For those of you who know me, and those who do not, I recently started a new job in the cardiac cath lab at my hospital. Leaving the ICU was a difficult decision for several reasons, the greatest being the incredible coworkers I’ve grown to adore and trust (and still do!!!). But at the end of the day, I was ready for change, and caring for cardiac patients has been something I’ve longed to do since my first nursing position.

Strangely, my only hesitation with accepting the cath lab position was the new schedule: Monday through Friday 0700-1530, weekends off only. I didn’t mind the on-call schedule (of which there is a fair amount), I didn’t mind the wearing of lead while in the lab, nor the exposure to radiation. But working M-F? Like a normal person? I thought, ‘ew, I’m going to have no time for myself.’

As insane as this sounds, I’ve worked three 12-hour shifts a week (36 hours) since I started nursing over 8 years ago, and I had grown to NEED my four days off a week. Honestly, I’d never known a normal work schedule.

And to me, it was glorious! Work three days a week and have four whole days off a week for myself? Who wouldn’t love that kind of a work schedule? I felt like I discovered the secret to life. I mean, who wouldn’t want four days off in a week? That’s like winning at the work-life game, right?! Granted, the four days off weren’t always in a row, but still, you could work two shifts, have two days off, work one shift, have another two days off. There were ways it was still awesome. And HELLO, no crowds at the beach on a random Tuesday!

So to put matters lightly, I was freaked. Needless to say, I of course accepted the job, because getting into cardiology, my first love, was a no-brainer. Knowing my affinity for all things cardiac, my ICU coworkers had even commented they were surprised I hadn’t applied over there sooner.

My last ICU shift was a Purple Friday (no rhyme or reason, we just all wear purple on Friday), and my lovely coworkers gave me a very heartfelt send-off (think flowers, quiche, and pumpkin cheesecake!). I couldn’t have asked for a better final day in the unit (even though the first hour or so was abysmal with my incarcerated patient, but go big or go home, right!?)

That gave me the weekend to recuperate from my final 12-hour shift, and to begin my journey into 8-hour shifts, five days a week.

Well, Monday came and went–we were super busy in the lab that day. They had me exclusively in the lab shadowing and watching the procedures, which was AWESOME! The rest of the week was much of the same, and honestly, it flew by. Getting to go home “early”, at 1530, was a dream I didn’t know I’d wished for.

I got home by 4PM, and I suddenly had time after work to get things done. I ran to the grocery store, I cooked dinner. Rather than getting home at 8PM and rushing to shovel food into my mouth before showering and hauling my ass to bed to get some sleep before another grueling 12-hour day (which usually ends up being a 15-hour day from waking up to going to sleep), I got to take my time in the evenings before getting ready for bed.

Week two in the cath lab was much of the same. And I noticed another thing–I felt rested waking up at 0530. When I worked 12s, I’d always felt groggy, like I hadn’t had enough sleep even though I was ALWAYS in bed by 10PM at the latest. Most nights it was 9PM.

And only weekends off? I’ll be honest, from Friday afternoon through Sunday night felt like plenty of time off, and this shocked me. I was ready to get back to work Monday morning. Maybe that’s just my naivetĂ© with being so enamored with a new job, but still! I’m encouraged by my eagerness to get into the lab and learn. Weekends? Who needs weekends when there’s heart caths to learn?

So, what conclusion can I draw from these two work schedules?

This is solely based on my own personal experience, but (and I never thought I’d admit this or come around to believing it) working 12s is toxic.

It turns out, you physically need four days off a week just to recover and catch up from working 12-hour long shifts. And looking back on it, this was the real reason I felt I needed more than two days off a week. I always took at least one whole day to decompress because I’d needed it. My brain and body were fried. I was of no use that first day off. Then the other days were spent catching up on things that literally could not get done on the days I was working, IE errands, grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, and cleaning.

So really, my days off weren’t really days off. They were recovery, ‘catching up’ days.

I never realized how toxic that schedule was for me until I got onto M-F. I now have routine. I now have time to get things done after work, like hit up the grocery store, post office, or Rite Aid. I can vacuum and clean if I want. I can cook. I can call friends and family without worrying it’s too late.

And my weekends off? I can actually enjoy some R and R, and not have to worry about playing catch-up on anything.

I miss the ICU and I miss my coworkers over there (you’ll always be family to me!). But I am so very happy with the decision I made. Change can be terrifying, and choosing to leave the creature comforts I’d grown accustomed to was nerve-wracking to say the least. But I am so glad I did it. My new coworkers have been so welcoming, are chill and hilarious, and so very intelligent and knowledgeable about their specialty. I’ve much to learn, but I am so excited to learn from them.

Part of me feels like maybe I was always meant to do this job. Something about it feels right. Don’t get me wrong, I am terrified to be on my own (and I won’t be flying solo for a while, thank the gods!) and I have an enormous learning curve to climb. But being this specialized within cardiac medicine is something I’ve always wanted, yet was too apprehensive to take the plunge.

I’m thankful for the colleagues–both ICU and cardiology–who gave me the extra “push”, the kind words of encouragement I needed.

I hope this will be my forever home in the hospital–right next door to the ICU where I can visit them often, but specialized in my own cardiac haven.

Turns out, I wouldn’t trade this new schedule for anything. Weird how our bias can change with just a little bit of experience and perspective, isn’t it?

Now for a little bit of cheese at the end here, and it may just be because I’m new and still diligently learning this job, but…they say love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.

These past two weeks? I didn’t work a single day.


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