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The World at 3 a.m.

By Tim Hayes

It had been an especially intense week.  Not a bad week, quite the opposite.  But an intense one, filled with big events that required enormous and careful planning, and greatly focused execution.

By Friday evening, the thought of collapsing into bed and sleeping the sleep of the dead, as reward for the success and good fortune of that just-ended week of intensity, sounded so very, very good.  And that’s what happened.

Until 3 a.m., when the phone rang.

A medical anomaly had befallen a family member.  She was alone, confused, anxious.  We called 911 and learned where the responders would be taking her, as we climbed out of bed and started getting dressed to drive there ourselves.

It’s a different world at 3 a.m.  Things you think you know and recognize somehow either aren’t there anymore, or appear so different, as to cause you to shake your head in an attempt to rattle your brain cells – and the world itself – back into place.

Like the stillness.  It’s so quiet at 3 a.m.  Nothing moves, nothing feels real.  Where’s the road noise?  The neighborhood rustles?  The sound from the high school, just across the back yard?  Nothing.  Pure silence.  It’s spooky.

And the pitch blackness.  You realize, or are reminded, that the moon reflects the sun’s light and can actually cast shadows.  The stars flung across that enormous black sheet of sky truly are beautiful and amazing.

Once dressed and having gulped down a quick glass of juice, we stumbled out to the car and began the drive to the hospital, about 15 miles away.  In that entire drive, only one other vehicle shared the road with us – and that included about half the distance on a four-lane highway.  During morning rush hour, that stretch of pavement causes clogs and bottlenecks requiring at least 40 minutes to traverse.

At 3 a.m., we made it in less than 15.  But again, even as the unimpeded speed may have been appreciated, the sense of aloneness still felt disturbing somehow.  We realized we were not built to function at 3 a.m.

Parking at the Emergency entrance, we got processed through security and signed all of the required insurance forms to authorize treatment, bill the insurer, and whatever other legalisms health care relies upon today.  Walking back to the treatment bay where our patient had been placed, the nursing staff talked and hustled and bustled and did their work like this was the most normal thing in the world.  Just another day at the office.

Were they nuts?  Had they looked at the clock on the wall?  It’s the freaking middle of the night!  How can people like this function so normally?  We were like the Walking Dead, willing our legs forward, right, left, right, left, while these unbelievable professionals in their uniform blue scrubs carried on without a hitch.

After getting the initial diagnosis about our patient – nothing very serious, they would just watch her for a few hours, and if the situation did not get worse, we could get her home again – we shuffled down to the cafeteria for a bite.

It’s fascinating to watch an enormous enterprise like a major city hospital begin to open its eyes, stretch its arms, and wake up for a new day.  The cafeteria featured a lot of prepackaged cereal and a do-it-yourself bagel toaster, but the stars were two very funny, very energetic ladies whipping up eggs and bacon together.  We got a little plateful and walked into the seating area, where you could have rolled a bowling ball in any direction and not hit another human being.

Quiet and stillness, even in a hospital cafeteria.  Crazy.

Before too long, we got the all-clear and brought our patient back to her house.  By this time, the sun and the city had returned in full.  Lots more traffic in the hallways and the highways, lots more noise all around.  Life had returned to normalcy, and so had our patient.  All of which created a real sense of relief.

It’s a different world at 3 a.m.  I guess it’s good to experience it every now and again.  But, all things considered, I’d rather be asleep, thanks.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes