I work days tomorrow.  Saturdays are always busy in our emergency department.  In fact, I don’t really have any idea where the patients come from.  We have just a few less patients each year than we have residents in the county.  It may just be that aliens bring them, disguised as humans, from distant worlds where there is no one to care for chest pain, vomiting, dizziness, vague weakness, spider bites or drunken tirades.

So I face the morning with some trepidation.  But probably less than those working nights this weekend.  Few people outside of medicine can comprehend the enormous sense of uncertainty of hospital work, and the odd feeling of being unable to predict or control what, or who, comes through the automatic doors of the ambulance bay.

I think, as I get ready to lie down, of those who are working right now.  Across the land, as night falls, a separate world emerges and converges on the emergency rooms of America, and thence upon the surgery suites, intensive care units and all the rest.  Across the land, it sometimes feels as if evil emerges in the dark to cause fights and drug-overdoses, heart attacks and car wrecks due to drunk driving.  The night is truly a time of terror on many levels.  I wish, with all my heart, that we could all lie down in warm beds with children and spouses rather than staffing hospitals all through the watches of the dark, uncertain nights.

In the morning, all of us who work days will arrive to find partners and colleagues who were praying for strength, praying for sun-up, praying and hoping for a little break, a little chance to close their eyes on paper-strewn desks by cold cups of untouched coffee, between dead and dying, sick and malingering, drug addicted and terrified patients.  The night will have given them no respite from the job of doing the right thing through a fog of exhaustion for 8 to 12 to 24 hours.

As we walk in, we must be kind, even as we worry for ourselves.  In many hospitals, the day doctor will get the faint smell of blood on the floor as the last stretcher of the night is wheeled upstairs to anywhere…it doesn’t matter where, just somewhere else.  Housekeeping may be washing up the blood.  Nurses will be giving report and transferring care.  Broken families will still sit shocked in conference rooms.  Surprised patients will wake up on ventilators.  And the doctor who managed it all will be hoping he made no mistakes, hoping he did everything he should have done, hoping that he or she can drive home safely.

So, let’s remember the difficulties of the night and the day. Let’s be kind to the weary, bleary doctors and nurses who work nights, and days, and everyone in between.  And as we do, let’s remember these words of St. Augustine:

‘Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work,

or watch, or weep this night, and give your

angels charge over those who sleep.

Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the

weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering,

pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for

your love’s sake.’

St. Augustine (354-430)

God bless and strengthen you this weekend,


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