I have started my placement in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of one of the hospitals in my region. Like most ICUs they run on 12 hour shifts, specifically for the one I am placed at 0700 till 1930 and 1900 till 0700. On the surface this seems great, over 3 weeks you work 10 days and are still counted and paid as Full Time, you have 11 days off over the same period, there is no such thing as a late-early, and the likelihood of being asked to stay back is greatly diminished. Though all of these things are true, and I will expand on some in a moment, there have been some interesting issues develop along the way.
I have to admit, the idea of 12 hours shifts, 11 days off in 21, and never having to work a God for sake Late-Early again, is awfully appetising. I adore the fact that the days you work, in which you seldom get anything done anyway, are just a little longer. I do enjoy the possibility that you are handing over to the person you received handover from. On the surface it seems like the dream, but there is a catch. So far I have been doing nothing but day shifts, which involves getting ups at 0530 to get ready and leave the hour by 0630 to be at work ready to go by 0700. The day then proceeds thill 1930 when I depart, walk to my car and drive home, arriving somewhere between 1945 and 2000. So far in this day I have not seen my children or wife awake, on arrival only my Eldest and Wife are still awake. No biggie, spend some time with them, wind down then off to bed, to get up at 0530 and do it all again. As you can see, there isn’t a lot of family time going on. There is a lot of just surviving. Working, eating, sleeping, working. When I first arrived to ICU the Facilitator made a remark about working 12 hours shifts and how you shouldn’t expect to get anything else done on those days as you are just doing what you need to do to get to the next shift. I scoffed when she first said it. Now that I am living through it, she isn’t far from the truth. You wouldn’t be able to engage in any drawn out, meaningful activity. Normally I eat my dinner with my wife, we talk about our respective days, she returns to her school work, I read for a while, then sleeping for the next day. It took me by surprise. So though on the surface the roster seems really good, just keep in mind, you are almost useless for 10 days out of 21.
The need for self care is incredibly important while undertaking 12 hour shifts. You need to make sure you are adequately fed, a mistake I made on the first day, just catering for lunch and that was it, didn’t make that mistake again. Staying adequately hydrated, which I know as Nurses we are notoriously bad at but we need to make an effort to do it. Getting enough sleep, and I mean good sleep not naps on the couch or two or three small naps, I mean a good solid 8 hours, which when you do the math leaves you with 4 hours for EVERYTHING that isn’t Work and Sleep. Supporting the home front, for those of us that aren’t single and have a partner and maybe children, you need to make sure that they feel adequately loved and supported. It is all too easy for us to say that we are tired, and worked a long day, and were on our feet all day, but your partner has also worked all day, cooked, cleaned, organised the finances, or performed ALL the other homely duties that aren’t getting done because of the 12 hour shifts. You should also engage in a ‘Me Activity’ on your days off. This could be hiking, swimming, boating, painting, or stacking rocks, whatever your chosen ‘Me Activity’ is make sure you take the time to engage in it, it is all too easy to just work to live and live to work.
Talking about working 12 hour shifts could not be done without actually talking about, the shift. I can only talk on the Day shift presently but as I engage in Nights I will be sure to add my thoughts. But, the shift, putting aside the obvious thing which is it is 4 hours longer then a normal shift, is divided rather nicely into roughly 3 hour blocks. Each shift you have a single 20 minute break and two 30 minute breaks. They are usually taken around 1000 for the 20 minute, 1300 and 1700 for the 30 minutes. This gives you Morning Tea, Lunch, and if you wish an Early dinner, I tend to simply enjoy a coffee and the extended break time for my 1700 break. This break pattern helps divide up the day and ensure you aren’t too intently involved on the floor for too long without stepping aside and breathing for a moment. It allows for a little bit of the aforementioned Self Care with regard to diet and hydration, it also allows for a brief period of contact with loved ones to make sure they are adequately supported, and gives you a moment to switch off from the intensity that is ICU.
As you can see there is a lot to consider with regard to the 12 hour shift, and Nurses have made entire careers around it. I would love to hear some of the stories from those out there that do live the 12 hours shift day by day and what secrets they would like to share with regard to surviving the shift, self care, and days off.
Maintain the Rage