Christmas magic can be felt in many places this time of year. It can be felt when Christmas carols are sung in church on Sunday and when gingerbread is baking in the oven. Christmas lights sparkle and familiar smells bring back fond childhood holiday memories. Excited little ones with wide smiles open gifts and are so happy. For a little while, it seems troubles and worries are forgotten. The stress of everyday life is gone. Life is good.
Unless you’re a nurse. Bridgett pulls into the salted snowy parking lot at Smyth Memorial Hospital, thinking bitter thoughts and lacking Christmas cheer. There is nothing cheerful about 20-degree weather, icy roads, short staffing and the fact that every good restaurant is closed on Christmas Day. Every year, it’s the same routine. Bridgett volunteers to work a 12-hour shift on Christmas Day. She eats a tasteless dinner of cafeteria ham and flaky mashed potatoes in the break room with her fellow nurses. She sings Christmas carols to the patients, with a look of joy and happiness that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. She will laugh. She will encourage. She will be stern, pushy, polite, firm, patient, caring and compassionate. She may beg, plead, smile, and cry but she will not give up. She will work her hardest and save the lives of not only her patients, but of the lives of others, as well.
This year is no different. Bridgett arrives at her assigned unit on time, prepared for the usual shift, lacking adequate staffing. She is not disappointed-short staffing. “Bridgett! You’re back to play again this year, I see! Don’t you ever have anything better to do than to spend Christmas here?” A coworker and friend, Christine, tries to lighten the mood in Smyth Memorial’s Progressive Care Unit. “Oh, you know I can never get enough of this place and all of your smiling faces,” Bridgett responds with a playful grin. She gathers her nursing necessities and begins her shift with a smile and as much holiday cheer as she can muster. What many people don’t know is that Bridgett volunteers to work the holidays because being home alone reminded her painful memories of the past. Caring for others on Christmas can at least make her feel useful and needed.
Bridgett’s shift begins like any other. Medication rounds at 1000, 1200, 1400, and 1700. Wound care, and other duties in between. It’s not so busy, it being a holiday. No consults and less staff. Her patients are pleasant and families come and go to visit. Christine had informed her earlier that there were cookies and cider for the families, courtesy of the nursing staff. Bridgett made a point to hand out the goodies to the visiting families.
While caring for her patients throughout her shift, Bridgett makes a connection with an elderly lady, Sue. Sue had insisted much earlier in the day that her family go home and spend Christmas away from the hospital. With the reassurance that Bridgett would attend to Sue’s every want and need, Sue’s family left with promises to call later that night. Bridgett stayed true to her word and made sure Sue had everything she needed. Bridgett made frequent stops by Sue’s room to be sure the sweet lady was okay. Sue was a special lady. At the young age of 92, Sue had experienced it all. She was wise, kind and patient. Bridgett wished she could be the kind of woman that Sue was. While talking with Sue during one of her frequent visits, Bridgett confided this to the elderly woman. Bridgett told her of her troubles and struggles of her career and of how she wished she could experience the magic of Christmas again that everyone seemed to love so much.
“True magic resides in the heart of those, like yourself, who serve others so sacrificially, not only on Christmas but all year long.”
It was at that moment that Sue would change Bridgett’s perception of herself. Wonderful, wise, Sue said, “Why, Bridgett! True magic resides in the heart of those, like yourself, who serve others so sacrificially, not only on Christmas but all year long. Your compassion and ability to love unconditionally is a special gift.” Sue suggested that maybe working the holidays and caring for others was actually allowing Bridgett’s heart time to heal from her painful past. After the talk with Sue, Bridgett’s mood lightened considerably. Now, the mashed potatoes didn’t seem so flaky, and the Christmas carols were sung with more joy.
On the way home after her 12-hour shift, Bridgett was smiling for the first time in a while on Christmas day. She had found her Christmas magic. Maybe people come into our lives for a reason. Our patients teach us just as much as we, nurses, teach them. Remain joyful and have compassion. Make the best of this holiday season, as Bridgett has. Merry Christmas!