being on-call

April 21, 2020 ☼ liferoka

I’m an occasional on-call operator for my battalion, assisting the on-call commander and staffing the control room from 16:00 in the afternoon until 08:30 the next morning on weekdays. Most of the work is answering and making calls, updating documents, and making sure that nothing is out of the ordinary. It’s not that difficult, just tiring as there is a lot of stuff to follow and pay attention to through the night. 

I was on-call on Friday, the 10th, and for 24 hours last Wednesday (not the usual shift), starting from 08:30 to the next 08:30 since it was the legislative election day in Korea. I wrote most of this post over those two shifts to share how I personally am being on-call.

A little past 2300 is when I try to find some peace. I usually make myself a cup of coffee, and it doesn’t take long to feel the caffeine flowing through my bloodstream. I’m exhausted. It’s been many hours since I started my shift, and I have nine hours to go. No shift goes without a hectic evening with lots of random situations to handle, and they are usually followed by a series of paperwork.

I sit in front of a bunch of monitors and tactical comms equipment in bad posture, and the chair predates the concept of ergonomics. Meanwhile my feet are trapped in my airtight combat boots and they are begging to take a breath. In addition, no matter how much water I drink, my mouth is dry the whole time. It’s probably from all the sugar-intakes from snacking. It’s a similar feeling to a tiring second day at a college hackathon - constant snack intakes and sleep deprivation.

Around midnight, after I’m finished with all the paperwork that needs to be done by the morning, is a good time to seek solace in a cup ramen. It’s hard to convey the exact late-night-cup-ramen sentiment, but the hot soup warms you up in a way no others can console you in this late time. 

I also have books with me so that I can read whenever I can. Late in the night especially after a ramen session is usually a good time to read. Every time I try to read in the evening or during the day, I either get a disruptive phone call or a situation, and they make me re-read the same page multiple times. It gets annoying after a couple of tries.

When I tried to read on the past few shifts, I faced some sad ironies. I brought Why We Sleep to my first shift. Reading about the importance of sleep while not being able to sleep was quite saddening, so I stopped after a few pages in. At least I learned why I feel wide awake towards the end of my shift (in the morning), and why I have difficulties sleeping after my shift despite being tired as hell. Now I’m reading the Utopia of Rules, a book filled with social commentaries on bureaucracy and filling out paper forms. Reading that in between the processing and filling out a ton of paperwork was yet another sad irony I encountered. Inevitably and unfortunately, as the night passes, my ability to focus gets decimated. I wish I could accomplish more reading on the job. 

Around 0300~0400, a little after 12 hours (or 20) into the shift, I’m usually passed out on my desk. In a zombie-like state, I get half-woken up by periodic phone calls but I occasionally sleep through the ringings. Sometimes I answer the phone and pretend to handle whatever they tell me, and then go right back to sleep, forgetting everything I heard. I also get woken up when I have to unlock a small safe with ammunition for those going to a guard shift at night. Even then, my body isn’t fully awake sometimes. 

By dawn, I can feel my internal organs are rotting. With that, my body starts to produce an uncomfortable amount of gas. A little past 0600, with my internal rhythm resetting, my body spontaneously wakes me up. It’s when I start to get busy again. Meanwhile my body goes through this illusion of feeling refreshed, but soon enough it feels like it has aged about six months over the past six hours. It’s obviously not a great feeling and it takes me about two full days to recover. Five more on-call shifts will age me by two years. 

Despite such horribleness, the one positive aspect about doing the on-call shifts is that I get to sleep in and rest for the entirety of the next day, getting exempt from pretty much everything. Then, after one shift, two days have gone by just like that. Time flies and a week passes by only after a few days. And I get to rest over the weekend. That’s a good feeling to have in here, the sense of getting closer to the discharge date quicker than how I would feel it otherwise. Just gotta rinse and repeat till I’m out. It’s like Stockholm syndrome - despite how shitty I feel during and after the shift, I’m a bit disappointed that I don’t have a shift this week.