I’m in the awful two hours before night shifts begin. You’re exhausted and you’re desperate to get a nap in before you go to work. You know you’re going to be up for the next 14 hours, running like a nutter around the hospital, trying to stop women bleeding, and getting their babies out safely. But the last thing you can do is sleep. So you have a hot bath, and you eat a bowl of pasta, and you wait for the hours to tick around before you leave the house, fuelled by the first of what will be many heavily-caffeinated beverages.
Nights are like entering a vortex. For the next five days you won’t see or speak to anyone other than your colleagues and patients. You will eat way too many biscuits. Nothing green will pass your lips. You will only wear scrubs or pyjamas. You will get confused about when you last brushed your teeth. When everyone is arriving at the hospital at 9am clutching their coffees and packed lunches, you will be stumbling, hollow-eyed into the carpark, and hoping you arrive home in one piece.
Once home, you develop an intimate relationship with DVD boxsets, as, in the 10am-11.30am slot, when you are attempting to stop your nerves jangling, and fall asleep, the TV is full of inane daybreak programmes, and you feel like an escaped mental patient.
You may, if you’re lucky, manage a fitful four hours sleep during the day, if you’re not awakened by the postman, or the bin men, or someone trying to cut your hedge, or introduce you into a relationship with Jesus. You forget what day it is, and what time, and you get confused about when your alarm is going off, and whether it’s morning or evening. You wake in terror, thinking you’ve slept through the start of your shift, to discover you’ve only been asleep 40 minutes, and now you’ve got to try and get back to sleep. You try sleeping pills, but they just make you drowsy, and you wander around the wards as if the air is made of treacle.
Occasionally you bump into one of your mates in the corridor of the hospital at 4am, and you look at each other in resigned horror, and, if you can still have control over your ocular muscles, you roll your eyes at your shared misery.
If the crash bleep sounds, adrenalin surges through your body, and you race wildly to the comatose patient, running desperately through protocols in your exhausted brain, desperately hoping someone else gets there first and takes charge, so you don’t have to. Then once the emergency passes, and your adrenalin seeps away, you are left shaking and exhausted, with another 5 hours still on the clock.
Some people love nightshifts, walking around a darkened and quiet hospital, with no one to tell you what to do. And sometimes the trench spirit of the nurses can buoy you through the horrific 3am-5am hours. But I’m counting down the days until I’m qualified as a GP and no longer have to go through this horror. 796 to go. Crikey.