My shift had finally ended.  As a second-year resident, I was driving home after 30 hours awake straight.  The busy call included delivering several babies, two Cesarean sections, circumcisions, rounding, triaging new patients, and teaching medical students.  Never during that 30 hours was a 5-minute nap possible; clinical load would not permit this. I couldn’t […]

My shift had finally ended.  As a second-year resident, I was driving home after 30 hours awake straight.  The busy call included delivering several babies, two Cesarean sections, circumcisions, rounding, triaging new patients, and teaching medical students.  Never during that 30 hours was a 5-minute nap possible; clinical load would not permit this.
I couldn’t wait to get home at the end of the shift as I was completely exhausted.  So, I buckled up and prepared to drive the 20 minutes home on interstate 95 so that I could finally get some rest.
I could feel my eyelids drooping intermittently as I was driving, like a weight I couldn’t control was pulling them down.  I turned the radio up loud, drank a big gulp of my hot coffee, and rolled down the window.   I had done this many times previously after these long shifts and had figured out all the tricks to make it home safely, or so I thought.
I must not have been able to fight off my increasingly heavy eyelids, because I woke up suddenly to the jarring bumps on the side of the road: intelligently placed to wake up drivers such as myself who may be drifting out of the lane.  Startled, I turned the wheel hard to get back on the road.  However, I overcompensated, confused from no sleep, and spun around 180 degrees so that I was facing the opposite direction of traffic on the interstate.  I slammed into the wall of an overpass, and my car came to a sudden and jolting standstill.
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