Nurse chooses night shift so she can care for her dog in the day

Joanne Black balances work and home life on three hours of sleep a day

Joanne Black, 56, a registered nurse at Scarborough Health Network Centenary Hospital at 4:20 a.m. Kaitlin Nadira Balram/Toronto Observer

In 2015, Joanne Black’s dog Sam, a Golden Labrador, began having intense seizures. His whole body would move uncontrollably while he frothed at the mouth.

As Sam’s seizures became more frequent, Black wanted to ensure her children, aged 12 and 14 at the time, weren’t left alone to deal with the dog’s health problems while she and her husband were at work.

So she volunteered for the night shift.

Black, 56, is a registered nurse and has worked at Scarborough Health Network Centenary for over 31 years. She’s a wife, mother of two teens, and caregiver to two energetic dogs. She does it all on three hours of sleep a day.

“Nobody cares that you barely sleep and work nights,” says Black, adding that those around her expect her to have as much energy as someone who works days and gets eight hours of sleep.


“I know people probably think I’m crazy for doing all this for a dog, but Sam is a great dog and part of the family.”

-Joanne Black

Black’s husband works days, ensuring there is always someone at home with Sam.

A night shift for Black starts at 7:30 p.m. and ends at 7:30 a.m. She is up when most people are tucked in bed soundly asleep. Black says working nights isn’t all bad: “It’s a lot quieter and has taught me to organize my time.”

Black plans every part of her day: she wakes up at 1 p.m. to let the dogs out, picks her son up from school, and then checks in on her elderly parents who live down the street. After an already jam-packed day, Black heads to work for her 12-hour shift.

After work she has an hour drive home and gets to bed when most are just about to start their day.

When people are tired or try to stay up for long hours, they typically drink coffee or energy drinks, but Black never has. “I didn’t realize everyone drank coffee until I was older, and I thought it was too late to start,” she says.

Black says because she works such odd hours, she sees her coworkers more than some family members. “I’m always with the same group on nights, so we’re kind of like a family.” Black, along with a registered nurse and a registered practical nurse, are responsible for all the patients on the cardiac floor at night, monitoring their vitals and keeping them comfortable. If a doctor is needed, they must call one from the emergency room.

Karen Adams, a registered nurse for more than 30 years at the same hospital, used to work nights but now works in the day surgery department. Adams had a similar reason at Black for working nights: it was the only way for her and her husband to raise their kids without a babysitter.

But after 12 years, “I needed to stop the nights for health reasons, as well as the fact I didn’t get to see my husband a lot,” Adams says. “It took a while but I felt 100 times better after I stopped.”

Black agrees that working nights is taking a toll on her health. But when she comes home after working a night shift, Sam runs to the door to greet her, reaffirming her choice of working nights over days.

“That’s why I did what I did four years ago and do not regret it for a second,” says Black.

Black’s veterinarian told her Sam is lucky to have her family and her as his owners because most people would have put him down a long time ago.

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Posted: Jun 10 2019 1:01 pm
Filed under: Features Toronto at 4 a.m.