Memories of that day appear like it happened last week. Actually, it was over thirty years ago. The first time I had to work on Christmas day has never left my memory.
A loneliness, that I had never met, looked back at me as I faced the mirror. I was preparing to go in to work on a day that I had always spent with my family; but right then, I felt empty.
As I drove toward the hospital, my thoughts were of my family. What were they talking about at that moment? Then, thinking ahead, I assured myself that gatherings were yet to come later that same week. I knew I would be a part of much laughter.
Then, I entered the building. All my thoughts were captivated by the present. Older people reminiscing about the days when their children were younger. Families coming in to visit brought an assortment of items. Clearly, it was not just Christmas. Hanukkah was celebrated the day before. Many patients were focused on their holiday.
As the day progressed, yes, there were clinical moments I had to concentrate on exactly what I was doing. But what got my attention, and stayed in my memory, was not the nursing duties, it was the people. It was not because it was a holiday. But rather, the distraction of a holiday brought an attitude of congeniality that I had not seen before.
Later in my career, I was working in a small rural hospital. On Christmas Eve, there was only one child in the pediatric ward. I believe she received more attention than if Santa himself stopped in to see her. Actually, I think they made arrangements for him to come.
With numerous holidays celebrated by many different religions, I have no doubt that the holiday experience is not expected to be identical. But the presence of something other than “just another” shift does prevail.
Be a Patient Advocate
Recognizing differing beliefs in patients can be a means of advocating for them. The rewards of being a nurse can be accentuated on holidays, not deterred. Watching for potential positive holiday moments is a treat that few recognize. Nurses have many opportunities to be that positive influence. Especially, if your patients are discouraged to be hospitalized on a holiday.
I do want to add if patients or coworkers do not observe holidays, respecting their wishes is a simple courtesy.
For nurses facing that first time going into work on a holiday, consider the whole day. What you are for your patients on those occasions provides for them a present. Your “presence” (or, possibly, presents) provides knowledge for what they need, comfort because they are hurting, or simply, the hands to assure basic needs are met.
Happy Holidays... in more ways than you may have realized.