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.
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.