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.