Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Graveyard

I've never had a problem with cemeteries. They're quiet, peaceful, and filled with interesting headstone designs. In fact, I like to make a point of visiting and walking around graveyards.

Graveyard shifts, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about.

As one friend put it, people who work graveyards are not your average individuals. The majority of their waking life is spent completely out of nature's intended rhythm. Their hours spent awake during the day are lethargic and sleepy.

In all of my jobs I've never had to work during the night. At various coffee shops I've had to close at midnight or open at 4:00 am, but never both sequentially. That in between time has always been mine.

That is, until this weekend when I work my first graveyard shift in the ER.

Honestly, I'm dreading it. Over the years I've gone from pulling all-nighters somewhat easily to catatonic if I manage to stay up until 2 am. I'm not kidding. I start to become physically ill. However, I know it will give me insight into this whole other side of work life I've never seen. And it made me curious, where did the term "graveyard shift" come from?

It ends up, the origins of the term are pretty unclear, and while it has been used for centuries, earliest documented print form doesn't turn up until almost the turn of the 20th century.

So let me give you a run down on a few of the possible origins of the term graveyard shift. Back in 18th and 19th century Britain, people were accidentally buried alive on occasion. And I don't know what's worse--the fact that this happened, or how they discovered it. When the cemeteries were too full to dig more graves, they decided the logical thing to do was exhume coffins and remove the remains inside to make room for more corpses (people were all about "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"). It's said that sometimes when they opened the coffins, the inside of the lids were covered in scratch marks, which is terrifying. Apparently during cholera epidemics they were so quick to bury the dead to combat the spread of disease they sometimes were a little overzealous and incorrectly pronounced people dead (something like, 1 in 25 people). This started another epidemic of sorts-- taphophobia-- the fear of being buried alive (which honestly sounds like a rational fear to have if you're living in 18th and 19th century Britain), which led some people to design "safety coffins." This was a coffin designed with a bell system that ran between the coffin and the headstone area. A person was put on shift in the graveyard during the night to wait and listen for any bells.

Hence where the phrase "saved by the bell" came from, not from Zack Morris at Bayside High .

Another possible origin is once again from Britain around the same era (seriously, Anatomists and doctors often had a difficult time acquiring human cadavers to learn and teach about the human body. Donating your body to science wasn't really a thing in those days, so they would pay a pretty penny to anyone who brought them a recently deceased individual, no questions asked. Aside from straight up homicide, this started a whole "body snatching" trend in which people dug up the recently deceased and delivered the bodies to doctors' back doors in the middle of the night. Thus the reason for someone staying at the cemetery all night doing the "graveyard shift." (Although, from what I've read, the graveyard shift person was often in on it.)

I find it incredibly ironic that my first graveyard shift will be worked at a hospital, when the possible origins of a graveyard shift came from someone guarding graves from body snatchers taking bodies to doctors so they could better their skills at a hospital.

Lastly, another theory is just the state of being awake and working from 10 pm to 8 am is so quiet and solitary that it is reminiscent of being in a graveyard. Yawn.

My first graveyard shift starts at 9:30 pm and ends the next day at 8 am. Then I'll have the day to try and sleep before working another graveyard that night. In preparation, I'll be staying up as late as I possibly can the night before all of this. Hopefully I make it past midnight.

The likelihood of me continuing to work graveyard shifts is small, but I suppose I'm partially looking forward to working this dark, (hopefully) quiet shift which received its name from such macabre background. Just another experience to add to a life of adventures.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cause of death; sitting

After two weeks of working at the hospital, I realized there was going to be a problem.

I've had a variety of jobs in a range of different areas. The Forest Service, coffee shops, Peace Corps, a magazine I briefly interned for; they all gave me a unique experience. And one thing similar amongst them was I usually spent more time (or equal) on my feet than on my ass. And even on the days when I laid on the ground with my feet in the air propped against the wall cursing the swelling in my feet, I preferred it that way.

So when I got a job at the hospital, I knew it would be a new challenge. And I don't just mean the challenge of learning a new job, but the challenge of having to sit. A lot. 

I'm not a nurse or a medical specialist, I'm not on my feet all day. I'm in patient registration, which means I'm on the computer and documentation end of things, and I spend most of my time sitting at a desk. I don't know if you know this, but...

Let's face it, anything in excess can kill you. Swallow too much fluoride toothpaste while brushing your teeth? Dead. Drink too much water? Dead.
I've spent my whole life taking care of myself, eating right, avoiding hobbies with high risks, not swallowing my toothpaste or drowning myself in excessive water drinking. And now, while my job has a variety of demands, first and foremost I must sit.

Somehow I always start off my day looking like the figure in the lower right hand corner, and suddenly come to find myself slouching like the main figure who apparently suffers health issues ranging from colon cancer, disk damage, and limp glutes.
And the freaky thing about it is, I'm working in a hospital. You know, the place you go when you're sick or injured so you can get better? Yeah. That place. People who work in the hospital aren't exactly the healthiest, which seems super backwards, but you have to be really on top of it to stay healthy with long hours or lots of desk work. After two weeks I realized the pain shooting up my left side, the extra paunch in my pooch, and the lethargic feeling of having traveled all day (but sadly being in the same place) might be my new norm if I didn't do something about it. 

The hospital knows people are killing themselves with sitting and cafeteria food, that's why they have a wellness program to motivate people to be active. Part of the wellness program is the option to get a "fitbit" otherwise known as a glorified pedometer that wraps around your wrist in a simple rubber bracelet. Okay it does more than a pedometer, it can be linked to a smart phone to count calories and monitor sleep patterns and all but pats you on the back when you walk a certain distance (well, it vibrates, kind of like a wrist pat).

I'm generally an active person and after work try to make a point of doing some sort of exercise. However, while at work I have limited options for movement, and I was starting to wonder just how much I actually move in a day. I picked up my fitbit the other day at work and promptly went home to take a nap (which I'm not ashamed of, naps are the best). I charged the fitbit and when I finally got it all plugged in and synced with my phone it said I had walked 10 steps-- those 10 steps being the ones my boyfriend took after I begged him to bring the fitbit to me in my reclined state from the wall outlet. It wasn't looking like a good start.

I did, however, eventually make up for it and I'm telling you, people who do marketing and design for stuff like the fitbit know how to tap into some strange human psyche. I felt a ridiculous wave of accomplishment come over me because my rubber bracelet vibrated to let me know I had managed to walk far enough to reach the factory setting goal of 10,000 steps, which is probably no further than what some people in third-world countries have to walk to fetch fresh water for the morning.

So far the fitbit has shown me that when I'm doing the extra-sedentary desk work, I barely walk over a mile (and that's with me taking advantage of every break to walk somewhere). I think the fitbit is going to be helpful in motivating me to move, or prolonging my paranoia that I will fall victim from not moving enough. Apparently studies show that despite exercise, if you still are sitting for 8 hours a day, you're still going to suffer the consequences. You need to break up the sitting and do something else. Depending on what area of the hospital I'm working in, like the Emergency Room or other registration areas, I can actually get up and out of my seat quite frequently. But other areas, such as the ones where my only job for the day is to answer phones, give me little to no restive from my sedentary state. If you have a job like the latter, I have some tips which I just now made up.

Stand Up

Nothing says, "I'm not gonna die from sitting," like standing up. It's simple, yet effective.

However, this can sometimes be frowned upon. When you're standing, you simply don't look like you're doing your job. People are much more comfortable with someone looking "busy" at a computer than just standing around.
If your coworkers have a problem with you standing, that's messed up. But if advocating for your rights to not die from sitting seems unlikely, you have to give yourself a reason to stand. Why not try and...

Look for supplies

This method works best if there are supply cupboards up high. Be that person who always stocks up on excessive staples and paperclips! No one will ever have to reach for a post-it note and come up empty handed again!  Extra points if you have to reach for a high shelf and get a stretch in. Negative points if you hurt yourself while doing what I just said.

However, you may not have high cupboards, or your supplies may be kept in a low, easily accessible place where one would never have to leave their deathtrap of a chair. So why don't you...

Clean your office space

Even if you're an extremely tidy person, you can always clean your office, because stuff can get nasty quick. And maybe it's because I work in a hospital where contagions are a guaranteed part of the job, but no one has any qualms about someone grabbing the tub of disinfectant wipes and going to town on the whole place.

Drink Water

Because it's good for you (but not too much, remember? We've already talked about this). Also, you'll have to get up and go to the bathroom more often. But make sure you wash your hands, otherwise you just completely negated all of that obsessive cleaning you're now known for.

Make your breaks count

You don't have to do push-ups and lunges every coffee or lunch break to get yourself moving (although, how badass would that be? People would not mess with you). Go on a walk, take the stairs, dance in place, whatever.

I'm sure you can think of many more creative ways to get out of your chair and moving, or at least standing, more often while at work. The point being...

Stop sitting so much 

I'm not trying to say "don't work" and loaf around. You can be a productive person and still take time to stand and move around, and in fact will probably be more productive once you sit back down after doing so. 

I've been working in the hospital over a month now and since making myself (some days forcing myself) to move more often, I've felt a lot better. And I've also become extremely grateful for my ability to do so. When you work in a hospital, you see people in states where they don't have a choice anymore whether they can sit, stand, or walk. People of all ages and backgrounds come in who suffer from illness or injury, and none of us are exempt from the same happening to us. I may sit a lot at my job right now, but I've never felt more motivated or appreciative of the fact that I can walk, run, or even just stand. So quit sitting so much, and take advantage of a healthy body while you have one.