Night Nurse Newbie

Long awaited, much anticipated, only slightly dreaded . . . my first night shift as a nurse!

(Que the drum roll, please. But quietly, because I’ve now been awake for almost 24 hours.)

I was able to pick up a 12-hour night shift on my unit due to some scheduling conflicts and eagerly looked forward to it for about a month. Now, just about two and a half hours after finishing it, I’m struggling to make sense of it. Part of that is due to my current level of sleepiness – getting rest yesterday was good in theory, but I was only actually able to take two naps for a total of four hours of sleep before my shift. Another part of it is due to the fact that my mother picked me up from work and I’ve spent the last two hours happily chatting with her about life in general while eating a fast-food breakfast, sipping coffee, and catching the morning news.

Despite my current sleepiness; however, I do want to make at least a “first impressions” post regarding my first night shift. I’m talking bullet points, people. Probably short and sweet ones that will need to be elaborated on to some degree later. I already did a post about some possible disadvantages of working the night shift (Carpe Noctem), but I want to go over the realities/thoughts I encountered in a roughly chronological order.

All the better to go back over them and reflect on things, later. When I’m not a zombie.

  • I ate dinner (breakfast?) with my other before work. My nerves started rising and I was feeling rather queasy by the time I actually got to work and walked in.
  • Instantly, the quieter atmosphere was noticeable – far fewer people meandering downstairs in the halls and lobby area. Plus, no music from the overhead speakers.
  • On the unit, seeing familiar coworkers from day shift. They wished me luck and told me to have a good night. My night charge nurse welcomed me.
  • Got report, passed evening meds. So far, so good.
  • Wait, it’s only 9:45 PM? Everyone is already medicated and settled in. What now?
  • Might as well chart . . . that’ll kill some time, surely.
  • Oops. Charted too efficiently . . . now it’s 11:00 PM and I’m wondering what to do with myself. No more charting, no current meds, too early for lunch.
  • *insert an hour of thumb-twiddling and employee education modules here*
  • “Guys, I’m gonna walk down to the vending machines. Get a snack.” Perhaps this is why people say night nurses are more inclined to being overweight. I never have time for snacks on day shift. Unexpected benefit, noted.
  • Uh-oh. A patient crying in pain, with only Tylenol available? Now she’s having an anxiety attack! No, wait, I’m having an anxiety attack! Gah, we both are! Ah, crap.
  • Here, wait, I can fix this! (Maybe. . . oh god, I hope so . . . )
  • Called the on call doc and got morphine ordered. Thankfully, night shift is slower than day shift and I am free to spend 45 minutes holding my one patient’s hand while the morphine slowly works. I watch her face turn from purple to red to pink.
  • “Deep breaths. Smell the flowers, blowout the candles. Just like that, good.” Is this what labor and delivery nurses go through everyday? I hope not . . .
  • Now, it is somehow 1:30 AM. A reasonable time for lunch (dinner?).
  • Damn. The cafeteria is closed. One mark against night shift. Vending machine sandwich and candy bar for me. Next time, I pack more noms.
  • Back upstairs and I walk into the break-room where another nurse is settling in with his lunch. “Why are you here,” he asks, perplexed. “I picked up a night shift,” I explain, wondering if I’ve been invisible for the last six hours and everything was just a hallucination. We eat in an awkward silence.
  • Well, the shift is more than halfway over. Geez, it’s quiet without all the hustle and bustle of the day shift. Nice though, I think.
  • . . . is there anything else I can chart? Does anyone want meds? Ice? Pillows?
  • Everyone is asleep. All of my patients. It’s 3:30 AM and I am desperately trying to create things for me to do. The other night nurses seem unbothered by the lack of direction and chat while on their cells.
  • I read every single note that has been entered for each one of my patients. It’s now 5:30 AM and I am going downstairs for more snacks simply for something to do.
  •  I finally get to pass more meds! Yay, tasks! I love 6:00 AM meds.
  • Huh? It’s 6:15 and I’m already done passing the meds? There were only six of them?
  • At least my chair spins. I spin and spin and spin. Slow, lazy circles. My charge nurse laughs when she catches me and one of the techs promises to slap me, if I say I’m bored or that it’s quiet. I promise not to say either. I continue to spin.
  • 6:45 AM and I am answering other nurse’s call lights, offering to pass meds, pacing up and down the hall as I wait for change of shift to arrive. I can see daylight, out the windows, and it makes me impatient to leave.
  • Finally! 7:05 AM and I am giving shift report. Only takes half an hour.
  • I had so much free time that all my charting got done. I am able to actually leave once report is finished, instead of hanging out to chart for another hour or so.
  • Peace out, everyone! See you in four days!

There you have it. An outline – more or less – of my first night shift. Lots of down time, a few nerve-wracking moments. Much more laid back than a day shift, but the night passes more slowly than the day does. Interestingly, my Fitbit tracker says I only walked 4,015 steps during the shift. On day shifts, that number usually exceeds 10,000 by a fair amount. I am glad, because my feet aren’t sore.

I am also, inconveniently, dozing off while I work on this. I believe I am going to go forward with posting it and present more cohesive/meaningful thoughts by and by.

(Just caught myself staring blindly into space and realized five minutes have passed since I typed the last sentence. Was I sleeping with my eyes open? Maybe.)