Evening Shift, Christmas Eve: A Nursing Memory

By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief

One of my fondest memories of working Christmas Eve was after an evening shift at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. This was at the “old Bellevue Hospital,” when it still occupied a series of red brick buildings along the East River.

I had finished my evening shift in the ER, which was one of the busiest in the nation. It had been a crazy–busy night and I was too wired to just go home and sleep, so I decided to stop in the chapel for midnight mass. I was surprised to see my friend Helen there, since she was Jewish. I knew Helen always volunteered to work over the Christmas holiday so those who celebrated could be with their families, but I didn’t know that after work she’d go to the chapel to listen to the Christmas music, which apparently she loved.

We sat together, enjoying the quiet, calm pace of the service and the music. Helen knew all the words and sang along; she had a beautiful voice. Staff, visitors, and some patients (wearing the classic blue-and-white-striped Bellevue bathrobes—like draw sheets, these were hard to come by) shuffled in and out during the hour, clinicians sometimes leaving hurriedly after being summoned by a beeper.

Illustration for "A Change of Heart," AJN, December, 2014, by Lisa Dietrich for AJN.

Illustration for “A Change of Heart,” AJN, December, 2014, by Lisa Dietrich

On the way out of the hospital, we popped into the ER to see how things were going—like us, that, too, had calmed down. Someone had brought in food (there was always food on holiday shifts), so after grabbing a bite to eat and visiting for a bit, commiserating about working on holidays, Helen and I went back to our apartments to sleep and get ready for the next day’s work.

It’s a memory that always stuck with me and became one of my fondest memories of Helen, who died two years ago. In our December issue last year, we published an essay, “A Change of Heart,” in our Reflections column. It dealt with a nurse’s feelings about working on Christmas yet again and being apart from her family. We’ve all been there—and we welcome you to share your memories.


Editor-in-chief, AJN


  1. Sandra Lewenson December 23, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you Shawn for remembering Helen and our days at Bellevue! When I worked in Virginia at the Norfolk health department, I got to play Santa on Christmas Day as I took on the early morning visits to those needing care. It was with great joy that I did so and remembering back reminds me of the meaning of season. Peace to all.

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  3. Mary Anne Rizzolo, EdD, RN, ANEF, FAAN December 24, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Thanks for sharing your Christmas memory Shawn. I remember working on my first Christmas eve as a nurse at Mt. Sinai in NYC. As a staff member for only 6 months, I was low man on the totem pole for working the holiday. I thought I would be sad since I would be missing the celebrations with my family and fiancé, and was surprised that I was not sad at all. It felt good to know that I could be there for the people in my care. I could go home at the end of my shift. They could not. It was one of the first times I really felt like a nurse. Thanks for resurrecting that memory Shawn. Happy Holidays to all…..

  4. Joyce, RN, OCN December 23, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    A beautiful and generous memory. Thank you. My blog today, www,onbeinganurse:Christmas is everywhere,wordpress,com, shares my memories of working Christmas or Hanukkah shifts for the younger mothers so they could be home with their family. It was never a problem with my school age children. We managed around my hours.

    Joyce, RN

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