Don’t forget the night shift

Lately I have been considering what it must be like to hibernate like a little furry animal in a knothole or like a bear, cradled in the warmth and black oblivion of its own fur.

Driving about in the snow and ice of this February has brought this out in me I think. I head to out to work at 11 p.m. to work the night shift at Delaware Valley Job Corps and return home at around 9 a.m. to sleep the day away. I miss the few hours of sunshine that daylight affords us in February. This month may be the shortest month in terms of calendar days, but it often feels like the longest. But here we all are—slogging through.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.5 million Americans work the graveyard shift. Add in the rotating and on-call shift workers and the number of people employed in non-traditional hour jobs rises to 2.2 million. That’s all of us working on the Job Corps night shift plus all the nurses, doctors, factory workers, reporters and firefighters. Plus the security guards, police, air traffic controllers and pilots. Add the janitors, the waitresses at the all-night diners and lest we forget—the snow plow drivers. In short, the lot of us who keep the world running through the night.

Night-shift workers have a kind of rogue camaraderie. And we hope, with any luck, to get through the night without incident or trouble. There is a time in the night when all is at peace (superstitiously we never say the word “quiet” for fear of stirring chaos). But, the hushed presence of 25 sleeping girls on my floor is a beautiful thing.

People who work the night shift are advised to keep the same sleep schedule during their days off as during their work week. However, I have never heard of anyone who actually does this as it would mean missing out on valuable time with our families and time to get things done.

And while there are people who spend their entire working lives on the night shift, it is generally advised not to do it for too long. Besides disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythms, night-shift work is associated with gastrointestinal disease, depression, weight gain and cancer.

I am writing this column today, on my day off. My husband and daughter are off today too, as school has been cancelled because of the weather. It is almost like old times. We are all hanging out together, thankful to be cozy in our home.

I have worked more than a few night shift jobs in my life, at a factory, a nursing home, a hospital and an all-night- diner. The following is a poem I wrote in 1996 about the night shift. I still like it today.

Night Shift 

I know the time 
When the rain changes over—

The corner of 2 a.m.
(The Christmas lights blink
The fish school in their tank.)

The rain-snow starts
With tiny nails at the window,
Glittering diamonds in its teeth 
— Kristin Barron, Dec. 1996

 

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