As a nurse, I have worked my share of holidays over the years. And to be honest, when I made my career choice I was so immersed in my studies, and excited about my chosen path, that I had never given any thought to how my career choice would impact holiday traditions. But as a nursing assistant during my college years, I had my first experience with working holidays that, until then, had been sacred family time. While my family gathered together at my parent’s home, I was donning my uniform and heading off to work the 3-11 shift on Christmas Eve.
I’ll admit that that first Christmas Eve was a tough one for me. I remember leaving my apartment feeling a bit sorry for myself for what I was missing back at my parent’s house. But what I gained that night on the nursing unit was priceless. I learned that regardless of the date on the calendar, beds were occupied with people who were counting on me to bring them my best. I learned that, as tough as it was for me to miss events at home, it was much harder for the patients. After all, they were not only missing holidays with their families, they were feeling physically and emotionally compromised, scared and vulnerable. I learned that, as part of a committed team, I needed to bring my best every day and pull my fair share. And that meant working some holiday shifts. But the best lessons were delivered by a trifecta comprised of a patient, a co-worker and my manager.
“Evelyn” was a patient who, after undergoing open heart surgery acquired an infection that required her to stay with us for months. Her children lived far away and her husband could only visit short periods for health reasons of his own. As I was getting her ready for bed, we chatted about her favorite Christmas traditions. When I re-positioned her in bed, I moved her poinsettia to be within her line of site so she could enjoy it. As I went to leave the room, she took my hand and said that I had made her day. Our little talk had made her feel like she was reliving her holiday traditions.
Lori was one of the nurses on our team who I admired so much for her wonderful way with patients. She was smart, efficient and compassionate. She was a wonderful role model and I wanted to be just like her. After wrapping up a very busy shift that night, she gave me a hug and said, “I’m so glad we could spend this holiday together. I always feel so blessed to be here on Christmas with our patients. It’s a sacred time isn’t it? Our patients remind me of why this work is so important.” Now that was a shift in perspective for me.
Then at about 10:45 PM our nurse manager showed up all decked out for midnight mass. She said she wanted to stop by and see how things were going for her “A-team”. She made it a point to arrive at a time when she’d interact with both the PM shift and night shift. She took a minute during report to thank us for being there for our patients and to let us know how much she appreciated the sacrifices we make for the profession, the organization and our unit.
These three people left a lasting impression on me and helped me shift my perspective on working the holidays. It’s been over 30 years since that night, but I still think of them every Christmas Eve and am grateful for the lasting gift they gave to me.