Night shift changes a person.
Not only because it permanently messes with your sleep schedule and actually takes years off your life (Yes that is scientifically proven) but because, well at least for me, it made me a nurse. Not just an average nurse. But an I can handle mostly anything you throw my way kind of nurse.
Night shift is when shit hits the fan. Sometimes literally. Or maybe the wall.
I switched to nights from evenings after I had been working for roughly two years on evenings. In ED terms that’s still relatively new. I was just starting to work in triage, which significantly honed my assessment skills, and had never truly been on my own. Because in the ED you really shouldn’t be. It’s a team setting. So people don’t die.
But nursing is always a shit show. So while there are patient/nurse ratios they are more of a guideline not a hard and fast rule.
So a few months into night shift I already learned that I needed to get good at IV’s fast. I was decent but night shift made me one of the best. Because if I missed there literally might not be anyone else who could do it if there were enough call outs. And trust me, people get pissed if you stick them with a needle more than three times. Especially when it’s their kid.
Eventually I would put an IV into a child’s pinky. Literally. And the mom would request I do the IV every time they came in. She knew I could get it even if all I had was her child’s fingers.
But my most memorable night shift didn’t revolve around IVs. Shockingly. It was a night with a lot of call outs and no one would be coming in at midnight when evening shift left. Myself and two other nurses were covering a full floor of for once, medically ill, not psychiatrically ill, kids. Overnight there was only one Attending and one resident.
Midnight rolled around. Evening shift was antsy to go, so they left. The second Attending hung around charting. Thank God. It had been busy, but nothing life threatening. Until twelve thirty AM when evening shift was gone and it was me and two other nurses. For a packed floor and full triage bays.
I like being busy so it wasn’t horrible. Until I walked in the room of one of my patient’s and they weren’t breathing. It was a baby. The mom was asleep. I started bagging the baby while trying to flip the brakes off the stretcher and yelling at the mom to wake up.
Luckily our Attending was walking by and saw me bagging a patient, said, “OH!” and my team was there. Unfortunately that left the rest of the department manned with only one nurse and one attending (for some perspective day shift could have up to 14 nurses on at once). For awhile.
We had to intubate the baby and admit it to the ICU. By the time I made it to my next patient’s room an hour had passed and I walked in, it was a teenager, and for fuck’s sake they weren’t breathing. We had already diagnosed a double pneumonia. Apparently they decompensated in the last hour.
I started bagging my patient. Fumbling with the damn brakes on the stretcher again, yelling at the damn parents to wake up, and who should walk by but my Attending. She did a double take. I think she thought I was pranking her at first. But I wasn’t. We intubated a second patient.
I walked into my third patient’s room an hour later. The parent’s were pissed. I hadn’t been in for two hours. The one nurse on the floor had hung some IV antibiotics an hour ago though. I didn’t blame them but thus far he was my only patient that was breathing so he had to wait. They didn’t really care though.
I checked his blood pressure and it was wicked low. Tachycardic. Somewhat delirious. Fuck. I shook my head. Unlocked the brakes and rolled him to our resuscitation room and called a medical alert overhead. My other nurse and my Attending whom we had just intubated two patient’s together rounded the corner looking haggard and pissed even though it seriously wasn’t my fault that all my patient’s tanked that night.
He was in septic shock. Perforated bowl. Went to emergency surgery.
Now I don’t remember that night because all my patient’s were close to death. I remember that night because myself, two other nurses, and one Attending were all that stood between them and death. If that’s not absolutely terrifying and amazing and awful and awe inspiring…I don’t know what is.
That’s when I felt it. I knew I wouldn’t forget that night. I wouldn’t forget the teamwork with those two nurses and the Attending. We forged bonds in a battlefield of dying sick children that cannot be described fully.
The most fucked up part about that is how much money I was making. I was getting paid roughly 29$/hour that night plus maybe 7$ night shift differential. To save children’s lives.
Obviously it’s more than minimum wage. But is that what a life is worth to us? My work that night was solid. But in my “yearly review” my manager never brought up that night. She brought up the ED’s budget and nonsense that I had no control over. I was never thanked by management for working my ass off that night understaffed and underpaid and saving lives.
In fact I wasn’t given a full raise that year because the ED had failed to meet some of it’s budget requirements. That never made sense to me. My raises were based on objective financial data. Not the number of lives I saved or who I saved them with or perhaps more importantly who I saved them without.
Nursing makes a person jaded. It certainly made me very cynical. I saw the value large corporations place on human life. Because hospitals are just that: corporations, and it didn’t add up to me.
That night I breathed air in the lungs of patients who couldn’t breathe on their own. I sounded the alarm and helped stop them from dying. That night shaped me as a nurse. I saw the limitations to nursing and I saw my full potential starting to shine.
I didn’t feel new anymore after that night. I felt like I could handle kids not breathing. I felt like I earned the trust and respect of the nurses and Attending that night as they earned mine. I felt simultaneously like the coolest person alive and also the most underpaid.
I remember thinking this is it. This is why I became a nurse. To save some lives. And there I was doing it.
p.s. on non-busy nights when we didn’t have patients trying to die left and right…we did prank the shit out of each other certain pranks involved moving peoples cars in the parking garage pretending they were stolen while others involved body bags. As I said night shift changes people…makes you a little darker.