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Author: Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe, RN.Rtd.

Operating Room nursing was my niche. The neat and tidy rooms, the sparkling instruments, the routine of the day, working with nurses who shared my own mind set, made it seem like the work was really contributing something to the well-being of someone who was ill. The person needed surgery to bring them back to health and as operating room nurses we were the patient's advocates and the work we did contributed to that return to health. In all of that there was a sense of great self-satisfaction. The occasional drama and the adrenalin rush of a callback for an Emergency kept us alert, always at the ready when called upon. Yes, it definitely was the place for me. Efficiently working, taking extra courses, learning the workings of the fibreoptic laparoscope and arthroscopes, with laparoscopic surgery just coming on stream, was a challenge and made it a joy to go to work every day.

But after more than fifteen years it was time for a change. The challenge was not there and the isolation of the Operating Room and its restraints of entry became more of a burden than it had been years before. I made the decision to go back to Medical-Surgical Nursing. It wasn't too long after I made the decision that I found myself working in the area I had worked before, doing eight hour shifts, rotating through the days, evenings and nights.

Then a change blew over us. The popular decision was to go to twelve hour shifts working two or three consecutive days or nights and then having four or five days off. Now I had the added challenge of getting older also.

As a nurse working a twelve-hour shift from 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. the hours seem to get longer with each shift I did. Some nurses love to work the midnight hours and some, like me, have circadian rhythms that never adjust to the change in the pattern of your day to day life. The work would not be the issue. It would be the sleeplessness, the profound fatigue, the irritability and generally having your life turned upside down. I, at one point, had three twelve-hour night shifts together in my schedule and I have to say I do not think by the end of the third night that I was anything resembling a decent human being. Outwardly I would appear tired but otherwise fine, my work was done and I completed every shift, gathering what we call our 'second wind' By 6:00 A.M. or so. Then I would know that there would be no sleep for me again that day. But only I, just myself, knew just how sick I was feeling and was in a quandary as to what to do about it.

As a consequence my life suffered terribly in every sphere. Physically I was sick and would develop a cardiac arrhythmia which in itself was frightening. Emotionally I was totally devoid of humor, which was the one thing that had kept me going through the worse days all up through the years, and mentally I was at such a low level my car was much brighter than I was, and I truly mean that, because at least it could function.

Therefore, the four days off that would come after working three night shifts would just give me time enough to become human and be ready to start my twelve-hour day shifts. I would breeze through those, giving good care, and it was as if putting in a fourteen hour or fifteen-hour day was absolutely fine and acceptable. I would be my old self again with boundless energy. My fatigue after a fifteen-hour day would not be remotely close to what it would be after a twelve-hour night shift.

I tried every trick in the book to train my body to think it was night and time to sleep, but it never worked. I was becoming sicker with each lot of nights slotted in my schedule and had to make the decision to cut back to working 80% of a full-time nurse in order to get rid of the third night shift. That helped for awhile, but soon I was sliding downhill again. I was nearing the age of fifty and the hours were not as easy as they had been at the age of thirty. My health was suffering, my social life was nonexistent, I hardly had time for friends and family, and I knew it could not go on.

As difficult as it was, I cut down to 50% percent for a year or so and then at the age of fifty-one decided that life had to hold more than this, I had to have better health than working all night with no time for a break, a snack or just to relax. The busy unit allowed no time for such trivial human necessities, and nurses were suffering. I decided I had to let it go.

So at the age of fifty-one I was fortunate enough to be able to leave while still active, regain my strength and go on to other endeavors. But it was not easy, letting my career go was the hardest thing I had faced up to that point. But I had to do it in order to survive. I have written about my decision before but now I am further from it and can write differently about it, probably with more of an acceptance of what had to be and how right the decision I made was for me and my family.

Now, seven years later I look back, and I realize how much I put into my career, how much I loved my work, how much good work I did in those years, and how much I taught others who came behind me. I also realize how much I have written about nursing in the last seven years, how I reconciled my leaving by finding a way to still be in touch with my profession. I find it hard to believe I really survived working three twelve-hour nights in a row. I know how I feel when I get up at four-thirty in the morning to go fishing, and I am in awe that I lived through those night shifts at all.

The right decision for me was made, and made by me, and made at the right time. But still when the department stores have their 'Midnight Madness' sales, which I have never attended, I cannot help but think of how I felt on the mornings after working those three night shifts.

That was the true 'MIDNIGHT MADNESS' as far as I am concerned.

Thank heavens for beautiful days, going to bed and waking to another day, and if you have never done 'MIDNIGHT MADNESS' then you will never have the same appreciation of that piece of furniture called a 'BED'!

Enjoy it-and for those still working diligently through the long night hours, may you be blessed. I have received your care in the middle of the night, and so appreciated it. It is a job that has to be done, and thankfully there are people who love to work those hours.

Unfortunately my ‘Circadian Rhythm’ rebelled and made me change my lifestyle, and for the better I hope.

At least now I think I am a bit smarter than my car!

Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe, RN.Rtd.

 


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