Monday, September 15, 2008

Workin' on the Night Moves. . .

My life has been turned upside-down, these last two weeks. Not figuratively, literally. I've been working what's known as the "graveyard" shift, 2300 - 0730, while a co-worker is on vacation. I've been rather skillful in avoiding this sort of thing over the last 20+ years, and never have had to do more than one shift at a time. There was no escape.
I'm a real circadian-rythm kind of guy. I'm regular in just about every sense of the word, my waistline notwithstanding (more on that in an upcoming post). I am a light switch. For me, it means that my eyelids usually slam shut at about 9 p.m., nearly always opening at about 5:24 a.m. - 6 minutes before the alarm goes off. Emma sees to it that this rythm is unbroken on weekends. The prospect, then, of regularly leaving for work an hour or so after my bedtime was somewhat frightening. How does one prepare? The answer is that you really can't, you just have to do it. So, I did it. Took a thermos of freshly brewed coffee, and set off into the night.
There is a rythm to this shift. The first requirement is that you're available to respond to whatever might come up at our nearly million-square-foot facility. Second, you have to take the 'vital signs' of the building - chiller readings, compressed air, vacuum, medical air, boilers, water softeners, verify that the emergency generators' switches are in the 'auto' position, fueled, batteries charging, and warmers warming (in the event of power loss, these big diesel engines have to come to life and take the load within 10 seconds), make sure that the water heaters are working, that the fire pumps have pressure, check the Liquid Oxygen and Nitrous Oxide tanks (no sampling). You have to travel to each 'negative pressure' room, close the door, and emit a small puff of chalk at the bottom of the door to verify that it is indeed providing negative pressure - keeping the nastiness that could be inside, inside. There are operating suites and intensive care sections that have to be tested for temperature and humidity, all of this logged meticulously in notebooks and clipboards. In between, there can be calls for everything from plumbing concerns (it's a 50 year old, 12 story building) to the nurse call system and everything in-between. A good night, of course is when nothing untoward happens. I've been pretty lucky, it's been quiet.
It's pretty solitary; there are only two of us on. The other position is in my beloved BOC, where one basically tries to keep occupied and answer the calls that come in for engineering, housekeeping, and security. Making the rounds takes one outside the building; it's odd to be out in dark places at the outer edges of this property. Gazing across the canyon to the apartment buildings hugging the opposing hillside, windows glow from televisions. We're 'uptown'; there seem to be a lot of people awake at 2 in the morning, or asleep in front of those TV's. I am reminded, each night that I do this, of the two nights I stepped out of this building after both Sam and Emma were born - both entered the world shortly after midnight. The first night, gazing at the stars, feeling the center of my universe shift. The second night, looking to the stars from a world completely changed. Going into the OR where I watched Emma enter the atmosphere, pulled out by one leg; the smell made by the cauterizing scalpel. I've worked here long enough to accumulate a lot of memories; they're closer to me now in the quiet, empty halls.
Eating something at 0300, alone on the 12th floor. Looking out over the empty bay and the lights of the city. Marking time. It takes time, a long time when you're just waiting to leave, this is universal no matter what you're waiting on.
Finally, it's time to go home. The rythm has to change, because it's better to get some sleep in the morning, before the kids get home from school, so it's straight to bed at 0830. Earplugs help. I've been moderately successful at getting about 4-6 hours of sleep; yesterday I got a full 7 plus, not waking up until 4 p.m. Stumbling out of bed into what is the middle of everyone else's day has been very disconcerting. The upheaval of the inversion (most people get up, then go to work, then do the rest of their lives before sleeping again) has made it hard for me to focus or concentrate on much else, so my major accomplishments have been taking out the trash, cleaning up after dinner, and trying not to sigh every 3 minutes between 8 and 10 p.m., when it's time to do it again.
Traffic is great. Elevators arrive within seconds. You're not bothered by the nonsensical chatter of those who really don't have anything to say in the first place. Management is non-existent.
Other than the reminder (and an appreciation) that there's a whole world of people doing this, all of the time, some of them here by choice, I really haven't learned much. One more shift to go, and my existence will return to what passes for normal, again. I'm very much looking forward to it.