A Day in the Life of a Nurse Working Christmas

Pulling a Christmas shift is hard. Ashley had to leave her little ones on Christmas Day. Follow Ashley on her day. Nurses General Nursing Nurse Life

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A Day in the Life of a Nurse Working Christmas

Ashley rolled out of her snuggly bed into the dark cold while her husband, Jake, snored without missing a beat. She quietly stepped out of her cozy flannel jammies and pulled on her scrubs. The cold fabric hit her skin, justifying her sour mood. It wouldn't take much today.

She tiptoed past the kid's rooms like a robber but felt more like she'd been robbed. Robbed of Christmas with her family because she had to work. Robbed and guilty because she was leaving her 2 little ones without their mommy on Christmas of all days. Robbed and guilty and angry because how come a couple of new grads managed to get today off, but not her? They didn't even have kids. Well, at least Jake had said he'd bring the kids to the hospital for dinner.

An hour later, Ashley stepped out of the elevator onto her home unit, 4West. MedSurg with 10 separately staffed pediatric beds on the south end. At least half of the patient rooms were vacated, all but the sickest of patients having been discharged home or elsewhere in the days leading up to Christmas. 4West resembled a ghost town. Empty rooms with beds left in high position like soldiers at attention. Sanitized overbed tables guarding the beds. In the hallway, office doors were closed and locked, their half-door windows black. No hustle, no bustle. No chaos. It was almost eerie.

A couple of nurses were openly drinking their Starbucks at the nurse's station, daring anyone to say something. Not that anyone was about to- the rules were suspended today, CDC be damned. Jenifer, with one n, the relief charge nurse, was flipping her blonde hair even more than usual to show off her oversized purple Christmas tree earrings. Tacky, thought Ashley.  She's always over the top. At least she wasn't wearing equally tacky scrubs but only because the official RN dress code was solid navy blue and the non-official dress code was Figs brand.

Ashley picked up the assignment sheet and saw that Rosa was her nursing assistant today. She rolled her eyes. Great. Rosa is old and slow and can barely speak English. She's also hard of hearing. Annoying. Why didn't she just get hearing aids? And a new hairstyle while she was at it. She just looked faded and tired, like her hair. Well. At least Rosa's patients all loved her.

Assessments and 0900 meds jump-started Ashley into her shift, and soon she was immersed in listening to lungs, troubleshooting IVs, charting, and fielding orders, interspersed with finger sticks, pain meds, and insulin coverage. She scribbled "clogged feeding tube 2014b" on her growing to-do list on her brains along with other notes, including to call a family for their loved one's POST orders and re-check the ACT on her heparin drip patient. She wondered if the wound care nurse could be reached today for a consult. Despite herself, the outside world faded away as it always did. And as always, she was surprised when whole chunks of time went by without thinking of her family.

CODE BLUE, CATH LAB!  CODE BLUE, CATH LAB! 

Ashley startled and then proceeded to mentally account for each of her patients. It was a reflex. She knew no one was off the floor, much less in the cath lab. It must have been a direct admit through the ED. Staff looked at each other knowingly, with small, imperceptible shakes of the head. A code in a diagnostic area? Not good.

Ashley looked down the hall to see one of the pediatric nurses pulling everyone's favorite patient, 11-month-old Mia, admitted 2 weeks ago for burns to her face, legs and left arm, in a little red wagon. Mia had only recently learned to wave, and all the staff oohed and aahed as she waved like a mini pageant princess. A little princess wrapped in gauze.

Not for the first time, it struck Ashley that Mia was the exact same age as her own little Olivia. Mia had been scalded in the bathtub while her mother was at work and the boyfriend of the month was babysitting. Ashley shuddered at the mental image, horrified. But no, she couldn't think about it. She quickly shutdown the picture in her head and compartmentalized her thoughts. She'd learned to do that. What good is a nurse with her heart always on her sleeve.  She knew she could never work Peds. Too much compartmentalizing.

So far today, Mia's Mom had not shown up. But then, Mia didn't know it was Christmas- and she sure didn't know her future was filled with surgeries and burn scars, and quite likely, her lost beauty.

Finding a spare moment, Ashley went in to change the leaking IV site of her patient, Thelma, who had been extubated and transferred out of COVID ICU three days before. Thelma had been fluffed and buffed by Rosa. Her thin white hair with her pink scalp peeking through was combed and she had on old-lady red lipstick. "Thelma, you look beautiful today."

"That Rosa, she's …<gasp> really something, huh?” Thelma had to talk in spurts as she ran out of breath.

"Ummm...ya, I guess so,” said Ashley.

"I mean, how ..<gasp> many single Moms get their …<gasp> kids into Stanford medical school?”

"Excuse me..? Rosa has a kid in medical school?”

"Yes, her oldest …<gasp> daughter. One of her other girls got pregnant in …<gasp> high school. Rosa's raising her grandson, too". Wait.. thought Ashley. How did Thelma know all this?

Ashley's phone vibrated and she looked down to see Jake texting that they were about to leave and come visit. "Sorry, Thelma, I have to take this.” Ashley called him quickly "Jake? You know that fluffy white sheep I was saving for Olivia's birthday? In the closet? Could you bring it? For Mia.”

"Mia, the little burn girl?” "Yes.“

"OK"

"Wait...Jake?”

"Yes?”

"Thanks, babe. You're the best".

Next, Ashley stopped by the monitor tech's station.  Lisa always had the latest info. "Hey did you hear about the code?” asked Ashley. "Ya…” said Lisa. "He went to ICU but coded again and didn't make it. A 42-year-old man with a wife and kids."

Ashley blinked and turned away. It felt like a sucker punch. What do you do on Christmas day for the rest of your life when that's the day your Dad or your husband died? Her problems suddenly seemed petty.  Ashley walked to the break room for a breather and ran into Jenifer with one n. Jenifer looked at her and kindly asked, "Ashley, are you OK?” Ashley nodded, surprised that she was feeling emotional. "I'm OK. Jake and the kids are coming for dinner."

"Great! Take some extra time. I'll cover your side."

"Really? Thanks, Jenifer. I owe you.”

"Sure, girl. Just don't make fun of my earrings and we'll be even.” Jenifer whispered, "A patient's daughter gave them to me and she hasn't come in yet, so I have to keep them on. They're killing my ears, though."

It was now almost the end of her shift. Mia was asleep in her crib but Ashley tucked the fluffy sheep in close to her. She smiled to think of Mia waking up to find her present. Maybe when she came back to work in 3 days she could pretend the sheep had an owie like Mia and Ashley could wrap his leg in gauze. 

After report, Ashley went to say goodbye to Thelma, who hadn't had any visitors all day. Come to think of it, Thelma never had any visitors. Ashley almost hated to leave her. She felt protective. It was one of those bittersweet end-of-shift goodbyes.

Rosa was clocking out just as Ashley got to the time clock. They rode down the elevator together.

" Rosa, are you having Christmas tonight with your family?"

"Not this night. Now I go to my other job. St. Agnes."

Ashley paused. She didn't know what to say.

"Rosa...I wanted...I just wanted to say thank you for all your good work today. I appreciate it. Thelma just loves you. Happy Holidays.”

Rosa smiled. "Feliz Navidad, mija.”

Career Columnist / Author

Hi! Nice to meet you! I love helping new nurses in all my various roles. I work in a hospital in Staff Development, and am a blogger and author.

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Specializes in Travel, Home Health, Med-Surg.

I have had to work many Christmas Days  and although I never wanted to I always tried to make the best of it for myself and my patients who I know didn’t want to be there either. Christmas is about the birth of our Saviour and for those who choose to accept the gift of salvation this is indeed a day to celebrate. Hopefully nurses (and others) who need to work can make the best out of the day even though they would rather be somewhere else. 
Your story reminds me of something my Mom told us kids when we were young. Always be nice to people because you never know what they are/could be going through. IMO, words to live by.

Merry Christmas to all!

 

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

You have a wise Mom ? Merry Christmas!

Specializes in Med-Surg.

Great story.  At first I found Ashley a bit catty but glad she lightened up learned what an important role nurses play in the role of their patients on Christmas Day.

I've worked so many Christmas's, 28 of the last 30 years that I don't have any more traditions other than working my shift and heading out for Chinese food when I'm done.  I'll do it again this weekend and happily so.

I don't like the "I should get off because I have little kids and you don't" card because I too have a family that I would like to visit, but understand how important being with your young children who are.  They are young for only a few precious years and it goes by so fast.  

It's not necessarily about the day, but what you make of it.  Children aren't scarred for life because mom had to work.  They are resilient and you can make the best Christmas you can and your patients will appreciate you for it.

 

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.
On 12/19/2022 at 10:27 AM, Tweety said:

It's not necessarily about the day, but what you make of it.  Children aren't scarred for life because mom had to work.  They are resilient and you can make the best Christmas you can and your patients will appreciate you for it.

So true. It may sound strange, but I always ended up finding something special about working Christmas. Not that I ever volunteered for it-but once I was there, it was kind of like a hospital church cocoon.

Specializes in Dialysis.
On 12/19/2022 at 10:27 AM, Tweety said:

Great story.  At first I found Ashley a bit catty but glad she lightened up learned what an important role nurses play in the role of their patients on Christmas Day.

I've worked so many Christmas's, 28 of the last 30 years that I don't have any more traditions other than working my shift and heading out for Chinese food when I'm done.  I'll do it again this weekend and happily so.

I don't like the "I should get off because I have little kids and you don't" card because I too have a family that I would like to visit, but understand how important being with your young children who are.  They are young for only a few precious years and it goes by so fast.  

It's not necessarily about the day, but what you make of it.  Children aren't scarred for life because mom had to work.  They are resilient and you can make the best Christmas you can and your patients will appreciate you for it.

A nurse that I work with just did Christmas with her family on Thanksgiving. It was the only time that she could get her kids and grandkids under her roof for a day. She says she'll keep doing it that way as long as they come, it was the best. It's making me rethink the holiday as well. No law says that we have to celebrate on the actual holidate...

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.
6 hours ago, Hoosier_RN said:

A nurse that I work with just did Christmas with her family on Thanksgiving. It was the only time that she could get her kids and grandkids under her roof for a day. She says she'll keep doing it that way as long as they come, it was the best. It's making me rethink the holiday as well. No law says that we have to celebrate on the actual holidate...

I agree! I also count Thanksgiving as my anchor holiday get together with my family. Once your kids are grown, they can be pulled to the in-laws or maybe just want to have Christmas at home with their own little ones.

Specializes in Hospice.

I had 40 years of off and on of days of Christmas work. Im retired now. But I felt every emotion while reading this story. 

I have now passed the torch onto my kids in nursing and they now have to work Christmas. I hear them complain about working Christmas and I just smile. Yes, I have been there child. 

One thing that happens when you retire is you remember the events of your life (work in the measure of life’s changed). Kids don’t remember that you weren’t there on Christmas. They remember the holiday you spent with them on whatever day you chose to be Christmas. 

Even Jesus chose a day to be born that was most likely not on Christmas day. 

I find “woe is me” stories like this frustrating and perceive it as coddling.

You absolutely knew this when you went into nursing. 

Have the holiday (and things like their birthday parties) on a day off and you will never miss a thing  

It’s far worse to be a patient on a holiday. 

I’ve been both. 
 

Specializes in Hospice.
On 12/21/2022 at 3:14 PM, kdkout said:

I find “woe is me” stories like this frustrating and perceive it as coddling.

You absolutely knew this when you went into nursing. 

Have the holiday (and things like their birthday parties) on a day off and you will never miss a thing  

It’s far worse to be a patient on a holiday. 

I’ve been both. 
 

Dear “woe is me”,

This is a safe platform for nurses to vent not be judged. 


I have worked many christmas’. And I was a patient several years ago on Christmas. I was on a vent for a week.They took care of my family reassuring them when they thought I would not make it through the night. I am very  grateful  

so please be kind. 
 

Specializes in Travel, Home Health, Med-Surg.

Merry Christmas to all and esp to all those working today. I hope/pray we will all remember the true meaning of Christmas and accept Gods free (to us) gift of salvation. I also hope/pray that we can all be more kind to each other, here and out in the ‘real world’.

In case anyone is interested here are a few good Bible verses for Christmas:

https://m.YouTube.com/watch?v=vgC_ENubB08

Enjoy your holidays and wishing you all a happy 2023!!

(not sure why my link will not  go but u should be able to C&P)

Specializes in Geriatrics, Dialysis.

My mom had been a nurse since I was 14 years old. We celebrated many a Christmas on another day. Then I went into nursing and between our schedules it was pretty much the norm to celebrate the holiday on a different day. As early as Thanksgiving one year, as late as the beginning of January some years.  

After I was married even my very Catholic in laws arranged Christmas celebrations around my schedule, I was always able to carve out some time either Christmas Eve or Christmas day so it wasn't bad. Plus I found an advantage to working around around the holiday, it meant I got out of hosting the get together and all the work that goes along with that, LOL!