Night Shift

One Saturday night my friends Andy and Jane, who had just consumed a lavish meal, decided it would be a good idea to come visit me at San Francisco General Hospital, where I was working a night shift. The hospital was stripped, as it is every night, down to a handful of essential staff, but fortunately it had been a slow evening so far, and not knowing how raucous they would be, I told them to stay outside, that I would come to them. I found them standing under the front awning in formal wear looking drunk and beautiful. They erupted in cheers and produced a cardboard McDonalds Happy Meal box, which contained a pouch of salty French fries and a collection of snacks they had picked up at Bi-rite, including sheets of dried seaweed and an alien beverage which, they taught me, was kombucha with chia seeds. Andy had brought a laptop, which he placed on a nearby bench and fiddled with until an electro-pop song began to blare from the speakers, which prompted the two of them to dance, unapologetically, under the fluorescent EMERGENCY ROOM sign. My hospital ID dangled from my white coat as I videotaped them with my iPhone, and as I did so, I felt acutely sober, tethered, and wistful. I hadn’t known these people for long, but I already loved them, and felt deeply touched they had done this. I craved their lightness, and imagined what sort of adventuresome thing I would do on my next day off, all the while knowing I’d likely spend it repaying sleep debt and doing laundry. A security guard, hearing the noise, came around the corner and paused to take in the sight – a on-duty physician, with an inebriated, dancing duo – and before he could say anything, we knew it was over. Andy and Jane packed up their things and floated off, and I went back inside the building. The resident room was empty, its dozen or so computers projecting lazy screen savers; I sat down next to one, opened the McDonalds box, and began to gnaw on a sheet of dried seaweed, suddenly recalling in perfect clarity the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast, where a goat bites a few pages out of of Belle’s romance novel. Sadly, the dancing was over – that brief interface with the outside world – and now I was back where I started. I watched the video on my iPhone a few times, noticing eventually, as Jane squatted and twisted, that she was not wearing underwear. As for the kombucha, I never drank it; I thrust the bottle in my gym bag and forgot it was there until a few days later when it came loose and spilled everywhere, covering my white coat in patches of brine and clusters of seeds.

This post was written by Emily Silverman, MD.