The Impact of Christmas

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by LanaWRN LanaWRN, BSN, MSN, RN (New)

Specializes in Med-Surg, Home Health, EMR, Nurse Educator. Has 16 years experience.

Working a holiday shift can be hard, but nurses have a chance to make a big impact on those days. Sometimes the impact is on the lives of our patients and families while other times the impact is in our own lives. My most memorable Christmas in the hospital made an impact on both!

Make the most of a holiday shift!

The Impact of Christmas

15 years ago, I was working every weekend in a large hospital as a Certified Nurse Aide while going to nursing school through the week. In December, my first year working there I met Mr. C.  Mr. C was young, energetic, and seemingly healthy when he was admitted to the hospital. He was quite sure he would only be in the hospital a day or 2 to determine the cause of his cardiac and respiratory symptoms. Mr. C was a very active man, used to being in control of situations and always on the go. Those first few days it wasn’t uncommon to find him pacing or walking circles around his room. He was often checking his work schedule, preparing to get back to the job he loved.

Unfortunately, Mr. C. was quickly diagnosed with an aggressive lung cancer that required immediately starting chemotherapy and the beginning of a long hospital stay. He kept a positive attitude and always had the spirit of a fighter, but the sudden transition from being in control of everything to needing to ask for help with even the simple things was hard. I worked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday so when I would return each Friday the physical changes in him from the effects of the aggressive chemotherapy were pretty drastic. He was thinner and weaker. His thick, black hair fell out and at some point, he shaved his head. And then, to add insult to injury, he developed a debilitating gastrointestinal infection which caused him to be even weaker. Mr. C didn’t like to ask for help but now he had to.

It was Christmas and, despite his best efforts, Mr. C wouldn’t be going home. His wife and kids were coming to visit for the day and he asked for help making it special. I think we all realized this would likely be his last Christmas with his kids and we didn’t want their memories of that to be in his hospital room, so the nursing staff of 8 West did what we did best – we took care of our patient! Sometimes taking care of a patient involves pills, wound care or surgery. Sometimes it’s holding a hand, singing a song or saying a prayer. This time, taking care of our patient meant making sure Mr. C and his family got to spend some fun time together, away from his hospital bed, IV pole and bedside commode and away from the harsh reality of his illness.

The elves of 8 West got to work! We had an empty room at the end of the hall, not currently used as a patient room. It was being used for storage and full of extra furniture and equipment that needed to be relocated. We moved our Christmas tree from the nurse’s station into the room, borrowed furniture from other areas of the unit, hung sparkly garland and miscellaneous decorations from around the unit, found a radio to tune to some quiet Christmas music, and ordered a tray of cookies and drinks from the cafeteria. That day our nursing staff on 8 West managed to change a crowded storage room into a private Christmas visitation room – a fun, happier place fit to make lasting family memories! Mr. C and his family were so appreciative of this gesture. He couldn’t believe we would do so much. But like I said, taking care of our patients was the specialty of the nursing staff on 8 West!

That was Mr. C’s last Christmas, and he spent it in the last place anyone ever wants to spend a holiday. As a nurse, we don’t usually want to spend the holiday at the hospital. But illness doesn’t go away, and hospitals don’t close just because it’s Christmas! As a nurse, working the holidays means you are away from your own family. You are away from the memories they are creating with the hope of keeping our patients alive to make more memories with their own families. We report for duty – Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Easter - ready to impact lives in whatever way we can. Sometimes the impact we make is physical and maybe we save a life. Sometimes the impact is emotional or spiritual and we can provide care, comfort or memories to last a lifetime.

It’s been 15 years since that memorable Christmas experience with Mr. C. I’ve worked many more holidays since then and always tried to find a way to make the day seem a little more pleasant for each patient I was caring for on those days.  I’ve added a few degrees and fancy letters after my name since that Christmas, but the memory is still vivid. Although I hope we made those Christmas memories a little more pleasant for a family going through the unimaginable, I think it’s safe to say that one of the lives impacted that Christmas was my own. It’s a memory that will last ME a lifetime.

I have been in the nursing field for over 15 years, but I took the long route to get to where I am today. I first started as a CNA, then LPN, RN, BSN, and now MSN. Most of my experience has been in Medical-Surgical nursing, with a smattering of outpatient infusion, home health, and a stint as an EMR analyst. I have enjoyed being an adjunct nursing instructor for both LPN and RN programs, and currently write case studies and questions for NCLEX-PN and NCLEX-RN study programs.

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5 Comment(s)

Nurse Writing Nook, BSN, RN

Specializes in NICU (neonatal). Has 17 years experience. 5 Articles; 34 Posts

I loved reading this! What a great story. It really is tough working on the holidays, but it's truly an honor to be a part of these intense and personal times in the lives of these patients and their families. Truly heartwarming. I know that family will always remember that day together and the caring hearts of 8 West.

LanaWRN, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Home Health, EMR, Nurse Educator. Has 16 years experience. 2 Articles; 14 Posts

Thank you! And ironically, just a few days after asking a friend who was a nurse with me there if she remembered this experience she ran into the patient's wife after all these years and they talked about this! 

JBMmom, MSN, NP

Specializes in New NP Hospitalist, Critical care, Med-surg, LTC. Has 10 years experience. 4 Articles; 2,174 Posts

What a wonderful story! Certainly a day that will live in the memories of all involved. We've had weddings in our unit, holiday celebrations and the like. It's always a little heartening to be able to add some humanity to our medical care and focus on the other things that make our patients' lives whole. Thank you for sharing this experience, and for doing all that you did for this patient and his family. 

Lynker, LPN

Specializes in Family Primary Care, LTC, Rehab. Has 3 years experience. 240 Posts

Absolutely beautiful. Just because we're away from our families during holidays (and any other time, for that matter) doesn't mean we can't have fun and make lasting memories with our patients!

amoLucia

amoLucia

Specializes in retired LTC. 7,735 Posts

Reading this late, but I remember our unit working this one weekend when in walks a wedding party - the whole wedding party with some guests. The dtr of one of our nurses was granddtr to one of our elderly LOLs. They just left the church. Plans had been made in advance for lite refreshments and dancing in the decorated LR.  Her Nanny was thrilled and so was the staff.

I used to get a little concerned when newborns would be 'presented' to the 'grands', but all went well then.

Life goes on ...