The alarm sounds and my eyes open to a stream of light escaping through the black out curtains that darken our room. My 11-year-old black lab, Lucy, has an internal clock of her own. She sits rather impatiently by my bed waiting for her afternoon meal, willing me with her Black-Lab-Jedi-Mind-Tricks to hurry up and get out of bed to feed her. The day has gone on as usual without us; the neighbor hammers on the shed he is building, and has been building for six weeks now – during the day, of course, as normal people would. But we aren’t normal people. Three days a week, Daniel and I work the night shift as registered nurses in our local emergency room.
Life is different for us, but we are glad we get to do it together. There’s no one I’d rather do it with, actually. I roll over and cuddle up to Daniel for just a moment, despite Lucy’s insistence at having her dinner bowl filled. “How did you sleep, baby?” I ask him. “Okay,” he responds, the usual answer. It’s difficult to switch your life the way we do. Sleeping during the day and living awake at night is a whole new ball of wax. The world goes on without us while we sleep all day, which is sometimes wonderful, but most of the time awkward. We live for the rainy days that fall on our work days. A rainy day means a darker, moodier sky, cooler weather, less light, easier to sleep. Things must go on, even though we also must sleep. The solar installation across the street continues, the road construction pushes on, birds chirp, dogs bark, UPS delivers our latest Amazon Prime find and the dogs bark about that, too. The world is awake. That is, everyone, but us.
It’s 3:30pm, our morning. I wander out to the kitchen and start the coffee. Loyal Lucy follows behind me trailed by Cinder, our other lab, both anxious for their dinners. Their ears perk up as the kibble hits the bottom of the metal bowl. Two scoops of Folger’s in the paper filter (Daniel always teases me about my weak coffee), water poured in the machine, on button pressed. Hmmm, which coffee cup will I use today? I have a collection of Deneen pottery mugs from the various National Parks we have visited. These cups bring to mind a snapshot of a beautiful memory and make the beginning of our ‘day’ a little easier to take. Our travels spark joy and imagination into our days, even the monotonous ones. The trinkets that we bring home are small reminders of the special times we’ve shared and bring a tingle of excitement for the adventures ahead. We work hard to play hard.
No matter how much we joke about it, we are grateful for our jobs. We work with wonderful, amazing, funny, smart, caring, and kind people, many of whom have the same interests as we do. We are with these people for 12 hours a day, 3 days a week. We share the ugly and the wonderful and because of that, we are family. Adventure travel is a big theme for emergency room people. I s’pose after all the ‘adventure’ we see at work, we live for the moments outside of work where we can breathe deeply, soak up our incredible world and refill our spirits. Our work is sometimes heart breaking, sometimes gratifying, sometimes disheartening, sometimes funny, always exhausting.
Daniel’s driving us to work tonight. “Are we getting a Dutch tonight?” I ask. What a silly question. We go to Dutch Bros, our local drive through coffee stand, every night – sometimes twice a night – on work nights. “Of course,” Daniel answers. “Hey,” I interject. Daniel quietly waits for me to continue. “I found this great trip….” I continue. Daniel chuckles. He knows me well. There’s always something on the calendar for us, I think it keeps us going through the difficult nights. Well, I know it keeps me going.
We enter the hospital, extra large coffees in hand, juggling all the other necessary accessories of nursing life: huge water jug, lunch box, jacket for when it gets cool at 2am. We clock in, sit for our evening pow-wow with our charge nurse and coworkers. Looks like a good crew tonight, we’re going to have a good night, I think. The group chats for a few moments, shares some laughs, the evening’s plan is decided. It’s 6:17pm, and we stream out of the break room to our respective assignments to get report and start our shifts. The scene reminds me of the bats we saw flying out from the rocky caves when we were disbursed camping in the Alabama Hills last summer. We sat for hours under the stars watching the bats do their evening dance. I smile at the memory, giggle at the analogy, and lose myself in the memory for a minute as I walk towards my assignment for the night.
“I’ll see you at lunch, baby, have a good shift,” I say to Daniel as we part ways. Our emergency department is a 50 bed ER, and though we work together there, we don’t often work in the same section, or pod, as we call it. “See you at lunch, baby, love you.” he says. “Can’t wait to hear more about that trip you found.”
Yes, I think it keeps him going, too.