3am. Early morning. Dark of night. Witching hour.
Whatever you call it, many a body clock reaches it absolute low within the 24hour period. A busy nightshift with a rest period between 0300 and 0400 is generally bearable; one without is intolerable.
We had been out all night. We had worked all types of calls, minor to major. My level of enthusiasm was not at its peak, but bobbing around in the sea of sleepiness. I was hoping for a short break; a pause to let my heavy eyelids droop over my dried and tired eyes, to be allowed to escape in to a warm, soft and happy dreamworld. But none of that happened. Instead, we received yet another call after handing our patient over at hospital.
I closed my eyes anyway and leaned my head on my hand, elbow on window sill, whilst my partner navigated the dimly lit streets, devoid of any activity in the dead of the night. I would have drifted off if it were not for the bouncing of our wheels, indicating the ambulance was just about parked in the driveway. A quick drink of water, a quick glance at our patients name from the screen; reluctantly opening the van door I feel a cool breeze engulfing my face, and take a few deep breaths, hoping the flood of oxygen to the system will wake me up a little more. I grab my gear, and groan at the sight of a bunch of wet and narrow stairs – could be a complicated extrication.
We are met inside by the daughter, who states mum had a funny turn, and was worried. We awkwardly gathered some history, as it appeared our patient did not understand a word of english – not making things any easier. Luckily the family were more than happy to help. I commenced taking vital signs, and whilst taking a blood pressure, sitting next to the patient on the bed, I wished that I could just let myself fall back, stretch my back and sprawl my limbs across the big and comfy bed.
But that probably wouldn’t look too professional, so I didn’t.
The decision to transport to hospital was made, and in order to try and establish a little more rapport, I crammed out some (pseudo?) italian, “hospitale” and “ambulanzia” whilst pointing to the door that we must now head outside. A little sigh of relief was breathed internally when she insisted on walking herself (which was fine with her presenting condition). She even insisted on sitting in the ambulance, which meant that we could sit approximately opposite each other on an equal level, and look each other in the eye (as opposed to physically having to look down on somebody who is lying on a stretcher – bit of psychology involved there I reckon!).
We were going along in the back of the ambulance, and all of a sudden our patient opens up and speaks (heavily accented but understandable) english! Huzzah! Communication breakthrough achieved. A few personal details for the paperwork done, and then we got on to the details of her life – where in Bella Italia she comes from, her love of cooking and baking, Pasta, Lasagne, Pizza, Tirami Su – you name it, she had an authentic recipe stashed away in her memory, and regularly made use of it for the family. She then asked me what I do, or rather what I call myself. “Paramedic” wasn’t quite understood. “Medici?” She asks me? No, not a doctor, I am a “Paramedici!” Showing her my Ambulance Paramedic badge, I repeat: “Ambulanzia Paramedici!”
“Ah, Ambulanzia Paramedici!” Her face lightens up even more, and I am proud to have established a little foreign language communication.
So proud, in fact, that I reply with “Si, senorita!”, only then realising that I am way off the mark with the language again. The last few minutes of the trip continue like this, me trying to get my point across with italian(ised) words and (authentic?) hand gestures, and she guessing the meaning and then teaching me one or two new nuggets of vocabulary. In between all this, I occasionally catch the bleary eyed nothingness expression of my colleague in the rear view mirror, which was turning in to a slightly less bleary eyed look of puzzlement, then finally in to an occasional chuckle and snort of my poor grasp (and interesting try) on the Italian language, together with a little astonishment where all the fatigue had gone to.
I love night shift.
The day slowly comes to an end, and with it, daylight. The masses return home, to hermit themselves for the night, shielding themselves from the darkness. In darkness, strange creatures emerge from the fringes of society, emitting a multitude of cries varying from the joking, the drunk, the desperate to the downright insane.
Nachts sind alle Katzen Grau – at night, all cats are grey. The Germans have a great proverb for darkness. Streets begin to look the same, shadows become familiar, everything blurs in to multiple shades of grey; one suburb being a clone of them all.
Unless we are called. Our emergency lights bounce and ricochet off walls, street signs, windows; our siren wails a lonely echo between family homes; our floodlights pierce the darkest shadow in desperate search of a house number. Life and action is focussed for a moment at the scene of the emergency – until the scene is under control, we take off, and everything falls back in to quiet, soothing, yet eerie darkness.
– ~ –
I hate nightshift.
The restlessness, a pathetic excuse for sleep, comes abruptly to an end. The dreaded alarm bells have rung, tearing me from the temporary safe cradle of my comfy chair, releasing me in to a blurred stumble to grab van keys, glasses, a whiff of fresh air, and – hopefully en route – wakefulness. Eyes as dry as the Sahara and sticky as treacle don’t help the cause, neither does a mind as fuzzy as a duckling with an Afro. Moves are automated rather than thought through, communications at hospital are grunted rather than eloquently executed. The clock ticks by at quarter speed, every second seeming like a minute, every minute seeming like an hour until the end of the shift.
Once back in own bed, sleep is a raw necessity rather than something of pleasure or, heaven forbid, beauty. Raw, basic, primeval need for sleep drives me in to bed, hopeful to make up for some of the rest lost over the past hours. Never enough, but enough to keep going.
Limbs as heavy as lead, a feeling like your body is wading through the thickest of syrup, every move is a double effort. And that’s just to get to the fridge for some food. No motivation to go anywhere apart from a shower, and then maybe back to the fridge. You know your day is wasted, the lack of motivation stealing your day away, the lack of sleep stealing your health away.
But we still do it. Like an alcoholic, ecstatic about his next drunken stupor we knowingly race in to, and through, the night – just to awake with a giant hangover the next morning.
Like an addict, we keep coming back to the drug until it consumes us.