Nursing Inspiration: The Longest Night

By Karyn Buxman on Mon, Mar 12, 2012

Being a nurse means seeing more than your share of long nights. Time seems to go slower when the sun goes down. The minutes stretch into hours, the hours piling one upon another to make a shift, and that shift is just Never-Going-To-End.

Not that we really have time to think about it. Who has time to ponder anything more than, “Where will we put this bed?”, when the ambulances keep coming? Babies have an uncanny knack for choosing to come into the world when everyone else is sleeping. If you’re going to have a Code, chances are it will be in the wee hours of the day. On any night, in any hospital, there’s enough to keep any nurse hopping until dawn comes – and the day shift shows up!

The nights might be long for us, but they’re longer for our patients. Particularly now, during the holiday season, it becomes difficult to tolerate “a quick check on your vitals” when you’d normally be sleeping. Even the nicest patient can have a hard time with “just a quick vitals check” when all they really, really want to be is home in their own bed.

Guess who gets to hear about it?

It can be hard to take. Here we are, providing great nursing care, while we’re trying to balance all the demands of our home lives – there’s shopping to do, parties to plan and  relatives to visit, and extra shifts to cover as your clumsy colleague picks the most inconvenient time ever to break his leg in a pick-up hockey game played in the hospital parking lot. It’s easy to feel overstretched, overburdened, and plain old overwhelmed. We’ve given so much and what are we getting back?

Certainly not the ‘peace and quiet’ those who aren’t in the know assume night shifts to be!

Sometimes all we can do is hang in there. I was reminded of this by the science news last week, which let us know that Monday night was a total lunar eclipse; the first in nearly 400 years to align with the winter solstice. The winter solstice is literally the longest night of the year. With the moon obscured (and for most of the country, hidden behind cloud cover) this year, it was also the darkest.

In ancient days, this is the time when Yule fires would be lit. Giant logs were set ablaze to burn through winter’s darkest time. The warmth they provided was life-saving and vital, the light equally so, but it was the lift to the spirits of all the people, that reminder that this darkness was temporary and would someday pass, that was the most crucial part of the celebration.

Now, we can’t light Yule fires on the unit. There’s just no way for that to work. I checked with fire marshals, twice, and they’re pretty firm on the open flame + oxygen being a Remarkably Bad Idea.

So we’ll have to do something else to keep our spirits and the spirits of our patients up. Humor helps. Laughter lights up even the darkest, longest nights. We can look for reasons to laugh – or we can bring our own torch to the bonfire and bring the funny with us to work. Memorize a few bad puns (there are no other kind!) or a silly knock knock joke. That’s the type of knowledge you need to transform the longest night to the start of a great day.

Yours in laughter!