The hospital feels different after 5 PM.
The scheduled surgeries are finished for the day. The short stays and clinics are emptied and closed. Administrators, executives and their assistants all begin vanishing like the sun over the horizon. The last few tired nurses clock out and the hectic cloud of day shift follows them into the elevator. What is left behind is an alternate hospital universe that only true night shift staff discover and appreciate.
The bright lights are dimmed to signal to patients, visitors and staff that night has arrived. The coffee and tea come out to greet the healthcare team to another night. Some nursing units brew their own caffeinated delights, others take turns making massive runs to Starbucks, Dutch Bros or another favorite coffee spot. Patient assessments are completed and medications are passed. Nurses and ancillary staff move quickly to check off all the tasks on their lists. If they are lucky they will be able to tuck themselves in to the nursing station to chart and chat the hours away until dawn.
Everything is more a little more relaxed. No topic is taboo by 4 AM. Night shift staff know each other, the good, the bad and the unmentionables. If a manager or administrator happens to come in on night shift, the news spreads quickly and the books, smart phones and uncovered cups disappear in an instant. Those late night visits from administration are rare. Night-shifters learn to depend on each other like family.
The calm can be misleading.
In the darkened corners of the nursing unit lurk the possibility of chaos. Disaster can interrupt the laughter at the nursing station, despite the careful observation and care of patients. When emergencies occur, the night shift team leaps into action. The juicy conversations and cat videos are abandoned and the only priority is the patient. An outsider may not see an emergency on a nursing unit as seriously as the team working in it. It does not usually look like it does on television. There are a lot of people. Everyone is in motion. It is often quiet with one or two people calling out times and actions. Faces are focused. Minds are alert and assessing, searching for causes and solutions within milliseconds of coming to the bedside. They have done this before and settle into their comfortable roles. The night shift team are a little more earnest and confident. They know that reinforcements are not coming. This is night shift.
When the emergency has passed, for better or worse, the team returns to its tasks. The work and night continue.
Despite the craziness and sleep deprivation, night shift is awesome. Most people dread working at night and do not understand why any sane person would choose to work the late shift. It is not the frappicinos. It is not the chance of watching cat videos for hours. It comes down to the men and women sharing the nursing station with you. They don’t always get along, but they are always in it together. They create the secret awesomeness that is night shift.
Shhhhhh don’t tell the boss!
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