Dawn Patrol: Nursing assistant stays up all night with Doak Walker residents | SteamboatToday.com

Dawn Patrol: Nursing assistant stays up all night with Doak Walker residents

— Laura Steinke never had imagined herself sleeping through the daylight hours and working all night, but when the traffic in Colorado Springs began to wear on her, she left a job in home health care and returned to Steamboat Springs to take a position at the former Doak Walker Care Center just months before its recent move to Casey's Pond Senior Living.

Laura Steinke so enjoys her interactions with elderly residents of the Doak Walker House at Casey's Pond Senior Livingin the middle of the night, she declined a chance to move to the evening shift. Doak Walker was the 1948 Heisman Trophy winner and a Steamboat Springs resident in his later years.

Now, she's grown so fond of her job as a certified nursing assistant at the new Doak Walker House, she doesn't mind skipping the cocktail hour when she meets friends for après ski.

"I just love the residents here," Steinke says. "That's maybe why I'm still working the night shift. I went into see one of the residents at 2 a.m., and she told me, 'I used to work weird hours, too.'"

There's nothing weird about a young professional woman who has adapted to working through the dark hours of the night to take care of some of Steamboat's most special residents.

Steinke moved here from Woodland Park with her family at the beginning of her junior year of high school and graduated from Steamboat Springs High School.

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As a certified nursing assistant, she's saving money while contemplating going back to school to become a registered nurse.

Steinke's daily routine includes setting the alarm clock for 5 p.m. in preparation for going to work from 10 p.m. to 6:15 a.m. But she often will hit the snooze button as she comfortably can sleep in until 8 p.m.

She was hesitant at first about the prospect of working through the night and sleeping all afternoon but quickly came to enjoy the surprisingly fast pace of her job.

"The first time I did it, I thought it would be hard to stay awake," Steinke says about working into the wee hours. "But you're running around all night with people waking up all the time."

On Wednesday, her shift was winding down at Casey's Pond after a particularly active night, and Steinke observed that it was no coincidence that her friends had morphed into nocturnal creatures.

"You can always tell when it's a full moon without looking," she says with a little laugh. "Everybody was awake all last night." (It actually was the night after the December full moon.)

She checks on the residents in her hallway every two hours no matter what because one of her responsibilities is to change their sleeping position in order to ward off bed sores. When a resident awakens on one of those bed checks, Steinke's prepared to offer them a snack — perhaps a piece of fruit or a cookie.

"There are people who snack all night," Steinke says. "Midnight to 2 a.m. is the hardest time for me, but it's about 3 a.m. when the call lights start lighting up."

Casey's Pond Director of Education and Nursing Services Liz Guerra said she was impressed earlier this year when Steinke was offered the early evening shift and declined it because she so enjoyed working with the residents at night.

What the certified nursing assistants at the Doak Walker House all know is that the all-nighter shift is timed ideally for powderhounds.

"A few of the girls bring their ski boots into work," Steinke says. "Last winter, I went straight to the ski area" after her shift.

This winter will be different. Last year, she had a season ski pass, but she decided to forgo a season pass this season in order to save more money for school.

"This winter, I'll do some snowshoeing and a little night skiing" before work, Steinke says.

One disadvantage of the all-night shift is that she and her co-workers don't have the option of buying a meal from one of the dining rooms in Casey's Pond the way people who work a normal 9 to 5 there can.

Steinke often keeps the early morning meal simple, dining on a grilled cheese sandwich.

"Technically, it's my dinner," she says.

Other times, she splurges on dinner at one of Steamboat's best breakfast spots.

"When I want to have a drink after work, I go to Rex's" American Grill & Bar, she says.

On other mornings, she will leave directly from work to do her errands and shopping. By 10 a.m., she may settle down in front of a movie at home and even might fall asleep on the couch. Her bedroom is blacked out so the sunshine won't disrupt her sleep cycle.

"The neighbors probably think I'm a bum," she says. "I don't know if they ever see me go to work. In winter, I see a lot of darkness. It's a little like Alaska."

Among the most poignant experiences of working through the night with her residents, Steinke said, are the moments when one of them appears to be having a one-sided conversation with a relative who no longer is alive.

"It's like they're talking to someone on the phone, but they're not," Steinke says. "Or they might say, 'That's my sister sitting on the chair right there. Aren't you going to say hello?'"

Casey's Pond social workers Jane Howell and Joan Lucas say the phenomenon is commonplace among people who are experiencing dementia and drawing closer to the end of life.

"They can have a strong visualization," Howell says.

Steinke says she can't reject the possibility that those encounters might be real.

"I believe them," she says.

The residents of Doak Walker House are fortunate to have Laura Steinke staying up all night with them.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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