From bachelor doctor to loving husband and father...
When Dr Luke Hamilton meets critical care nurse Caryn Stevens, there's instant attraction. But there is an engagement ring on her finger – and she's five months pregnant!
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CRITICAL Care nurse Caryn Stevens sucked in a breath and tried to squeeze between her patient's bed and the ventilator without success. Her slightly rounded stomach just wouldn't give.
She sighed and moved back around to the other side of her patient's bed where there was less equipment to work around. She was going to have to tell her friends, her co–workers and her boss soon.
But not yet. Ignoring her early morning nausea wasn't easy but since the entire medical critical care team had just entered her patient's room for morning rounds, she did her best. Especially when she'd waited almost an hour for them to make their way to her side of the unit.
"Good morning, Caryn." Dr. Mitch Reynolds, the critical care attending physician on duty, greeted her warmly. He was engaged to her good friend and ICU nurse Dana Whitney, and she had to admit the two of them made a great couple. Her smile dimmed when she imagined their shocked reaction to her news. "Has Mrs. Nowicki's neuro status improved at all?"
"No, I'm afraid not." Caryn put a discreet hand over her stomach and prayed the meager breakfast she'd eaten would stay down. Nausea wasn't supposed to be a problem this far along. "No response to verbal commands or to light stimuli. Only a decorticate response to pain and even that isn't nearly as strong as it was yesterday."
"Hmm." Mitch turned to his team of eager residents. She didn't recognize any of them—it was the first of the month when the residents rotated to different services.
She dreaded the first of the month. "Dr. Hamilton, I'd like you to take over the care of this patient now, while I finish the round with the rest of the team. I'm worried about her. I think it's best if we get a stat CT scan of Mrs. Nowicki's brain to see if there are any changes from the one we took two days ago."
"Of course." A tall, dark–haired, breathtakingly handsome man moved out of the group to approach the bedside. He reached for the chart, taking it from Mitch's hands.
Mitch turned to her. "Caryn, have you met Dr. Luke Hamilton? He's the new critical care fellow I recruited from Kansas University Hospital. He just arrived a few weeks ago and this is his first month on the ICU rotation."
"Ah, no, I haven't." Caryn pasted a smile on her face and stepped forward to shake his hand. His grip was firm. Warm. Her instant awareness to his touch was alarming. She took a quick step back. "Welcome to Trinity Medical Center, Dr. Hamilton." "It's a pleasure to meet you, Caryn." His smile was brief but powerful all the same. "I'm glad to be here. And, please, call me Luke."
She turned away, hiding her irrational reaction to him. "I'd also like to discuss Mrs. Nowicki's nutritional status. Her albumin is still too low and I'm wondering when we can consider feeding her."
"Let's get the scan first before we consider feeding her." Luke opened her patient's chart and began writing orders. Mitch moved on to the next patient, taking the rest of the team with him. "Do I need to call down to Radiology or can I simply write the order?"
Her stomach rolled and she battled the need to vomit. She wished the new fellow would write his orders someplace else and leave her alone. But no such luck. Instead, he looked at her expectantly.
"I think you need to call if you want it stat." Her stomach somersaulted again and she blurted, "Excuse me," and then bolted to the back of the room to the patient's toilet, throwing up the entire contents of her stomach in one sickening lurch.
"Caryn?" Impervious to her acute embarrassment, Luke rushed to her side. His hand was gentle yet strong as he clutched her arm to steady her. "Are you all right?"
No, she wasn't all right. She was pregnant, about five months along, and the baby's father remained in a coma at a local neuro–rehab center since his scuba diving accident nearly five months ago. Her whole life had been turned upside down. How could she be all right?
"Here, maybe you'd better sit down." Luke had dampened a washcloth and handed it to her, then guided her to a chair. "You must have a touch of flu. It is the season and it's possible you've been exposed by several patients here."
"I just need a minute." Because she felt dizzy, Caryn sat. Thank heavens for baggy scrubs or he would have known she didn't have flu. Still, she wasn't about to tell Dr. Hamilton her problems. So far, she hadn't told anyone her most recent news. Had only, in fact, just figured it out for herself over the past few weeks, confirming her suspicions with a home pregnancy test. The symptoms had been there all along, but she'd been in denial. Big–time denial. "If you want that stat CT scan, you'd better make the call. I'll need to get Mrs. Nowicki packed up to go once they're ready for her."
"Maybe you should go home, get someone else to cover your patients." Luke actually sounded concerned about her.
A hysterical laugh nearly burst free. Go home? He had to be kidding. They were already short–staffed as it was. Besides, she needed the hours since the balance in her savings account was low. Caryn pulled herself together with an effort. Actually, now that she'd been sick, she did feel better. Hungry, even.
Go figure. "Call Radiology." She desperately wanted him out of her room so she could take care of her patient in peace. Mortifying, to have Luke Hamilton see her at her worst. "The number is on the speed dial on the phones out at the nurses' station."
He hesitated but left her alone. Finally. She pulled herself to her feet then began to document Mrs. Nowicki's vital signs and neuro status, routine, mundane tasks that helped her to get back on track.
When she'd finished, she headed out to the nurses' station. She set the clipboard down next to Luke and pointed to the most recent laboratory readings. "Did you see her sodium level is dropping? And her urine output is very high. Do you want me to increase her fluids?"
"Yes, increase her IV fluids to two–hundred ccs per hour." He wrote the order himself, much to her amazement. She had to admit, whichever nurses had trained him in the past had done a great job. Luke didn't act as if she was there to wait on him hand and foot. In fact, from the little bit she'd seen, he was the epitome of a team player. "Anything else?"
"No, that's all for now." Caryn glanced at the clock.
"Is Radiology ready for her?"
"Yes. I'm coming with you."
What? Taken aback, she stared at him. "There's no need. I'm sure you're busy. The residents and fellows don't usually come down on road trips with us."
"Maybe not, but, considering how Dr. Reynolds has entrusted this patient to my care, I'd rather go down with you. I don't feel quite right about her condition. Maybe I'll learn something." He seemed to like that prospect. When she simply stared at him, his grin faded. "Besides, what if you get sick again?"
She winced and glanced around, hoping no one had overheard his remark. His persistence reminded her of a pesky wood tick, stuck to her skin without letting go no matter how hard she tried to shake him loose.
"Fine. Come along then if you must." She stalked off, knowing she was acting childish and ridiculous but unable to help herself.
He followed her, not in the least put off by her attitude. In fact, he seemed in great spirits, looking at the portable monitor with interest.
She gave a resigned sigh. No doubt about it, his constant cheerfulness was grating on her nerves. Or maybe she was just too stressed. She placed a hand over her stomach. So far she hadn't felt the baby move, but then again obstetrics wasn't her strong suit.
She had pulled out her old books from nursing school to refresh her memory. From what she could tell, her pregnancy was progressing normally enough, except for the constant morning nausea. According to what she'd read, the nausea should be gone by now.
"Are you going to throw up again? Would you like me to bring an emesis basin along, just in case?" Luke asked.
"No." She glowered at him and dropped her hand from her belly. "I'm fine."
"I'm glad you're feeling better." He smiled again, the corners of his eyes crinkling in a very attractive way.
"I'm anxious to get to know some of the people here, as I'm new to Milwaukee."
"Sure." She couldn't bring herself to smile back. A few years ago she would have been more than a little interested in a guy like Luke. But not any more. She had other, more important things to worry about. Besides, if Luke knew the truth about her condition, he'd be sprinting off in the opposite direction as if his shorts were on fire.
She sighed. This was going to be a really long month.