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a 365 day a year thing

A really good thing about being busy around the Christmas holidays is that there isn’t a lot of time to spend at Wal-Mart or watching TV viewing Madison Avenue’s idea of the perfect Christmas.  If you work as a home health or hospice nurse, you know how most of America lives and there is a reason they don’t make TV commercials promoting conspicuous spending aimed towards our patients.

When my son was ten, I was working at the cath lab.  He had the worst case of chicken pox I have ever seen outside of the ICU.  It was amazing to see how fast those little pox appeared.  The cath lab where I worked was owned by three groups of physicians.  Each of those groups had a Christmas party that year and of course, the cath lab had their own party.  That was four.  Four dresses, four pairs of shoes, four parties with essentially the same attendees.

Then there were some family obligations, the shopping, the cooking and all the relatives coming into town for Christmas.  I  also had to squeeze in about 8 or 10 hours of work every day because everyone wanted their heart cath done by the end of the year because their deductible had already been paid.

But, the cath lab was closed on Christmas.  I finally got the day off.  I overslept,was too cranky to enjoy my family and felt put upon to stay awake and visit with my favorite people in the world.

This is what I learned that year and it has stayed with me ever since unlike a lot of life’s lessons that I promptly forget.

  1. People are sick 365 days a year.  It is not a coincidence that we are nurses for an equal number of days.
  2. People do not always consider your schedule when they die or get sick.
  3. A party is a party.  Nobody dies if you decline an invitation.
  4. You do not have to wait until Christmas to spend time with your family
  5. Your best friend deserves a present any time you think about it and overlooks it if you don’t kill yourself trying to find the perfect sweater on Christmas eve.
  6. When you are feeling grumpy, fat, unloved and unwanted, visit a nursing home.  You will see how valuable you are at your worst.
  7. The holidays coincide with the flu season.  Take care of yourself.
  8. If you have to choose between spending some time with your 8 yr old or making a sweet potato casserole, buy the casserole.
  9. Gifts from the heart are not found on aisle 7.  Competitive gift giving is a game for the morally vacant.
  10. Christmas inspires charity.  The soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc. are open all year.  Sometimes you’re needed most on a random Wednesday in August.

I wish you all the very best for Christmas.  I hope that the peace and good will you find are lasting.  My life is better because of you.  More importantly, there are a lot of elderly folks living at home comfortably surrounded by their families because of you.  Someone without a family feels less alone this holiday season because of you and you are going to be there next week for those patients who were disappointed when their children couldn’t find the time to visit.  Some of you who are not working will sneak away from the fam and run a plate by a patient you know will be alone.  I know you.  Take your kids.

If you have to work Christmas day, be there for your patients because the example you are setting for your family is more valuable than a new Xbox. The fabric of your family is built upon your continual presence, physical and emotional.  You are not a Mom, a Wife, a husband, a child or Best Friend on holidays only.  Like nursing, its a 365 day kind of thing.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dee McCarraher #

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!
    Yes I’m one of those that took food, presents (socks and flannel shirts) and my children on a Christmas visit.. What it gave me those many years ago was the most wonderful way to explain Santa to a five year old. My son could not understand how Santa could have forgotten my patient. I asked my son if he realized how happy we had made my patient and if it had also made him feel special. He thought for a minute then told me yes. I told him that he and his sister had been Santa then. It taught my children that the spirit of Christmas is giving to those who need a hand and most important do it from your heart.
    This year as the new clinical manager I’m on call till the New Year. This weekend has been difficult, I can only imagine what the next two days might be like. But in his quiet, wonderful way my husband gave my the most wonderful gift of all. I had just finished a call with a patient explaining how to troubleshoot a problem. One that I explained about five times, as I hung up my husband told me “you are really good at that. Do you know you even smile as you talk with them? I’d have lost it after the second time explaining it”
    Wishing you and your the very best.
    Shamrock Blessings

    December 23, 2012

    • Dee, when I get so dumbfounded after all these years because a nurse charts ‘taught lasix’ for 44 consecutive visits, it really helps to have a written reminder of why I go to bat for nurses every day. Your story is about one nurse and a 5 yr old being kind to an elderly patient one Christmas; hardly world peace. But thankfully your story is hardly unique.

      This is nursing as I know it. It isn’t a job or even a career. It is who we are. It is why I stop myself from causing bodily harm to nurses who don’t document weights. There is so much wrong with healthcare in the US but at the level it really counts – the bedside and the home – everything is just as it should be.

      I’d like to hear more of these stories. Who knows? It could be your own life you save if I have enough reminders of what kind of people we really are the next time I read about a nurse teaching insulin injections to a diabetic patient controlled by meds.

      I hope the great Pumpkin is good to you and yours.

      December 24, 2012
  2. Gail #

    I hope the Great Pumpkin is good to you too. Merry Christmas to you and yours. I have never been very good at being politically correct either. What does that mean anyway? The 1st amendment is still in force. I have the right to say Merry Christmas and anyone who doesn’t agree has the right to say “Bah, Humbug.” (I had a Charles Dickens fest last night. I watch all the Scrooge movies I can lay my hands on the weekend before Christmas.) When I was a young (new) nurse, our floor supervisor made sure that I was off every Christmas Eve and Day because I had a young son. The single nurses worked in my place. She was a gruff, professional, no-nonsence RN of the kindest nature. I don’t think I ever really thanked her or appreciated her all those years ago. I am sure she is long deceased, but I would like to leave this message: to all the Eunice Howells still out there, thanks for being you and all the good you do. Merry Christmas.

    December 24, 2012

    • That reminds me of my uncle who passed away just after Thanksgiving and my cousin Sreve. They are Jews and always made it a point to take call on Christian holidays for decades. That gruff cantankerous nurse was obviously used to giving really important things whose value wasn’t recognized at the time. Injections to kids, IV lines, etc.

      Thank you, Eunice Howell.

      Reminds me of a story I have probably told before. 1989 was the worst flu season I can remember. We set records for cold temps in Louisiana. Exxon had an explosion. There were no nurses and more patients than we could handle.

      All my kid wanted gor Christmas was Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles. They were nowhere to be found. Every store had sold out and I was devastated. My 5 year old had told Saanta he wanted them and he just knew Santa would bring them.

      A nurse in the next unit who was tough on us new nurses and everyone else was not on my list of friends or heroes. When I was pulled to MICU, she would give us the worst patients and I would cringe every time she called my name. In fact, I will go on record as saying I thought she was a total bitch.

      Until… That year on Christmas eve when the low had been an unprecedented 8 degrees and roads were icy and slick, she showed up at the hospital on her day off with a bag from Toys R Us. She happened to be shopping when the store brought out a box from the back with the rare TMNTs and she grabbed one of each in the mob scene that followed. Then she drove all out of her way to the hospital to bring them to me. She just handed them off to me and was in her way. No time for her to see the happiness she brought wrapped in celophane.

      Her name is Carmel Thorne and she is right up there with Eunice Howell for taking care of nurses.

      I’m gonna add their names to the searchable tags of this post just in case anyone is ever searching for them.

      December 24, 2012
  3. Gail #

    Let me tell you what Eunice did that even the doctors (ENT Residents) didn’t want to do. Back in the day, we took care of children who had swallowed lye (Drano) and had esophageal strictures. She did the dilations on those children in the treatment room on our floor. She also did the other things you mentioned too. I was pretty much in awe of her for that. OH. And when the 28 day schedule came out, in a ledger book, in INK, that was it!!! You came to work at a quarter till and you left at a quarter after…period; no time clocks. You got paid for 8 hours of work and you did 8 hours of work. Those were the days.

    January 7, 2013

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