Nicole Lucas & Ryan Chmiola
Aug. 14, 2021, in Philadelphia
Their first interaction was caring for a trauma patient at Hahnemann Hospital. It was July 2017, and Nicole, a doctor, was just starting her emergency medicine internship. Ryan was already an experienced ER nurse.
As part of her training, Nicole would devise a care plan for her patients, which the attending physician would review before it was put into action. Ryan was always happy to help other caregivers, and he began reviewing her care plans before she submitted them, pointing out when a different dosage might be better, or when lab tests were ordered out of sequence.
This less urgent time together made room for snippets of personal conversation, which revealed a mutual pro football passion — Ryan loves the Eagles, as does Nicole — except when they are playing the Steelers.
One night as they walked out together after a late shift, Nicole made the first move: “We should grab a drink and watch a game together,” she said.
Ryan did not see that play coming. “Yeah, sure?” he said, with a question inflection.
Nicole took that as a gentle rejection and was so glad she had waited to ask until just before leaving Hahnemann for her next rotation at St. Christopher’s.
Ryan actually was interested in Nicole, but had not yet decided whether he should pursue it. He nearly immediately regretted that he hadn’t given her a decisive yes.
“I thought about her all the time when she was gone,” he said. “I was waiting for her — I knew she was going to come back to Hahnemann.”
She returned two months later and was working with Ryan on one of her first shifts back.
“Oh God, this is going to be awkward,” she thought. “I hope no one finds out.”
At the end of their shift, Ryan asked Nicole what she was doing that weekend.
“Drinking beer and watching the Steeler game,” she said.
“Can I join you?” he asked.
Two nights later, they met at Monks for happy hour. Ryan was wondering if he should have suggested a cocktail bar instead when Nicole asked their server to bring his favorite sour of the current draft list. “She was going to be more interesting than I thought, and more of a character,” he said.
Ryan exceeded Nicole’s first-date expectations when he ordered mussels instead of the more typical wings. She loved that it felt so comfortable to share appetizers.
“We have not gone a single day without at least talking to each other since that date,” said Ryan. But they kept their growing relationship a secret from their colleagues for about a year. “There’s a lot of drama in the ER and we didn’t want to add to it,” Nicole said.
Soon they were working opposite shifts, stealing time together in between at a Starbucks not frequented by Hahnemann employees. In summer 2018, they took a trip to Portland, Seattle, the Hoh Rain Forest, and Astoria that confirmed they still liked each other after spending multiple days in the same space. When they got home, they told their coworkers about the relationship.
“I like that she makes decisions and sticks with them, because I don’t,” said Ryan. “I like that she really cares about things even when a lot of people do not care, that she’s extraordinarily detail oriented, and that she likes my cooking.”
Nicole said the flip side of being detail oriented is being anxious, and Ryan is her antidote. “He’s able to calm me down like no one else I’ve ever met before,” she said. “He has a way of making me take a deep breath, to take a step back and focus on the most important things. He can make me laugh even when I’m not in a laughing mood. And he takes care of me, including packing my lunches when I don’t have time.”
Losing Hahnemann, finding a new home
Ryan and Nicole celebrated when she was named chief resident at the end of her second of three years in the program. The couple moved together to an apartment across the street from their hospital. Then their hospital closed. They lost their jobs and what had felt like a family, too.
Neither Ryan, who is now 35 and grew up between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, nor Nicole, who is 30 and grew up in Elkins Park, wanted to leave Philadelphia. But Nicole was an orphan — the term used to describe mid-program residents whose hospitals close. She needed to find another hospital willing to allow her to finish where she left off, or else she’d have to start over again. “If we have to move across the country, so be it,” Ryan assured her.
Nicole knew then that they would build a life together.
To their delight, it’s a life still rooted in Philly. Nicole and her Hahnemann work were accepted by Temple University Hospital, where she is now an ER doctor. After working briefly at another local hospital, Ryan became an RN in Temple’s ER. Once it was clear they could stay here, the couple bought a Roxborough home together, where they live with their black lab, Bunk.
How does forever sound?
Nicole completed her residency in late June 2020. “Things with the pandemic were going in the right direction then, and so we could finally sit outside at a restaurant,” Ryan remembered. At Tria on 12th Street, “we had a really lovely time sitting, chatting, and reminiscing,” said Nicole.
Back at home, the couple put on their PJs and Nicole got out her stove-top popcorn maker.
Ryan had bought a ring many months before, but it was then, “making popcorn on the stove after such a normal and good feeling day, that it felt like the right time to ask her,” he said.
He said her name in such a serious voice that Nicole stopped rotating the handle that keeps the kernels moving.
“I turned around, and there he was with the ring,” she said. “I almost burned the popcorn. But then I turned the burner off, turned back around to him, and said yes.”
It was so them
The couple married at the Academy of Music. “It was the first time that everyone from Hahnemann was back in the same room together,” Nicole said. Masks were worn, and, since most of their 120 guests were either health-care workers or very close to one, the vaccination rate was extremely high.
The ceremony was held in the dramatic and elegant second-floor ballroom. The couple wrote their own vows in which they promised each other to always communicate how they are feeling, even when they don’t feel like it. Nicole also promised Ryan she would continue to embrace his love of solo ski trips, and he promised to always make sure she used the crosswalk.
Their reception featured a lot of dancing, a crab cake and fillet dinner, and a bunch of local beers.
Misconduct Tavern, where the after party was held, required proof of vaccination.
The wow factor
Nicole sees Ryan every day, and she even knew roughly what his tux looked like, so she wasn’t expecting the wallop of emotion that hit her walking down the aisle. “To see him standing there at the altar was really a big deal,” she said.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds walked back up the aisle, but stopped half way and kissed for a second time. “It felt like it solidified that we were now husband and wife, and it was a really exciting moment,” Ryan said. “All the nervousness leading up to the wedding was gone, and we were just really happy.”
They honeymooned in the Catskills.
In June 2022, Nicole will complete her two-year ER administration and operations fellowship, which includes an MBA, from Fox School of Business. She hopes to become an ER administrator while continuing to work in emergency medicine. Ryan is also planning to earn an MBA, which will allow him to take a nursing leadership role. They hope to remain in Philadelphia.