Christmas Eve, 2012

I typically work on Christmas Eve and have done so for as long as I can remember in my nursing career. I don’t have kids, so I don’ t mind working the night that parents are playing Santa and hoping that they can get the bikes and various toys put together with a minimum of aggravation. I’ve spent all but the past 3 years working in adult ICUs – not a place most think of as having any sort of magical qualities.

You’ve never worked a Christmas Eve in an ICU. There is a magic in the air that is almost palpable.

Turning down the overhead lights was nothing new. We tried to simulate night time for our patients so that they could stay on some sort of normal circadian rhythm in their sedated hazes. Lights were off in the rooms…Now, add to that our Christmas decorations. We usually had lights on our tree, lights strung around the edges of the desks, anywhere we could put them that didn’t make the maintenance folks upset. Every radio station was playing Christmas music non-stop. We’d decide on a station (usually the only one our little radios could get to come in!) and turn the music up so it could be heard in the background of the various phones ringing, the pneumatic tube system sending labs off or delivering from Pharmacy, our talking – which we really did try to keep down as much as possible. In the patient rooms, unless there was a known religious reason to not do so, we found the Christmas music radio station on the TVs and put them on low enough to be heard over the sounds of the ventilators, the oxygen delivery systems, the beeping pumps, and the monitor alarms (but we could always hear those alarms, even in our sleep).

For that one night, it seemed that I gave less sedation, less pain medication. For that one night, it seemed that even the most critical patient in the unit was just a bit more stable. For that one night, even if the unit was full, it seemed that the workload wasn’t so bad. I’d sing along to the carols or classic songs I grew up listening to while I worked with my patients, bathing them, turning them, giving scheduled medications. Some of us would try to get the Google or NORAD Santa Tracker up on a few computers at the desks and I’d give my patients updates as to where Santa was throughout the shift, even if those updates were whispered into a sedated, ventilated patient’s ear.

I had hoped to be working in a Neuro ICU this Christmas Eve, but I’m still down in the PACU. That environment isn’t as magical to me because we, along with the OR crew, hope that no one gets the “gift” of emergency surgery tonight. While I never wished for any of my patients to be in the ICU over the holidays, the atmosphere is completely different from that of the PACU.

Still, I’ll bring in my Christmas coffee mug, some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to brew, and a couple of holiday-flavored creamers. I’ll make it as magical as I can…

…and maybe I’ll go up to the ICUs to see if that feeling still permeates the air on this special night.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

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