Last night I experienced what it’s like to work a night shift in a hospital – for the first time ever. It was an intense, yet spaced-out experience which I’m finding hard to write about in any sort of coherent manner (probably due to the fact I’ve missed a night’s sleep and the skill of producing eloquent content is evading me right now). Because of this, I thought I’d write a post documenting a fraction of my thoughts throughout the night instead – this allows me to share with you all my feelings in the way I experienced them, rather than editing the events into reflective prose.
So here we go, from start to finish, my first night shift experience in 34 parts:
This feels like a dream, actually no, a nightmare. Is this real? I don’t think this is happening. In the car on the way to work at 7:30pm? No way.
It’s so dark out here. Like, impossibly solid darkness. No one should be heading to work when the sky is this black.
This really is real. I just walked through the hospital’s automatic doors and the antiseptic, musty, microwaved-food smell that I’ve come to know so well is hitting me full on.
Everyone else is heading towards the exit. Lucky them.
Pfff. Here we are again: the peeling paint and general washed-out look of the ward manages to look even less welcoming in the headache-inducing artificial light of the night.
I don’t know if I can do this. Can I?
Wow, everyone in this staffroom looks just as tired as I feel but also way more at ease with this sensation.
Warm smiles, encouraging words. I’ll be fine. The day team are leaving.
Time to do this! A little mental to do list has been suggested to me by the other staff, so I guess I’ll just work through that.
Make patients comfortable: check.
Clean all surfaces and equipment: check.
Tidy the ward: check.
Empty catheter bags: check.
Carry out blood sugar tests: check.
Update the paperwork: check.
What now? It’s only 10pm. We just have to sit here and keep an eye on everyone? Reposition them from time to time and help them if they need it? Okay, sounds simple enough.
It’s actually nice working in semi-darkness. It feels more relaxed.
Uh oh, the tiredness is hitting me like a fog laced with Night Nurse. We haven’t even hit midnight yet.
Everything feels lifeless here at night. In a peacefully eerie way.
Is there any possible way to sit on a plastic chair comfortably? If so, I haven’t found it.
Would it be okay to read my book to keep myself awake?
Hospitals kind of symbolise life, don’t they? Well, all the least glamorous parts anyway. We don’t often see people at their optimum, but at their turning points. Sweaty births, injuries and surgeries, devastating news and miraculous recoveries, quietly expected and traumatically sudden deaths…
Only 1am? Hooooooow.
Seconds slow to minutes, minutes to hours; hours feel like eternities. I’m a little dramatic in the middle of the night, I think.
The clock maintains a steady staccato beat to which snores of different pitches and speeds weave almost melodically over the top. A machine beeps. Distant footsteps fade in and out. A cough breaks the pattern.
It’s 3am – that means it’s break time! My chance to slip a nap in.
Sleeping on top of pillows spread out over a couple of chairs is surprisingly comfortable. Or at least I’m desperately exhausted enough to believe so.
I feel like I should eat; I’m running on empty. I feel quite sick though, a drowsy sickness wrapped all around me like cling film.
Time to get back to work. I swear early morning hours are longer than an hour in the daytime. Has anyone checked this?
I’m figuring out that colleague conversation is what keeps people sane in these situations. It’s mostly meaningless muttering to each other, but it’s enough stimulation to stay awake.
Wait, no. It’s really only been five minutes since I last looked at the clock?! How is that even possible?!?
5:30am signals the start of busyness again on the ward, apparently. My body is fighting this, but also contains no energy for a fight. I’m pulled along like seaweed on the surf of a wave.
Tasks tumble around me; I do my best to get through them all.
Everything seems ticked off… My arms feel almost as heavy as my eyelids.
This really hasn’t been as bad as I was anticipating, the sun is rising already!
If I ever was unfortunate enough to experience my eyeball being rubbed against a cheese grater, this is what it would feel like. Do I look like a zombie yet?
The day team is back, I’m free to go!
I feel like a vampire walking out into the sunlight of a new day. It’s so ridiculously bright: my eyes burn and my skin tingles.
My brain tries to think back over the events of the last 13 hours but my mind seems to have turned into spaghetti, or something equally as muddled.
I feel hungover. Is this what night shifts are always like? How do people do this regularly? There are only two explanations: they’re either amazing or actual vampires.
My Social Media Links: