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3 Ways Healthcare Professionals Can Enjoy the Holidays with Family

It’s the time of year where things are a bit more festive. Christmas lights shine brightly on houses. Stores and Malls are jam packed with shoppers looking for the perfect gifts. Holiday music is playing everywhere from the gas station, to the office at work (like it is right now for me), and the surround sound in your home. Families and Friends gather to eat great food, exchange gifts, make Christmas cookies, and most of all enjoy some quality time together.


A majority of those in the workforce get Holidays off to enjoy these special times, but an elite few don’t quite get the same experience – this group of working professionals include (but are not limited to) Police officers, Firemen, and Healthcare Workers. The world doesn’t stop because it is Christmas…Emergencies don’t take the day off, people still commit crimes, and inevitability gets sick and/or need medical care. When these people work on the holidays, it affects not only the working professional but their families too!

As the daughter of a nurse, I remember eating Thanksgiving Dinner at 11 am so that my mom could get some sleep before having to work an NOC shift or times where she couldn’t even join us at the table because she was working, so we dropped off leftovers at the Hospital instead. I remember having her wake up early to celebrate the “New Year” with us before she went to her 1030p shift on New Year’s Eve. However, none of the memories beat waiting ‘patiently’ on Christmas Morning for Mom to get home from work so that we can open our gifts from Santa and the family under the Christmas tree. Our timeline at Christmas was always a little adjusted to fit mom’s work schedule, but it’s a tradition that we still follow relatively closely to this day.

My grandparents have always come into town for Christmas for as long as I can remember. They live about 1.5 hours away and therefore usually arrive on Christmas Eve and stay until December 26th. On Christmas Eve, we all go to mass at 3PM (usually arriving much earlier to save our seats in the pew because the Church is always busting at the seams and getting in trouble for saving seats because my Night-shift Working mom slept until 220p so she probably isn’t going to arrive until right before mass starts) and then head back home to have a tasty Italian dinner. (Spaghetti was my picky little sister’s favorite meal and at 25 she isn’t as picky anymore, but we still have our Spaghetti every Christmas Eve).

That night after dinner, my mom usually would head back to bed for a nap while we play games, watch Christmas movies, and occasionally put on the corniest Christmas “Concert” ever. Sleeping arrangements were always imaginative. The 3 girls were in one bedroom, my grandparents in another and my brother and dad usually slept in my parent’s room while mom worked and on Christmas Morning we weren’t allowed to step foot downstairs until Mom got home. My Grandma Donna did her best to keep us occupied. We played games, sang songs, and complained (as young children do) because we just wanted to see what Santa put in our stockings. In hindsight, I realize that we were waiting for Mom to get home so she didn’t miss out on these important family memories and even though she was normally home by 730, there were a few times she wasn’t there right away. As we all know, when a nurse doesn’t leave work on time there is typically an issue with a patient that stalled their departure. As we got older, we were allowed to at least be in the Kitchen (no peeking!), maybe enjoy some coffee with Grandpa and even on occasion my mom would come home and wake us up because all her teens and pre-teens were still sleeping.

I never really thought about it until this very moment- on Christmas Day after mom worked an NOC shift, she rarely went to bed; maybe for a few hours after 3 pm while Christmas Dinner was cooking, but that was it. There was one Christmas when I was probably 10 years old, that mom broke the garbage disposal and it took hours to fix! My Grandpa (an electrician) and Dad (not an electrician) worked long and hard under the sink until they had it working again. I don’t think mom got any sleep that day because trying to prep a full meal without a Kitchen sink is nearly impossible. Luckily, as a family we were always able to manipulate our schedules to accommodate my Mom’s work schedule as best we could and as the years passed, mom stopped having to work nights and mandated holidays, but she still went in to check on her team, make sure their needs were met, and pitch in as needed.

As a healthcare worker, managing holiday work schedule can be difficult at times. There are a few things that can be done to accommodate you or your family and still make it special.

 

Enjoy the Perks
A majority of healthcare companies will recognize the holiday and compensate you for working. Usually, this is typically achieved by a holiday bonus or additional hourly compensation (time and a half, double time or even triple time in some cases).

Potlucks and other holiday goodies are a general practice in most departments. Everything from cookies, chocolate and other yummy holiday treats to full meals and special food are brought into units from the facility, managers, patient families and those working to share with all and make the working holiday even more enjoyable. If your unit doesn’t do something like this, consider being the ring leader and get your holiday “party” started yourself!

 

Make it Special
Be festive! Hopefully, your unit has holiday decorations displayed or the patient rooms have been decorated – if not, there are other ways. Listen to holiday music quietly in the nurse’s station while charting. Wish the patients, coworkers, and visitors happy holidays as often as you can. Keep morale high! Patients don’t want to be stuck in a healthcare facility just as much as you do not want to be.

Patients will likely have visitors on the holidays, sometimes more than expected. Make sure the rooms are comfortable by adding some extra chairs if needed and clutter free with only the essentials accessible for patient care for the safety of the patient and the visitor. Check in with the patient frequently to make sure that their needs are being met and it isn’t too overwhelming for them. This may be one of the few days of the year the entire family is together and if it needs to be celebrated in the hospital or LTC facility – so be it (as long as it follows facility policy)!

If a patient doesn’t receive any visitors, spend a little extra time with them. Ask them about their holiday traditions when they were younger if they are interested or able to talk. Typically the holiday has less commotion and the hustle and bustle of a normal day is a little less. Take the patient for a walk or a push in the wheelchair to give them a change of scenery – it is the perfect little Christmas present. Also, don’t forget to smile and hide your own grouchiness from the patients, especially because you get to go home and see your family after your shift.

 

Plan Ahead or Celebrate on “off” Days
Missing Family events can be difficult and while it may be a bit tricky, many professionals that work the holidays will reschedule their celebration to accommodate their schedule; sometimes pushing it back a little later or celebrating earlier and at times rescheduling for a different day all together. Besides, holidays are about being with family, the date or specific holiday doesn’t necessarily matter as long as you’re all together.

Some facilities will allow your family to come visit for a few minutes. Obviously, patient care always comes first at work, but if your family is local and can gather together with you on a break it always makes for a special day.

I asked my mom the other days how she coped with working the holidays and her response was simple yet made complete sense and I’m sure others feel the same:

There is nothing to “cope” with because as a nurse people need us. It’s a calling that people choose to care for those who can’t take care of themselves and working the holidays is just one of things that come with the package. If I didn’t want to work the holidays, then I would have chosen a different path 36 years ago. Luckily my family and friends appreciate and understand that what I do isn’t about me or them. It’s the support and love that I receive from them that allowed me to leave my home and be with people who are most likely having one of worst holidays of their lives. If they can’t be home for their holiday, then I can give 8-12 hours of mine to be there for them.

The Holiday season is a special time of year – A special thank you to all those this holiday season that put the needs of others above the needs of themselves and families.