Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

A little Christmas corner at my desk
The culture around Christmas in pediatrics is sticky and sad at times.  Nobody wants a kid to be sick anytime, let alone around the holidays, and that's the sad bit.  And most kids getting care over the holidays are very sick.  The sticky part is making hospitals and clinics places that are festive yet functional, warm yet professional, happy while acknowledging of the dead seriousness that families are facing.

One of my first Christmases as a nurse I was promoted for desperate staffing purposes then demoted immediately after.  One isn’t ready to be the charge nurse until the more senior nurses don’t want to work a holiday.  Understandably, only the sickest of kids are hospitalized over the holidays and the care  is more complicated and potentially fraught with disaster, and managed by the least experienced nurses.  But we all know how nurses roll.  We rise to the task as one would expect.  I've been lucky to work in places that strongly supported nursing and with some very good karma my working Christmases have been busy and complicated but never dangerous.  That was the Christmas when I put my big girl pants on in caring for a dying boy.

Since then I think mostly about his parents on Christmas eve and the privilege it was to share their family's very intimate experience.   I wasn’t his regular caregiver prior to the holiday and after Christmas, although I was added to his team of nurses, I was benched in favor of his regular nurses. He died a week or so after Christmas.  I sobbed at his funeral along with his friends and family because I was too green to know how unhelpful that was to his parents.  One of those “didn’t know what I didn’t know” things before I became a parent myself. 

My few days off this year are nothing compared to my school nurse winter breaks that went on forever, but that didn't always feel great. Leaving for a two week holiday as a school nurse, I knew that many of my kids were not going to enjoy the holidays like my own children would.  Their parents would still need to work and often their family chaos didn't observe Christmas, so they would likely be left alone a lot or farmed out to last minute child care or even end up being the child care for younger siblings for the full two weeks.  Gifts and celebrations are typically sparse in the lives of kids who find comfort in their school health offices with regularity.  It's a needy bunch.  It seemed harsh to be there so fully for them five days a week and then disappear for two weeks…let alone the summer.    Nursing's a culture and just a few days off feels right.

Watching for Santa over the horizon

So the weight of the season for some falls a little heavier on me since I've become a parent, but at the same time an easy ability to enjoy the little things comes without having to work at it.  All Americans would do well to step back and think about sick kids over the holidays as bad as that may sound.  It would make the lines at the mall seem tolerable and everybody would drive a little less like bats out of hell in the parking lot.


  1. I agree with your sentiments and give added support for people to get their sanity together, especially out in the parking lots. I said to my daughter -- Madison is not usually so mean -- as yet another person did some crazy twisting and stalling with her car and then shouted curse words to us for merely backing out.

    Merry Christmas to the four of you!

  2. I know exactly what you mean about hospitals over the holidays - from both sides of the coin. It's a tricky balance but brilliant nurses make all the difference, so I hope you feel duly appreciated.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Julie. Miss you guys!