I never knew what shift work did to your health until I met my husband.
For the first few years we were together, it didn’t make much difference to me. He was working overnight shifts so basically he just wasn’t home when I was asleep. Sometimes it meant he was too tired to go out on a weekend but generally speaking, it didn’t affect us.
Then we moved and he took on a job managing a cafe. Ironically, the hours seemed better. He use to work from about 9 or 10pm until 6am a few days a week.
The cafe only opened at 6am some days of the week and was closed to customers by about 9pm. Nearly the reverse of his previous hours.
But what we didn’t think of was that the hours would change. And because the previous place he worked was 24 hours and never closed, there was no end of shift rush on cleaning, tasks could be done at any time during his shift.
The cafe was different. Because it was a business that closed he had to be there half an hour before it opened and at least half an hour after it closed. And this was around the time I got my license, so I was the lucky person who got to drive him to and from work.
Then things got bad. The shop would open a little earlier to service local construction workers or close a little later to service late night shoppers.
Some nights the shop would close at 9pm, but the staff would have been so busy they didn’t get any cleaning done, so they wouldn’t get out until 10pm. Then he might be opening the next day so that means getting up at 4.30am so there was time to shower and eat before starting work at 5am.
Or there would be a week with a vague hope of a pattern, say opening shifts only. Yay, early bedtime, maybe no exhaustion feelings this week? Come 10pm when we were alseep there would then be a phone call to my husband because some stupid shop employee forgot their keys so they can’t lock up. And we lived the closest to the shop. So both of us out of bed to deliver the keys, interrupted sleep again.
This was our life for nearly two years. I never worked for the store but in all the driving I had to do for key swaps when people were stupid I feel like the owed me money. At least for fuel, at most for my time and the constant waking me up! One day the owner of the store actually got mad at me because I was in a foul mood and refused to drive the keys somewhere. I hung up on him. He never tried that crap on me again. I can’t actually remember, but that may have been the last time he spoke to me at all.
I didn’t know what effect this life was having on me. I was tired all the time. I cried at the drop of a hat if something went wrong. I refused to drive anywhere ever (even for fun on the weekend).
But throughout all of this I never knew what was wrong with me. I thought it was just some side effect of glandular fever that I was having trouble getting over.
And until I convinced (bullied?) my husband into quitting, I never knew what exhaustion does to you. For about two years I let myself be exhausted. Never again. Not on that scale.
I would rather face going on unemployment benefits than going through shift work again, if those were the options available to me. And if you’re an Australian reader, you know how fun Centrelink is to deal with! But the cost to your health is not work shift work.
I understand that some industries (essential and emergency services) will always have shift work. And I take my hat off to them.