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, Brits...wtf?). 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.

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