I would rather eat nails than try to put together a holiday schedule for a group of crabby nurses….
Those of you who work traditional non-shift work type jobs may have never considered this, but hospitals must stay open 24-7/365. And someone has to work each and every one of those shifts.
Even Christmas day.
The scheduling requests can start rolling in on the nurse managers desk in the beginning of October. Of course who got what, is based on seniority, timing of request, what holidays you previously worked and so on.
So when the schedule was posted for December that year, it was an immediate flurry of activity as though a farmer had just spread corn outside a chicken house.
This did not affect me much. I was staffed through our in house agency. I was “float pool” so I got to pick and choose shifts, based on the needs. I didn’t join the hen party around the newly posted schedule.
Later that shift I found one of my co-workers in the bathroom crying. She tried to wave me off but I got some cheap scratchy tissues and demanded she tell me what was wrong.
Tabitha was only a couple of years older than me. We were just kids really, but our lives were on different tracks. Tabby was already married and had three young children. I was not, and still enjoying being my parent’s spoiled “baby girl”. Tabby’s husband had walked out on her three months ago and this was going to be her first Christmas as a single mother. And because she had used all her PTO and sick time during this crisis, she was scheduled to work 7-3 on Christmas day.
It was her first Christmas alone, she had no family in town to help her and three young children.
I sat there in horror as she cried.
And before I could even think, I hear the words fall right of my mouth, “I’ll cover your shift for you Christmas day.”
Tabby looked at me with her brown eyes as big as saucers. “what?”
“You heard me, I’ll take your shift. You need to be home with your kiddo’s. I don’t have any kids. I can work.”
She finally stopped crying and we wondered if the Nurse Manager would allow us to make the trade. We trudged down the hall to her office and it was a done deal, except I got roped into pulling a double since I was the house “good Samaritan” and another single mom who was scheduled 3-11 had asked off too. I groaned, but I was now trapped I had to do it. Tabby’s relief and joy were almost enough to make me not feel so sick to my stomach.
Christmas Day was sacred at our house. It was my parents favorite holiday. We had traditions! Rituals! We sat up half the night to call family members across the world to wish them Merry Christmas in their time zones. Now I had ruined Christmas for my own family. I avoided my parents like the plague for several days.
When I finally went over to my parents house, my mom took one look at me and said, “what have you done?” When I confessed my crime of ruining Christmas and why I did it. my parents just smiled. I was not disowned. “We will be fine.” my dad said, “We can bring you dinner to the hospital.” My mom added.
Christmas morning arrived to find me getting report in the conference room with the night shift who could not wait to get out of there and the day shift who did not want to be here. But there were patients to care for and only the sickest of the sick had not been discharged for the holiday.
At around eleven AM my mother called and wanted to know if it was okay for them to head my way with food. I thought it was a little early but they were driving forty minutes across town to the hospital where I worked so I told her to come on. I still had one patient to get ready for the day and I thought I had plenty of time. This elderly lady had been with us for days. She had come out of the Cardiac Care Unit to our telemetry floor after a massive heart attack. She was very weak and still having irregularities on the monitor and remained on strict bedrest. She begged me to help her put on her own pretty robe over her hospital gown. I smiled and ran her IV lines through the sleeves and combed her hair. Her family had not been to see her since she got out of the unit. I shook my head thinking of that and got her lipstick out at her request. I prayed that her family would show up today. Or at least call her! This sweet lady thanked me profusely for getting her dressed and said with a voice full of hope, “I’m sure my son will be here soon!” I hoped she was right. I could not imagine her disappointment if no one showed up.
I left her room feeling sad again and heard a clatter coming down the hall. I looked up and what to my wondering eyes did appear but my father! Wearing a Santa hat and pushing a cart loaded down with food! I laughed and laughed and thought of the little Tupperware dish I had envisioned. I should have known better! My mother was giggling and appeared to be his designer elf in her perfectly matched silk outfit and shoes. She had adorned her perfectly set hair with a poinsettia flower for this occasion. And of course her nail polish and lipstick matched that poinsettia perfectly!
I could not stop laughing and directed them to our nurses conference room. What had been a chamber of doom just a few hours ago was transformed now into a holiday buffet of joy as my mother spread out a table cloth and set up dessert’s while my father prepared to carve an entire turkey.
My Dad was in his element carving the bird expertly for a crowd of adoring nurses and I noticed my mother had disappeared. I slipped out to find her.
In my elderly patients room I found my mom. She was sitting on the side of the bed holding the hand of a lonely old woman. She had a basket with her full of little crocheted stockings she had made and stuffed with nice soap and matching lotions she was giving out along with a dose of her Christmas love and joy.
My mom had experienced several major illness’ during her life and knew all to well how sick you had to be to get stuck in the hospital on Christmas.
My elderly patient had a death grip on my mother’s hand and would not let go. My mom sat there patiently, quietly reassuring her that it was ok.
Finally the elder said, “But who are you and why did you come see me?”
My mom smiled and said, “My daughter is your nurse today. She told me you would enjoy a visit. My name is Connie.”
“You did a good job with that girl.”
My mother kept smiling and her face just beamed with pride.
I slipped away because I was afraid to spoil this moment for them, plus I was about to cry. My heart was full of conflicting emotions: joy at feeling loved and appreciated, anger at this poor ladies absentee family, sorrow for her loneliness, pride that the stranger bringing her such comfort was my own dear sweet mother…My mother, whose life dream was to be a nurse, but she never got the opportunity to go to college or nurses training. My mother, who had glowed during my graduation and cried through my nurses pinning ceremony.
I wandered back towards the conference room towards laughter and wonderful aroma’s of food when I noticed my charge nurse sitting alone manning the desk. “Marge, go fix a plate and enjoy my crazy parents! I’ll watch the desk for a minute” Marge bolted. I sat down. I didn’t think a single call light would go off. Not with the well dressed elf of joy out there spreading her light and magic around.
I sat there listening to the laughter and my favorite line from the Grinch popped into my head, “Perhaps Christmas does not come from a store, perhaps Christmas is a little bit more…”
And perhaps Christmas is more than family traditions, or even special meals.
Perhaps Christmas is bringing the Joy of the Season to who ever needs it most and where ever they are.
I dedicate this post to my Mom and Dad, Edgar and Connie Haase. There are nurses from MMC, who still remember you and the joy you brought to us and our patients as we worked on Christmas Day.