, she checked to make sure everything was okay in her assigned room, then went across the ward to a nurse who looked busy and flustered. "Can I help you with anything?"
The woman glanced up from calculating blood glucose on the monitor. "Um." Caught off guard, she had to think, as if no one had ever asked to help her before.
"Anyone need a bedpan or help to the bathroom? I've got some free time."
The woman's honey-colored eyes brightened. She pushed a few strands of black hair away from her face. "As a matter of fact, why don't you ask my broken-pelvis patient in 604 if he needs a bedpan?"
"Sweet," Polly said, noticing a surprised and perplexed expression in the nurse's eyes before she dashed toward 604.