Just came off my first 12-hour night shift at the Assisted Living (AL) facility. Tuesday was a 12-hour 6 and 6-hour split between some sweet seniors in AL who can no longer safely care for themselves and a spectrum of severely cognitively impaired Memory Care (MC) residents. What a crazy mix of soulful, bizarre and hilarious moments. Almost nobody wants the night shift so that’s what was offered as a condition of employment. I grabbed it.
Although I’m still going through on-the-job-training as a person who distributes meds to the residents from a locked cart, takes and records vitals on a proprietary software program, charts any notable changes and assists in caregiving as needed, the night shift on the AL side is definitely my favorite. So two nights a week, this is where I’ll be. Balancing being up all night with the rest of the week may mess with my circadian rhythms but being there is a little like entering a real life episode of Twilight Zone. I like this alternate reality (in small doses).
As it happens, I worked as a temporary assistant to the wildly talented writer-producer-director J. Michael Straczynski (best known for Babylon 5 but who earlier penned 10 episodes of the first Twighlight Zone reboot for CBS), before I landed in story development for Disney. If I learned anything from Straczynski it was to think outside the box.
There are beaucoup amounts of dramatic and comedic material in AL. I am, of course, bound by confidentiality agreements but life is always the ultimate source for writers. We just mold, remake and enhance what we observe in others and ourselves. And change names and places so nobody gets hurt.
Classic examples of writers using source material in the medical field include One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (based on Ken Kesey’s book) and The House of God by the then depressed psychiatrist Samuel Shem. The latter work no doubt drew inspiration from the hit movie MASH (by Richard Hooker, a joint pseudonym for Maine Korean War vet/thoracic surgeon H. Richard Hornberger and famed sports journalist W.C. Heinz) and spin-off TV series M.A.S.H.
So today, as I emerge from the somewhat mind altering night shift and segue back into waking daylight, I’m thinking my next writing project may be right in front of me. Maybe going back to school in a completely different field from my home base is missing the point. Besides, it occurs to me that a favorite old Ron Howard movie from the early 80s even had the name Night Shift. Here’s a favorite very poignant clip.