Every nurse knows that holidays are far from sacrosanct when you work in healthcare. Patients in ICU can’t be left to fend for themselves. Those in long-term care don’t magically get well and go home. ERs must remain open to receive the steady stream of people who’ve flambéed themselves while trying to deep-fry a turkey. So, even during the season of good cheer, nurses routinely give up time with their families to fulfill their duties at work. They do have to get creative to improvise a celebration in a dreary hospital. Here are a few stories our readers shared about what they’ve been up to over the holidays in years gone by.
Food and Décor
When you’re a nurse, you make use of whatever you can to enjoy your Christmas. That might mean using an irrigation syringe as a turkey baster or tongue blades in lieu of forks to eat a spiral sliced ham. An IV rack hung with lights and TED hose stuffed with candy canes wouldn’t pass muster with any serious decorating committee, but Lisa R. made it work at her job. Patients really do appreciate any effort; just ask Kim B., who made red and green finger Jell-O for patients in the hospital on full liquids. She says it was a big hit!
Gifts and Cheer
If nurses get the holiday blues not being able to spend time with family, imagine how much worse it is to spend that time in the hospital as a patient. They need extra care to keep from getting down in the dumps. Erica A. says she “scrounged the unit for Christmas presents for a patient whose family bailed on her for Christmas at the last minute. I’ve never seen such appreciation on the face of someone unwrapping a new toothbrush and a bottle of lilac-scented shampoo.”Rob M. kept it jolly last year on Christmas Eve by playing Santa. As the only male charge RN on duty, he got volunteered for the part. Rob put on a happy face, donned the suit and delivered gifts to all the children. Turns out, the experience was well worth it. “You should have seen the eyes of the kids in PICU light up. PEDS also loved it. I was glad to do it and help out…families appreciated the gesture for sure!”
Acts of Kindness
Unfortunately, sometimes the urge to spread holiday cheer can backfire. Cathy W. learned this lesson the hard way: “I made some sugar-free candy trees for my patients. I put the candy on a Styrofoam cone. In the middle of a quiet night shift, I hear ‘Ouch, ouch, ouch!’ My patient had taken all the candies off the tree and they were in the bed along with the pins! Next time I will put them on with tape!”
A precocious 8 yr old patient on the Pediatric ward was very angry about not being able to go home for Thanksgiving. His medical team felt that he needed a few more days of IV antibiotics before he could be safely discharged. On Thanksgiving eve, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He placed a call to 911 and reported that he was being held against his will and asked that the SWAT team come quickly to rescue him. The operator recognized the hospital telephone number and the voice of a sad, desperate child. She immediately dispatched two police officers who arrived with lights and sirens, and managed to convince the boy that the hospital staff just wanted him to get well. The officers returned the next day with a turkey feast for all of the hospital staff and patients – it was the best Thanksgiving ever.
My best Christmases as a Nurse were spent delivering gifts to kids at St. Jude Hospital, where I worked. My two daughters came up and we had dinner and gave all the children their presents. It left an impression both on the patients and our children, that it is more blessed to give than receive. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything and never even felt I missed out on a Family Tradition, as that became ours.
I recall having to visit my parents, both were in the hospital at Christmas time. My dad for a knee replacement, my mom for a-fib that was out of control. I’d passed a Christmas tree, which was rather comically decorated. Instead of the usual ornaments, it had urinals, bedpans, emesis basins, IV bags, piston syringes, tongue blades, and other fun equipment us nurses use every day. I loved that tree so much that it took a stressful moment away for a brief time and made me giggle. Yes, as a nurse, even when my own fall sick, I do become concerned. That tree made my day.
A few years back, I was working the overnight shift in a long term care facility on Christmas Eve. Knowing there were many people going home with their families for Christmas Day, I decided I’d stay a bit late off the clock. I purchased a lot of makeup, and applied makeup to all my female residents whether they were going out for the day or not since I knew some would receive visitors that day. My family understood why I’d be late coming home, and even some of the day shift CNA’s joined in on the holiday makeup party. My women all looked beautiful and ready for a fabulous day with their families and friends. I’d certainly do that again in a heartbeat, as I’ve never seen so many smiles in my life from women who haven’t worn makeup in years.
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