I’m sitting at the Nurses’ station, loud tv’s and beeping monitors already white noise on my second night here. Most of the residents are in bed; die-hards whisper to old comrades or pace the hallways between locked exits.

The In Between time. Space to think, to digest my first shift.

It was busy…we were understaffed. The residents were agitated and anyone mobile wanted to be up and around despite the late hour. 11pm-7:30am, making rounds and passing waters. Finding fresh blue pads, fitting sweatpants – hoping to hunt down some creamer for the watery Folgers from the break room. The dementia unit at midnight is a strange place.

First rounds took almost two hours, many of the residents needing brief & linen changes. It was just one of those heavy days. A couple folks took a swing at me, probably because their sleep was interrupted by a stranger. I can’t blame them. Another older woman (probably in the highest age bracket over here) called my trainer and I niggers, dirty black people. She didn’t want us to touch her.

My preceptor has been doing this job for too long, and as the night wears on I see the weight of it in the droop of her shoulders. By 3am she’s asleep in a chair in the hallway, coffee mug at her feet & book propped open on her lap. I wander the halls, peeking into rooms on our set and my coworkers’ because everyone is tired and the help is welcome.

5am comes around, time for rounds & get-ups. At least three residents fight against fresh clothes. The grip of someone whose life is no longer their own is a desperate one; they don’t want my help, they don’t want to need my help, they don’t know me or why we’re occupying this trying space together. No more slurs but significantly more crying… More residents haunting the locked doors. “Let me out. Won’t you let me out of here? Let me out! Get me out! Get me out!” It’s disconcerting to say the least. What can I do? How can I help? She was clean, dry, had fresh water and warm clothes. Not a dog, but in captivity. Held for their own safety but against their will.

It all started to fade into one sterilized, fluorescent daydream. I went home, changed clothes, bagged my shoes up to be cleaned later.

Tonight is quiet. I made first rounds alone, wandered the facility alone, cracked jokes with nurses and ordered a Greek salad. The first long night was over, and the second is soon to follow.