Workers keep the city rolling through the night
NIGHT DUTY Jan Mardis, a 15-year veteran of the overnight shift at Riley Hospital in Meridian, stands ready to assist patients and the hospital's staff with whatever the night may bring. As the hospital's late-night nurse supervisor, she says, "We're doing pretty much what they do during the day, only it's dark outside." Photo by Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
April 21, 2002
Footsteps echo in the dimly lit halls on the fourth-floor of Riley Hospital near downtown Meridian, almost like the world has stopped.
It's just past midnight, early on a Friday morning. Most of the hospital's patients are asleep. Most of the medical and lab work is long finished, and the staff members who work the day shift are long gone.
But the hospital doesn't close when the clock ticks past midnight and the person making sure its functions continue is Jan Mardis, the late-night nurse supervisor, who essentially runs the facility during her shift. She sits at a desk behind a door marked "Nurse Administration" and hammers away at her computer keyboard.
Mardis belongs to a minority: She is among the hundreds of people in Meridian who earn a living working during the late-night and early-morning hours.
Most businesses are closed. The streets are nearly empty. Traffic signals flash yellow and red lights, letting what few cars are out move more easily through town.
Welcome to Meridian after midnight, a place where most of the action happens at hospitals, convenience stores, grocery stores and all-night restaurants.
12:17 a.m.: Mardis is having a slow night. She sits in her office, takes a break from checking patients on each floor and begins working on the next day's schedule for hospital nurses.
Mardis is a 15-year veteran of the overnight shift at Riley Hospital. A wife and mother of two, she says she couldn't imagine working any other shift.
Mardis clocks in every day at about 6:45 p.m. and doesn't leave until 7 the next morning. Despite the long hours, she says, the shift still has its advantages.
In the end, she says, she works a total of seven days for every 14 days.
When Mardis first started working nights, her sons were 3 and 6 and her husband stayed at home. Today, one child is a high school senior, another is in college and her husband is a truck driver.
And, she says, none of them have ever complained.
Mardis' biggest adjustment was changing her eating habits to suit the job. She eats dinner with her family at 5 p.m. before she heads to work and then breakfast when she returns home in the morning.
It's lunch at the hospital that can sometimes cause problems.
1:02 a.m.: A few miles south of Riley Hospital, on Highway 145 South, the Waffle House restaurant also is having a slow night.
Behind the counter, Anthony Patton whips up an omelet for a customer sitting at the counter. The aroma of fresh coffee and sizzle of bacon on the griddle fill the air.
In the far corner of the restaurant, Waffle House regular George Monsour sips a cup of hot coffee and puffs a filter-tip cigarette.
Patton, the store's night cook from Butler, Ala., says regulars are the norm at Waffle House.
Conversation at the breakfast diner is usually light: Most patrons joke and talk about recent news or their family.
Patton suddenly stops in mid-sentence. He then acknowledges another regular nightly sight at Waffle House: Meridian police officers who regularly drive by the restaurant's parking lot.
1:37 a.m.: On the north side of Meridian, about eight miles from the Waffle House, a handful of workers keeps the Winn-Dixie Store on Highway 39 North operating through the night.
A few customers walk the aisles looking for groceries. On one aisle, store employee Phil Reece of Meridian stocks a shelf with Alpo dog food.
Reece says he likes working at night because "it's quiet. It's not as busy. It's easier to get around to stock the shelves. You have to get used to it but it's not that bad."
Reece has been working the night shift for five years. He comes to work at 10:30 p.m. and leaves at 7 the next morning.
2 a.m.: Back at Riley Hospital, Mardis is busy working as the hospital's pharmacist.