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Making the Most of a Working Christmas
One of the sad facts of nursing life is that you have to work holidays. Most facilities have you work every other holiday, but that can mean that you are on the floor for Christmas. Some nurses don't mind working holidays because patients need them. However, some nurses resent having to work holidays because it takes away from their time with family. Both are valid points, but going into nursing, most people know they are going to have to work days that they would rather not. What's a nurse to do?
You can stew in your resentment, or you can try to make the best of your situation. Remember, you, patients, and coworkers are all in the same boat. You are all at a place you would rather not be for an important time during the year. Instead of being the quiet, sullen one, perhaps you could be someone who is a force for celebration on the floor. This doesn't mean being Mr. or Ms. Mary (or Marty) Sunshine. It just means accepting the inevitable need to work holidays and making the most of a trying situation.
Unfortunately, some family members may not understand your duty to work holidays. This is especially true of children, but spouses and extended family may not understand either. The trick to navigating Christmas when you have to work is getting flexible. Depending on the shift you work, you can find creative times to celebrate the holiday. If you work days, consider opening presents and having a big meal on Christmas Eve. If you work nights, you can have your celebration on Christmas Day morning and then go get some sleep.
The fact is that you can find a way to accommodate Christmas even if you won't be there for the traditional times. If you have to have Christmas a few days ahead of time, that's okay, too. Kids don't mind when they get presents, and you can keep one or two for the actual day. Be sure to enjoy the decorations, traditions, and present openings whenever you are able to do them. Remember, you are being flexible with your family so that you can take care of the people who are too sick to be home for the holidays. Actually, it is a gift to be able to give that to someone, and focusing on the positive may help you to cope.
One way to celebrate Christmas when you can't be with your family is to decorate your unit. No matter what type of facility you work in, you can bring a festive atmosphere to your environment. Even if you only decorate in the lunchroom, it will still help you and your coworkers remember that it is the season and a time to celebrate. If you can, try to decorate the halls, nurse's station, and entrance hall with Christmas decorations. A tree would be nice, but you can use window clings and tape up streamers. Of course, you should check with your facility to determine their policies on decorating the unit or patient rooms for the holidays. Some places allow for more festive decorations than others, but you should always operate within the facility's policies and procedures.
You also shouldn't forget about the other cultures around Christmas. Some patients don't celebrate the holiday, so be sensitive before bursting into a room with a jolly Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays is preferable, and you should ask the patient how they would like to celebrate the holiday. You can even decorate in patient rooms -- just a little -- to help them feel like they are more a part of the festivities. You can certainly wear pins and hats to decorate yourself for Christmas, although uniform rules do apply. If you have the ability, decorate yourself as well as your unit.
Plan a Party
Nurses love food. In fact, all healthcare workers love food. If you are working Christmas, you may want to plan a party with a ton of food that you and your coworkers can indulge in during breaks. A few days before Christmas, post a flyer asking people to sign up for the party and to indicate what they will bring. It is like having a potluck Christmas, and you will get to experience the cooking of your coworkers. Some nurses bring in crock pots full of food or trays of cookies. Try and drum up support of the party so you can have fun on your Christmas shift.
During the day, invite everyone to the party. Even if someone doesn't bring food, you should still invite them to eat with you. It's Christmas after all. You should also invite doctors, transporters, phlebotomists, and anyone else who is working the holiday with you. So many departments don't have a central location to have a party, and they may miss out. By inviting everyone that comes on your unit, you can spread Christmas cheer and feel more a part of the holiday. Enlist the help of other coworkers so that you are not shouldering all this work alone. Most nurses who have to work Christmas would be relieved to have some fun during their shift.
Celebrate with Patients and Coworkers
Finally, even if you can't or don't want to indulge in holiday cheer, at least try to celebrate with your patients and coworkers. You don't have to be the force for Christmas fun on your unit, but it is great if you are willing to participate. Even if your facility isn't doing anything or is strict, you can still wish a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to those you come in contact with during the day. Remember: if you are sad about being in a facility during Christmas, your coworkers and patients may be, too.
No one wants to work on the happiest day of the year, but when you become a nurse, you take the responsibility of caring for patients 365 days per year. People get sick on the holidays the same as any other day. If it wasn't for the nurses who sacrifice their time and their holiday, those people would not get the care they need. Be mindful of the fact that the people around you may benefit from a good Christmas shift, and you may feel good giving them a happy day despite their circumstances.
By Lynda Lampert, RN
All nurses USA
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