Photo essay: At work in the ER

Jason E Kaplan
Nurse Sandra "Tukie" Lake

We follow emergency room nurse Sandra Lake as she works a 12-hour night shift at a busy Portland hospital. 

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The following photo essay is part of a weekly series ‘Working the night shift.’ OB photographer Jason Kaplan follows the people who keep the state’s largest city running through the night. 

This week I stop by Providence St. Vincent Medical Center Hospital in Portland.  I spend a few hours shadowing Sandra Lake, an ER nurse who has spent 29 years working the night shift.  Nurses often work 12 hours at a time and Lake’s shift runs from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m.  She works three shifts a week and has four days off.  Although she says she sometimes takes a little overtime.


“I have three kids in college so I work some extra” she says.  

St. Vincent’s ER isn’t a trauma center, so, for the most part, the more grisly cases get sent elsewhere.  However, plenty of patients come and go this night, with a wide variety of concerns, from falling and breaking a hip, to car accidents and chest pains.  DSCF1482.jpg
Lake says she usually goes by an old nickname, Tukie, while at work because when she started five nurses named Sandra were on duty. Since then, it’s just kind of stuck.


Even though there are a lot of patients, Lake says it’s a little slow — but “we’re very superstitious here.  We don’t ever say the ‘Q’ word (quiet),” she adds.  


Like many jobs, nurses have to deal with a lot of paperwork.  So do ER patients.  Lake goes over the discharge orders with a young woman being sent home after receiving treatment for a car accident.  


Lake likes to work nights. Not only has it worked out well for her family while she was raising kids, but she says there’s a real sense of camaraderie among night dwellers that you don’t get on other shifts.  “I tried day shift a couple of times, but only stayed for three weeks before coming back to nights,” she says.


Lake keeps a hidden box of candy, which she passes around at some point during the night to lift everyone’s spirits.  


Lake moves through her rounds with surprising alacrity.  I often find myself out of breath as I try to keep up.  


Nights can be long, but being busy makes the time go fast.  Working among friends makes it all the more rewarding.  It’s comforting to know that if we get hurt or sick during the small hours, there are people ready to help.