Even at 5 a.m., this trauma nurse is saving Atlanta lives at Grady Hospital

Gunshot wounds, stabbings—she's seen it all

After Dark Atlantans: Addis Lewis

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones

Addis Lewis

34, trauma nurse, Grady Health System

Average nights don’t exist at places like Grady Memorial Hospital. Three nights a week, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., Addis Lewis joins the tight-knit group of medical professionals tending to car crashes, gunshot wounds, heart attacks—whatever the night throws their way.

They call us the vampires of the hospital. Most hospitals quiet down around three or four o’clock in the morning. But Grady never stops. Our golden hour might be between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.

We see gunshot victims, stabbings, falls, car accidents, heart attacks, strokes. A lot of trauma. We do organ donation, too. If we can intervene early, we can save 12 other people’s lives. “Atlanta cannot live without Grady” is so true.

While I was in nursing school, they had a night position at DeKalb Medical Center. I was like, “I don’t know. The ER’s scary. And at night.” My mom said, “See if you like it.” That’s when I realized I loved it. I like the fast pace of the ER.

The stuff that we see is scary and sad and joyful. Your emotions are kind of all over the place, especially with an unexpected death or something like that. Grady has started the We Care Project here to help employees process it. Medical staff can have PTSD. The husband of one of our trauma nurses was in a bad accident and died. I was there that night. We cried our eyes out. When she returned to work, I said, “Are you sure you want to come back?” She said, “I love Grady.” That speaks volumes. People can’t stay away from this. I always say that we are the crazy ones because we get back up and come back in.

Sometimes I’ll work a Friday, Saturday, Sunday—I try to work three days in a row. Then, you’re done—that’s the beauty of the 12-hour shift. It just seems a little easier with the sleeping. I’m usually in bed by 9 or 10. Most of us wake up around 5 or 5:30 to come in for a 7 p.m. shift.

For me, I like to sleep during the day because I have a husband and daughter. That way, when they come home in the evening, I can be up and awake with them. But it is hard for a lot of people to sleep during the day because your body’s natural metabolism and clock is not meant for that. The transition day is always the hardest.

Everybody’s brain works differently. Mine is more awake in the evening. I just kind of fell in love with working at night. But it’s not for everybody. —As told to Betsy Riley

This article appears in our September 2019 issue.

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