I’m working my last night shift soon.
It is a self-destructive behavior that I have only participated in begrudgingly at best for the last four years. I am writing this in the spirit of nostalgia and because I know I don’t have to do it much longer. Usually, I like to tell people what a shitty experience it is and that you tend to smell really bad at the end of it.
I remember my first night shift well because I spent it miserably and mildly drug-affected. I’d had the brilliant idea to take the highest recommended dose of Phenergan during the day so I could have a long and luxurious nap before my shift. It wasn’t a good idea in theory, let alone in practice, but I did it anyway. I started with one tablet, and when that didn’t work, I took another. Three hours later, I was more awake than I’d ever been.
At work that night, I remember listening to a patient tell me how they were feeling and thinking to myself, “I am sure that I feel worse than you do right now.”
I wasn’t drowsy, but I was monumentally nauseated. I spent the shift stifling my overwhelming nausea and questioning the life choices that had led me to having my finger in someone’s asshole at two o’clock in the morning.
I have become dependent on drugs since beginning working on nights. Every shift, I come home and take a sedating antihistamine so I can wake up five hours later with a dry mouth, a foggy head, and a feeling that while I am not well rested, I am sure I have just been unconscious.
During a block of night shifts, I am about as social as my 96-year-old grandfather, who likes to ignore everyone else at his nursing home and watch Chinese romantic dramas that he barely understands. I refuse to participate in most social activities during nights. I drive home, have a lackluster sleep, then wake up to do it again.
It’s funny when people ask me to do social things during a block of night shifts. I often question whether I can consider these people true friends anymore.
Why don’t you come to dinner before your shift? Why don’t you come over to hang out?
Do they even know me? How can they purport to be my friend then have the gall to ask me to hang out before a night shift?
I’ve really had to scrutinize my relationships with friends and family through this process. My mother asked me to come to dinner before my shift last Friday night. I’ve had to terminate that relationship since.
Albeit, I have never actually tried to do anything social before a night shift. Instead, I like to spend as much quality horizontal time (solo) in those sacred hours before work. Even if I’m awake, being horizontal makes me feel closer to sleep. And being closer to sleep helps me to pretend I don’t have to be at work in two hours.
I am not alone in my anti-social and vampiric tendencies pre-night-shift. For instance, my old roommate meal preps exclusively for night shifts so she doesn’t have to leave the house at all. But then there are certain sick and/or misled individuals who actually do things between night shifts. An Irish colleague I worked with over Christmas chose not to sleep on Christmas day and instead went to the beach and returned to work that night sunburnt and wearing a Santa hat. He was smiling, but I was sure he hated himself inside.
Or maybe he truly did have an inscrutable zest for life. Does that mean I lack a zest for life? Should I have spent those hours pre-shift in a fugue state, my grasp on real life tentative at best, or spent them actually socializing with people? Even when not in a pre-night fugue, my desire to socialize with people is easily compromised, so I do question what positive gain I would have had from that sort of thing.
I can be zesty when properly convinced. Actually, on night shifts, I often find myself with more joie de vivre than I do most other times of my life. Night shifts seem to promote a kind of conspiratorial attitude between colleagues. This sentiment of exclusivity and secrecy. People are also more disinhibited on night shifts, likely from a combination of insufficient sleep and lack of direct supervision.
On night shifts, I have cumulatively told strangers and acquaintances more about myself than my best friends know about me. I remember literally crying to another resident I’d only met that night on Christmas Eve 2017 as I unpacked my emotional baggage all over the staff cafeteria floor.
Although I am very, very pleased that I will never have to work another night again, I can’t help but feel wistful about these hours spent awake when I should have been asleep.
I loved to walk in a deserted hospital during the night. The floors are freshly cleaned. The elevators come in 10 seconds, not 10 minutes. There are nooks and crannies to be found. I loved watching the sun rise as people started trickling in for the day. I loved the snacks the nurses brought on 6H that I always ate.
Most of all, I loved to handover at the end of my shift, feeling smug as I walked out the door, knowing I’ll be sleeping while these people slave away. That may be the true joy of the night shift.