What a week! You’ve been pulling at least a double shift a week at your full-time ambulance job and have been hitting it pretty hard at your part-time job as well. Both services can’t seem to keep their schedules filled and everyone’s been working lots of hours in order to keep the doors going up and the trucks going out. To top it all off, the citizens just can’t seem to be good lately and both services’ call volumes have been high.
You were tired when you got up this morning and were seriously considering a nap after your morning shower, but after a gallon or two of coffee you were bright and shiny in your uniform at your station, ready for another day of EMS greatness.
That was five hours ago though, and the early barrage of calls fired at you this morning has turned into an afternoon lull. Now you’re sitting at your main station, close to the brass, with the words in the educational article you’re reading fading in and out of your bleary, cross-eyed vision. Since the activity level has decreased, you’ve gotten yourself a case of the sleepies that you just can’t shake. Since you’ve been consuming the steaming bean juice religiously lately, your stomach just won’t let you think of having another cup of the acrid station coffee and there’s no shift chores left to do, since you did them an hour ago fighting the same lethargy.
Unfortunately, in three hours you can see a long distance transfer scheduled that you’re probably going to have to do. Four hours of monotonous highway driving and the radio in the truck doesn’t have that great of reception. You don’t have any idea how you’re going to stay awake enough to drive the truck and that’s not even considering the fact that if the tones went off right now for an emergency you probably wouldn’t remember how to put on a band-aid, let alone remember a drug calculation.
You’re tired, you’re fatigued, and your body’s telling you that you’ve been pushing it too hard. It wants to shut down for a while. Your brain won’t think. You’re mouth won’t talk. You can’t keep your eyes open and wake up with a startle when you’ve realized you’ve dozed off for a bit. This is torture.
Sleep deprivation is no stranger to EMS people. We’ve all fought the lethargy caused by long 24, 48, and more-hour shifts. A great number of us work more than one job to make ends meet and pack as much family time and recreation into our off time as we can. A lot of us are going for more education and all of us get woken up from our sleep a lot more often than is healthy to run on calls. I regularly miss full nights of sleep and rarely have a night when I can say I got a full night’s sleep. We get use to it some of the way, but our bodies just aren’t meant for chronic sleep deprivation. We need to reset and reorder our brains and let our bodies recharge once in a while.
Unfortunately, our communities need us and we have to be there for them. EMS is important and it’s easy to get sucked in.
That’s why in this situation, I have very little dispute with taking a “Safety Nap”.
The “Safety Nap” is a quick power nap. A shut-down and reset period where a person who never knows when they may be called to be up all night without sleep can rest and relax for a while and ensure that they’ll be wide awake and alert for whatever they may be called to do. I took an hour last shift around 3pm as a matter of fact. I didn’t get to sleep until 1am afterwards and I was up at 5am for a call. EMS is like that, shift work is like that. We have to ensure that we’re well-rested enough to make quality decisions of the type we have to when they need to be made… and we can’t do them well when we’re drooling on ourselves from exhaustion. One of Murphy’s laws for EMS states that “You know you’re in EMS when your favorite hallucinogen is sheer exhaustion” and I have to tell you, I’ve done that while on duty before. It’s just not safe.
There are problems with this, I know. Some will say that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be scheduled this many hours and that it’s irresponsible to do so. Well, then they can come talk to my bosses and pay my mortgage. Some people will sleep all day if they let them, and won’t put any effort into their shifts unless they have to. That has to be monitored. With that said, a balance has to be sought. I see nothing wrong with the occasional safety nap and I believe that EMS managers should allow it. They also should be unafraid to throw a cup of cold water on the Rip Van Winkles among us to ensure that they pull their weight with the non-call-response aspects of an EMS job.
What do you think? Does your employer allow “Safety Naps”? Do you take them?
I’d write more but Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz