Night-Shifting or Please Don’t Feed the Zombies

Feb 9, 2015

Zombies do need caffeine!

Psalm 42:8 (ESV) By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

To quote Charles Dickens, “Never say never.” And one more famous quote, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (Alexander Pope,1709 and Bob Dylan, 1983). Not angels, but maybe your boss. I have returned to the night shift.

It’s been 13 years since I climbed out of the peculiar world of the nightshift. In fact, the night my son Spencer died was my last night in the ER. Since then, I’ve stayed above ground, rising with the sun and the internal alarm clock God built within us, the Circadian rhythm.

But I get antsy. It’s not always a bad thing, so God leaves it there, but He has to keep an eye on me because I can get crazy ideas. I still don’t know if returning to nights, now as an ICU nurse, is a good or bad thing.

If you talk to nightshift people they either love it – “I’ll never do anything else” or hate it: “I can’t wait to get off nights.” We love to discuss any aspect of sleep; from sleep remedies (melatonin, mimosas) to where you can buy the best pillow. How much sleep you get becomes a science and a daily preoccupation. Like food, it is essential to life, so when you are deprived, you become obsessed.

Reactions to my return to the night shift run from polite shock,

“Oh? (pause) That’s good…I guess..,” to impolite shock –

“Are you nuts?”

There’s a few nurses that recall wistfully the draw of the nightshift; camaraderie, lots of laughter and all the dip and donuts you could dream of.

I never slept well. When my parents came into our rooms at night to check on us before they went to bed I would close my eyes and pretend sleep, then listen as the house became silent.

I began sneaking out at night when I was 12. I liked being invisible and free. Then the nights turned to weeks as I entered the rough seas of adolescence. There was something in me that had to run, that connected to the other-worldliness of street-life and nights.  

When the weather was bad I would camp in an Episcopalian church, stretched out on the long wooden pews and Father Knapp would often arrive before the sun came up, gently waking me, his kind eyes peering over his spectacles. “Would you like some tea?” he would ask. It felt safe there, holding our Styrofoam cups in the soft light of the old church. We didn’t speak much, but the tea said everything, that someone cared without asking for a return.

When I moved to New York City, otherwise known as the City That Never Sleeps, I waitressed until four in the morning, then would often go to after-hours clubs to wind down with friends. It sounds romantic and gutsy but looking back I think we just hoped there was more to life. I remember a nagging loneliness. As the city plowed into morning rush hour, we would slip through the crowds and go home to sleep.

In hospitals there are plenty of people who can’t sleep and there is more time to come along side of them and offer tea, hope or maybe just the gift of listening. Patients, those who love them and sometimes co-workers are much more reflective at two in the morning than high noon.

Funny that God himself divided day into night also, like He knew we would need a time out. In the apostle John’s vision of heaven there was no more night, or day for that matter. God’s glory lights up the place! We will not need places to hide, to run away to. And no more nightshift.

I don’t know how long my body will tolerate this abuse. I am feeling the 13 years under the bridge since I last worked nights, and I am a long way from that runaway girl. In fact, my running stopped abruptly 27 years ago when I collided with Jesus Christ. But I will always tip my hat to the nightshift. It takes courage and stamina to push against the circadian clock within; and to eat Munchkins and chocolate cake with Reece’s Pieces on top and Frito’s chased down with a Mountain Dew.…

When the sun edges up, throwing the first light upon the world, there is a night shift that emerges quickly from work, like squinting zombies, running for cover to darkened bedrooms and white noise machines. I’m grateful to my kids for the years they had to come home from school to a Zombie mother, stumbling out of bed towards the coffee pot, explaining to friends,

“ She’s not on crack. She works the night shift,”

and to my husband for withstanding my bipolar swings as I attempt to adjust again. There should be a support group for night shift spouses and children – Survivors.

“Yeah, my wife ate a box of Krispy Cremes for breakfast and chased it down with a cold beer….” Others nod with understanding and compassion…

So if you see a disheveled – looking person wandering around Kmart with something suspiciously close to pajamas on, eating a Snickers bar and pushing a cart with a new pillow in it and some haphazard purchase like a rotisserie oven, don’t get too close. And if you must speak to them, remember, your 4 pm is their 7 am; speak slowly and be kind. They may be taking care of you some night, or your mother. We might even save your life.

And to those, like me, who are awake at night, remember Psalm 121:

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.”

And He doesn’t need caffeine or melatonin. His eyes watch over us, day in and when the day goes dark. All night long, His song is with us and we are never, ever alone.