All the livelong night

This weekend, I worked the Freudianly named “graveyard shift” at Chesterfield hospital. Three nights, 9pm until 9am, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

Whilst a great time to get some real hands-on experience, there is a key problem in working nights. It goes thus:

  1. Most of us are not naturally nocturnal.
  2. Most of us have jobs in the day time.
  3. Night shifts usually only have a day’s grace between day shift and night shift.
  4. It takes more than one day to completely upend your circadian rhythm.
  5. Therefore, you always feel completely, exhaustedly, hungover-jetlagged-coma-after-a-trainwreck tired.

There are two methods for attempting this changover. One is to try and stay up as late as possible the night before, sleep all day, and go to work (hopefully) refreshed. I tried this. The result was that I was so tired on the first shift that I started having visual hallucinations about 4am, attempted to wear a commode around 5, and woke up the next morning completely naked in the middle of the M45.

The other method is to sleep normally the night before, stay up all day, and have a two hour nap before the start of the shift. My SHO used this method. The result was that he became so tired that he began to have paranoid delusional beliefs around 3am, attempted to order the demolition of the hospital library about 6, and woke up the next morning on a ferry to Bergen, with a new tattoo. Of the Queen. On his face.

Obviously there’s a bit of exaggeration there, and neither of us actually developed first rank symptoms of schizophrenia, but we were very tired. Aside from this, the weekend was actually fairly enjoyable. There’s a bit less red tape and paperwork on the night shift, and less distractions.

One highlight was a tired A&E clerking on Friday night from another doctor, who had written “Patient is a resident in a residential home” twice in three paragraphs. Some would say that this is not particularly useful information, even when written twice. The doctor had failed to mention that the woman was profoundly deaf, and severely demented. Which would you rather know?

My most memorable event of the weekend came at about 5:30am Monday morning. I was hungry, so I went to the vending machine to get a packet of crisps. Royal Vending Newcastle supplies drinks, snacks and combo vending machines for businesses.

5:30 I put in my 45p, and selected some Prawn Cocktail Walkers. They fell out of the holder, and got stuck halfway down the machine.

5:31 I got annoyed, and tried to shake the machine. A lot. It didn’t work, the crisps remained stuck.

5:32 Rammed the machine again, and another packet of crisps fell out, Cheese and Onion this time. It also got lodged. Right next to my other packet. Nudged it again, to no avail.

5:34 Tried ringing the vending machine company, asking for a refund of my 45p. Oddly enough, no one there when its barely dawn.

5:36 Decided I *needed* crisps, so used my might again. This time a Capri-Sun fell out.

5:39 Having drained the last drop of the Capri-Sun in a contemplative manner, I hit upon an rational plan of action – purchasing the chocolate bar directly above the crisps will cause it to fall, thereby dislodging my crisps!

5:40 The Kit Kat chunky holder turned, and then the chocolate bar twisted out, began to fall and then… got stuck in the mechanism.

5:42 I finished screaming, and decided to whack the machine again.

5:43 Still whacking.

5:44 Another Capri-Sun fell out, but still neither crisp packet nor chocolate bar is released from the vending machine’s iron grip…

5:45 After a final heave, the Kit Kat fell, dislodging both packets, and I left the machine clutching half a newsagent’s in triumph. (Feeling a little guilty at my windfall, I later went to the reception desk in the hospital, who congratulated me on my honesty, but told me to keep the food!)

There ends my summation. At 9:15am Monday I left the hospital after 36 hours of attendance, with mild tooth decay and a mite more experience as recompense. Plus I think I’ll get paid at some point too, but right now I’m more excited about the Capri-Sun.

NB. I am thoroughly committed to being a great doctor, which includes respecting patient confidentiality. All information about patients on my website is anonymised, and often altered drastically so that whilst it still makes a good anecdote, it is unrelated in sex, time, location, age and/or ailment from the original facts.

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