A Nurse’s Glimpse into the Human Condition on Christmas Eve
December 2013
David Vlahov

When I think of the last two weeks of December, I look back to my days as a harried clinical nurse in a large, busy hospital. During that time of year, as many patients as possible were discharged to be home with family and significant others. The few who had to remain were moved together so that as many staff as possible could be given time off for the holidays. There was a type of lottery to see who would have time off, but I often volunteered to work Christmas Eve.

I remember coming into work those nights – some years there was a crispness in the air that comes with fresh snow on the ground – and giving a quick wave to the unhurried front desk as I rode up to my floor in an uncharacteristically empty elevator. When the elevator doors swooshed open, I looked towards a glow of light at the end of a long, darkened and muted hallway; the light was coming through the glass windows in the doors leading to the makeshift ward of those who could not be home. As I moved to the light, the volume of monitor alarm beeps and the rhythmic mechanical breaths of a ventilator rose from a muffle to a tune that accompanied now audible conversations.

There were few visitors remaining. Some were already in their overcoats, leaning over a family member to say hurried good-byes, anxious to be on their way. Other visitors delayed until the last possible moment. I remember one in particular, an older gentleman with white hair and rimless glasses, who was undisturbed by everything going on around him. He sat quietly, facing and conversing with his wife, as if they were at home, sitting side by side on a love seat. One nurse spoke gently and soothingly with her patient and his family, who were reluctant to leave; at another bedside, another nurse comforted a patient who had no visitors at all.

I made my way to the nursing station, where my hospital friends came over to say hello, offer me a slice of fruitcake, wish me a happy holiday and give report. When the shift turned over and the day nurses left, the last of the remaining family members said their good-byes.

Now only the evening shift remained. For the rest of the night, in the quiet and darkened hospital, we stayed close to our patients as they expressed their anxieties and fears, related their life stories and shared their hopes and dreams. My memories of those special hours are among the most cherished and meaningful of my entire career.

In this season, I urge you to take time to reflect on your experiences. Remember how much of a difference you make in caring for others – and how much better they make you both as a nurse and as a human being.

Best wishes for a happy holiday.

Comments

Thank you, Dave, for as we rush from place to place completing our various tasks, I appreciate you for bringing to the fore the spirit of the holiday season and the essence, purpose, and gift that is nursing. - Judy
I remember those nights working during holidays, the crispness in the air. Staying close to people no matter where we find ourselves this is art! Happy holidays to all the wonderful UCSF people in the word:)
Thanks Dean Vlahov for bringing back our daily bread memories and experiences as nurses in various ways of which we treasure. When I am at the bed side or taking care of our seniors in homes, or in delivery room with a mother and her family expecting their newborn, or listening to a call from an individual who needs my attention, what more reward can I ask of a happy Christmas holiday! Our lives, minds and hands touches many individuals through healing process by our presence in their midst of that moment by our empathy, kindness, and support of their emotions they are going through. I have no regret of being of service at this holiday season on night shift taking care of our seriors who have limited movement to do things or celebrate the holiday they used too! My presence was of joy and comfort. Thanks to the gift of nursing profession as we celebrate this holiday season. Alphoncina.

Featured Articles

June 2015
Howard Pinderhughes and the Hope Dealers – Sociologist Howard Pinderhughes has dedicated his career to preventing violence and its impact on the health of individuals and communities. His latest book – rooted in 15 years of community-based research – adds another level of analysis to the discussion.
June 2015
A Broader Vision of Public Health: UC San Francisco School of Nursing and Tenderloin Safe Passage – By working with a coalition of neighborhood groups focused on protecting children in one of San Francisco’s highest-crime areas, students in a public health nursing program gain hands-on experience that expands their skill set for addressing issues of population health.
May 2015
New Blueprint Seeks to Improve Patient Safety During Childbirth – In the United States, maternal mortality rates are on the rise. Audrey Lyndon and her colleagues studied the problem and have created a blueprint for improving communication and patient safety in maternal health care.
May 2015
Can Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Fill California’s Provider Gap? – In California, there are not nearly enough mental health providers. County-run programs are particularly hard-pressed to meet the needs of the severely mentally ill. Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) have the right skill set to help, but can counties make full use of those skills?
May 2015
Across the World – A former UC San Francisco School of Nursing faculty member runs into a former student at a boutique hotel and cultural center she runs in southwest China.