By Peggy McDaniel, BSN, RN, infusion practice manager

As a long-time pediatric nurse who’s spent many a Christmas at the hospital, I have special memories, many of which still make me smile years later. Some of these are bittersweet, as suffering and pain do not stop for such days. One of my favorite shifts involved a little boy and some reindeer antlers. 

I was working a 12-hour night shift as a traveler in a small community hospital. We got a call from the ED to admit a four-year-old boy who was extremely anemic due to unknown causes. When this child arrived, I realized he was very ill and probably would only spend Christmas Eve night with us. He needed to be stabilized, then would move on to a regional children’s hospital for further diagnosis and treatment. I had taken to work some reindeer antlers that sported little jingle bells; because the little boy’s condition had kept me very busy throughout the shift, I had almost forgotten I was wearing them and had kept them on until a headache forced me to remove them early Christmas morning.

After receiving blood through the night, my patient perked up a bit. Before leaving to sleep away my Christmas day (I was returning that night), I entered his room to do my final assessment and make sure all was well. He said, “I dweamt there was a waindeau in my woom last night.” With a wink I answered, “Just a second, I may know something about that.” I left the room and quickly retrieved the antlers that I had forgotten at the nurse’s station, and then placed them on my head. As I walked back into his room a huge smile greeted me, along with these words, “Oh, you were the waindeau in my dweams!” 

I placed the antlers on his head, and got even a bigger grin as I told him to take care of them for me. When I returned to work that night, he was gone, and although I never found out how he did, his open smile and lack of the ability to say his “r’s” returns to me every year around this time. 

Like me, I’m sure most of you would prefer not to work holiday shifts. The extra pay used to motivate me, but dollars have become much less important for me than spending time with family and friends. This time of year has become more precious to me every year. As the New Year unfolds, we all start planning ahead, no matter what career we have chosen. Many nurses, because of the demands of shift work, must plan around working a number of holidays. I remember sitting down with a calendar before year’s end, pondering my holiday schedule requests for the following year. Are there personal days that you request not to work but sometimes must? What about working on your birthday?

Being part of a hospital work force often means nurses must work outside their comfort zone, whether this is related to a certain day or time. Have you found a balance, a “happy place,” when it comes to working shifts?

Each of us holds a special memory or two in our hearts because of the patients and families we have touched while working a shift that we’d have preferred to have off. Maybe that’s what we receive in return, besides the paycheck—a story that we can share or hold in our hearts.

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