It was Christmas Eve and I was scheduled as the night shift nurse at the hospital. My husband and three young children were at home celebrating without me. I was heart sick.
I had left them with “special little surprises” and Christmas goodies to eat while they watched one of our many Christmas movies and played games (without their mother). In previous years, I had been able to trade away my Christmas nursing shifts with the younger nurses who were more than happy to work for me if I agreed to work New Year’s for them. This had not been one of those years, however. As hard as I had tried, nothing and no one had come to my rescue.
The large county hospital (where I was employed) was 30 minutes from my home. As I drove through the blowing snow and icy roads that December can bring to my home state, I offered up a little prayer.
“Please let this be a good night. Please let this shift be an easy one that gets over with… fast! And please keep me from losing my life on these roads.” My attitude which was usually very positive and cheerful was dismal. I missed my family already.
I arrived (safe and sound) on my OB unit in plenty of time for nursing shift report. “I can do this,” I said to myself. “We’ll all have fun especially if we get a baby tonight.” I loved “my” labor patients and hoped to be assigned to one on this special evening. If anything could take the place of my own children for a few hours, it would be in helping another family to welcome their new baby on Christmas Eve. My hopes were quickly deflated, however, when I was informed I would be “floating” off of my unit to NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). They were short staffed and needed help.
My worst fear in nursing was to float to an unfamiliar unit. I had been to NICU a few times in the past however, and the nurses there were always wonderful, helpful and grateful for an extra set of hands when they were inundated with sick babies. They usually assigned floating OB nurses to the little “growers” or, in other words, babies who were considered stable and needed only minimal cares and frequent feedings. Still, the environment was scary and intimidating to me since it was such a specialty unit and one that I tried to avoid at all costs.
After recovering from the shock that I was actually going to float on Christmas Eve, I headed down the long and lonely corridor toward my new assignment. I rang the bell to the NICU, since I didn’t have access, and was immediately “buzzed” in. I tried to look pleasant. I think I even managed a half-hearted smile and said, “Merry Christmas. I’m your nurse from OB.”
Sensing my disappointment at being there, I was nonetheless warmly welcomed and assigned to three tiny infants in isolettes. I received a detailed report and learned that indeed, all three babies were stable and simply needed basic cares: vital signs, feedings, diapering, monitoring and of course, documenting. I was then teamed with one of the staff nurses who worked in NICU.
I was beginning to feel comfortable with my assignment. After all, I had worked in the newborn nursery for many years and felt confident taking care of “well babies.” As the hours rolled by, we welcomed families who came to visit their little ones. Siblings made the Christmas Eve trip to the hospital to see their little brother or sister. Grandmas and grandpas came in with parents, some for the first look at their incredibly tiny or sick grandchildren.
As the visitors began to wind down, a young man and women rang the bell to be admitted. They were identified as the parents of one of “my” babies.
I assisted them in the protocol of scrubbing their hands (up to their elbows) and placing a “cover gown” over their street clothes.
The couple informed me they were from Mexico and apologized for their poor English. I thought they communicated quite well, however, and told them so. They were delightful and we immediately began a conversation discussing the baby and their concerns for her. They also expressed sadness that their families were so far away and they were alone in this country. My heart went out to them. They were so young and had so much on their shoulders.
The father mentioned they had not held their baby yet. “Never?” I questioned. “No, too small,” he answered. I was surprised. Yes, the baby was small, but I had taken her out of the isolette earlier in the evening to feed her. The nurse from the day shift had explained that she could be out of the isolette to be fed as long as she maintained her body temperature.
The little girl, named Gabrielle, was now due for another feeding. I asked the mother if she would like to hold her baby. She nodded shyly, smiling at her husband. I settled her into a rocking chair and gently placed Gabrielle in her mother’s arms for the very first time. The father knelt beside the two and kissed them both. They were silent, almost prayerful as they admired their tiny daughter.
The mother cradled her baby and rocked back and forth as if she had done it numerous times before, though she hadn’t. It amazed me how natural and confident she seemed. The tender mercies of a mother’s love and a father watching over them made me think of the first Christmas and of the moment those two parents held their new baby, but in a very different time and in a very different place. They, too, were young and alone in a strange country.
I felt the proverbial “lump” in my throat and fought back my tears. It was one of those rare moments nurses are blessed to witness. Sometimes the moments are few and far between, but when they happen, you remember why you are a nurse and somehow, you gain a new resolve, a new testimony for the profession.
As I viewed that awe inspiring scene, the moment when loving parents held their tiny baby for the first time, I recalled how I had felt earlier as a night shift nurse. It had been a Christmas Eve when I didn’t want to be a nurse, but it was a Christmas Eve I now have tucked away in my heart and will never ever forget. It is a treasured memory… a Christmas gift.
About the Author: Janet Izzo is a registered nurse in the State of Minnesota and a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association. She is an inspirational speaker and author of "Hotel Hennepin" which chronicles her experiences working in a large county hospital in the heart of Minneapolis. The stories Janet relates in Hotel Hennepin are poignant, sad and hysterically funny, but all are amazingly true! She is passionate about the nursing profession and she now speaks to nurses and nursing students across the nation on the topic "Nurses Can Make the Difference."
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