About three months ago I embarked on a journey of transition in my professional life by starting a new job on the overnight shift. I’m still working in the veterinary field, but I have given up playing with eyeballs. I now work in the intensive care unit of a specialty hospital, and I like it a lot. The schedule flip took some getting used to, and I still have no idea when the hell I’m supposed to eat breakfast, but now that I’m in the swing of things it is working out quite nicely. One of the things that I like most about this job is that I work by myself. I don’t have to listen to anyone bitching at each other about things that don’t matter, people trying to wield imagined power over other people, or people gossiping and spewing hateful things about people who are not in the room. It’s just me, my iPod, and anywhere from 2 to 14 really sick animals.
I work 12 hour shifts as the only human in sight, other than the two overnight technicians at the clinic down the hall, whom I occasionally seek out for human contact but mostly for their food, and the shady people who park in the post office parking lot across the street for 10 minutes at a time at all hours of the night. There are some nights that are so busy that I don’t sit down until I get in my car at the end of my shift. There are nights when 3 patients vomit, one has projectile bloody diarrhea, one has a seizure, and 4 of them chew their IV catheters out all at the same time. Hey, I never shy away from a challenge.
There are other nights that are quiet and slow. Those are the nights when I find myself searching for ways to keep myself awake and entertained. I mean, there are only so many times you can scrub a sink that had poop in it four scrubs ago, or stock all the supply drawers until they are overflowing, or prank call the doctors’ houses at 3 in the moring. Sometimes I work on my celebrity impressions and test their accuracy by how the animals react. For example, one night there was a poodle in the hospital after having surgery to remove several articles of clothing from his stomach, and I talked to him like Rosie Perez for the better part of an hour.
“Ooh, you a stoo-pi’ poodle! Why you gotta eat da’ clothes, papi? You don’ even wear da’ clothes!”
The poodle responded by wagging his tail and trying to eat his IV line, so I think it was pretty successful.
I have learned that while celebrity impressions are an effective way to break up the quiet overnight hours, it is important to remember to stop doing the impressions while doing rounds with your relief technicians in the morning. They do not think you are as funny as you think you were when you were by yourself at 4:00am. In fact, if you are still new and they don’t know you very well, they will likely stare at you while trying to decide if you’re actually crazy, then make a mental note to talk about you when the other technicians arrive at work. Personally, I feel that it harms professional relationships more when you try and hide the crazy. It’s better to just get all that crazy right out on the table from the very beginning. Plus, I don’t function well in a strictly normal working environment.
I am really enjoying the academic part of this job as well. I am learning a lot about many different diseases and conditions. I get to see first hand the ins and outs, short and long term effects of the conditions, and methods of treating many different diseases. It is also a lot of fun to be involved with the patients so intimately for such a length of time. The relationships I develop with the patients are a mixed blessing, though. It is intensely rewarding to be able to provide comfort to an animal that is sick and in pain. Each tail wag and lick on the nose that I get is well earned, as the last thing these animals feel like doing is being happy. I’ve held restless and painful dogs until they were able to sleep, I’ve let notoriously aggressive dogs out of their kennels and had them lay down on my lap and fall asleep. I’ve talked to angry cats until they purr and look for me when I walk away from their kennel. Those moments make the vomit and urine and blood I wear home on my scrubs worth it.
These moments are also gut wrenching in a new way that has been difficult for me to get used to. In my previous job, we treated sick patients and then saw them improve and heal and become happy and healthy again over the coming weeks. In this job, the patients I am treating are the sickest of the sick, most of them with grave prognoses. There are a great many that do improve, but I never get to see them again. It is great that they never have to be in the hospital again, but that also means I only see very sick patients, and that is very sad. The saddest are the ones where I know they are heading toward euthanasia, and even though it is the very best decision for the case, it is hard to get a patient ready to say goodbye. I take comfort in knowing that they are receiving the very best care and they are being loved in their final moments, because that is what they deserve.
The job and the schedule are perfect for me in this stage of my life. I don’t think I’m cut out for long term overnight work. I mean, having a definitive section of the day clearly devoted to breakfast is a security that I don’t want to spend my life without. But I see this time as a transition. From a toxic environment that drained my energy and my health/sanity to…something unknown that will rock my socks. It is an opportunity for transformation as I take control of my life back. I am allowed to dream again, and I am able to seek out positive people and experiences that build me up where I have previously been broken down. I have the power to deny toxic people access to my soul. I am in control of my destiny. And now I will rein myself back in to the material world and focus on updating this blog more. I’ll also let you know as soon as I figure out the breakfast conundrum. Suggestions welcome.