Hospitals don’t have the luxury of shutting down during the holidays.
So, what’s the nurse who treasures celebrating the holidays with family and friends to do?
The answer? Get creative.
That can mean anything from moving the date of the annual family gathering to changing the traditional meal of turkey and all the trimmings to Chinese takeout.
C.J. Metzger, a med/surgical nurse at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, says her secrets to a successful holiday are pre-planning, time management and flexibility. And she should know.
C.J. has worked in the Piedmont hospital system for about 10 years and has been “celebrating the holidays around a hospital schedule for quite a while now.”
Part of her strategy is to start shopping for gifts early to avoid the last-minute rush and stress. C.J. also sets out to nail down everyone’s availability as early as possible and isn’t wed to the idea of the family Christmas on Dec. 25.
Last year, for instance, her family rented a cabin in early December and spent several days bonding and just having fun.
“We decided being together as a family was more important than buying each other gifts,” she said. “We didn’t have to stress about purchasing gifts, and we all got a vacation. It was a win all the way around.”
Davena Sanders, an assistant nurse manager in the emergency department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes-Spalding, works the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift and considers herself “truly a night owl.”
When her children were little, the family developed a tradition that’s still in place today: open one gift together before Davena leaves for her Christmas Eve shift.
“It was always pajamas, so Santa would see you in your finest sleepwear,” she said.
The family is wide awake and raring to open the rest of the gifts when Davena gets home at 7 a.m. Then, it’s off to church and back home for a holiday dinner of Chinese food before Davina’s next shift on Christmas night. (She’s just too tired to cook.)
“To this day,” Davena said recently, “my kids expect new pajamas every Christmas.”
Nurse Phoebe Parades, her mom and six siblings sit down to eat their Christmas Day meal at noon, hours before she heads out to work the night shift in the emergency room at Piedmont Fayette Hospital.
The Latino-American family dines on a meal with an ethnic flare: turkey, ham, dressing, kipes, pastelitos and tres leches.
“We play board games, have music playing in the background, decorate the house, and just really enjoy being together,” Phoebe said.
Other nurses go all out, including Darlene M. Moore, executive director of nursing, medical and surgical services at WellStar’s Kennestone Hospital.
“I love decorating, baking and entertaining, and I love visiting with my friends,” she said.
Darlene starts out early shopping and decorating her house and yard down to Christmas drapes.
She’s fired up the oven and started her holiday baking before Thanksgiving.
But if you thought juggling Christmas and a nurse’s busy schedule was complicated, consider what Melissa Page’s family goes through.
Melissa, a pediatric nurse in the emergency room at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston Hospital, and her firefighter husband were in a real quandary last year about a time for Santa’s visit. One was working Christmas Eve, the other Christmas Day.
“We were racking our brains two days before Christmas and completely stressing ourselves out,” Melissa said.
Then came their Epiphany: pull out the gifts and surprise the children two days early.
“Their faces were priceless when we burst into their rooms and woke them up yelling that Santa Claus had come,” Melissa said. “They all took it in stride, which is a testament to how great my family is at rolling with the difficulties of managing a houseful of people with odd schedules.”
Even with all that’s on their plates, many nurses in metro Atlanta squeeze in time to bake and cook for a holiday party with co-workers, and even patients.
Since 2006, the Neonatal ICU at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been handing out cookies.
The tradition started with 19 Children’s staff members baking seven dozen of their family’s traditional holiday cookies. Fast forward more than a decade and 46 staff members are now each making 10 dozen cookies.
“On the day of the cookie exchange, all staff working – from doctors to housekeepers — go home with a handmade cookie container from the Healing Hearts Committee,” said Angie Hawthorne, a clinical nurse expert in the Scottish Rite Neonatal unit. “Planning for this big event begins in June when the bakers start declaring which cookie they will make that year.”
The exchanges are a huge hit. Beginning in October, the children of employees want to know the date of the exchange, Angie said. They want to make sure they’re home from college in time, she said.
Holidays spent at work can be memorable, said
Ida Anderson, executive director of nursing for WellStar Kennestone’ s cardiac, neuro and trauma units.
One of her favorite Thanksgiving memories is a meal she had at work with her team and patients, Ida said. “We all brought dishes, and the food was amazing,” she said.
At home, Ida said, her secret to juggling the holidays is to honor traditions with family and friends.
“Pick the one or two most meaningful events and never miss them,” she said.
Ida’s family designates at least one evening to make holiday treats to deliver to family and friends.
They also open one gift on Christmas Eve.
That way even if she must work the holiday, the family had Christmas Eve together.
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