Please take a few minutes to read this and try to understand. #PrayingForNina #PrayingForAmber #PresbyStrong
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!
May 17, 1984.
Three grueling years of education at the Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia, PA has come to an end.
I remember going to our graduation breakfast in the hospital’s cafeteria that was put on for us by the school’s alumni association. We excitedly – and nervously – donned our white graduation uniforms, along with our new white shoes and stockings (can’t have scuffs, dirty laces, or runs today!) and walked as a group of 21 soon-to-be graduates to the breakfast. Upon entering the room, I think we all caught out breath in our throats: The sight of the tea roses as table centerpieces was trumped only by the starched white caps with wide black bands sitting at every place set for us. The alumni rose and applauded us as we walked in and took our seats. I honestly don’t remember much about the rest of the breakfast because I was too busy staring at that cap…MY cap…I know they gave us a necklace with a porcelain rose in the center, a pen and pencil set, and a year’s membership to the NEH alumni association.
We spent the rest of the day getting our yearbooks signed, cleaning out our dorm rooms, visiting with classmates we knew we’d not see after this night ended, visiting with our “little sisters” and wishing them luck over the upcoming year…and looking back at 3 years of our lives that we alternately loved and hated. We hated the monthly Wednesday 0500 fire drills in the dorms when we had to be at clinical by 0700 and we were up all night doing care plans, often not rolling into bed until 0200. We hated doing care plans, drug cards, and dissecting our formalin-soaked cats (poor babies). We loved gaining confidence in clinicals as we gained knowledge from the classroom. We loved that we actually had time to sit and talk with our usually elderly patients. We especially loved looking at the freshmen and junior classes, who looked at us as “the lucky seniors” with our two navy-blue bands on our caps. Surely we didn’t ever look as scared as they did! We loved some instructors, feared others, and hoped that still others would retire before our “little sisters” had to suffer through their senior rotations or classes with them. We loved our profession despite the weekends, holidays, and odd hours we knew we’d have to work.
Now we’re lining up in the dorm’s main lobby, the juniors and freshmen students wishing they were in our spot. Little did they know that we were probably scared to death. After tonight’s graduation ceremony, we’d be graduate nurses waiting to take our state board exams. What if we failed?! What if three years of hard work went down the drain on our first try at the boards?! What if we – God forbid – killed someone with a medication error?! I think we imagined every kind of nightmare while we waited for our “Parade of the Roses” to start…
…and now here we are, walking down Allegheny Avenue to the church where we’d be having our graduation ceremony. Since most of our patients were from the neighborhood – and frequent fliers to boot! – they were out in force waving, cheering, and calling out their best wishes for us. We carried a half-dozen tea roses in an arm bouquet, our caps proudly on our heads, our uniforms standing out white against the blue and white of the students who walked behind us. Filing into the church, we sat up on the alter. We sang a couple of songs really badly (we were never known for our singing anyway), listened to speeches, and were suddenly being called up for our diplomas and school pins. Awards were given out, the alma mater was recited, the school song sung, and suddenly it was over. Maybe 90 minutes max and we were finished.
No more dorm-mates. No more text books. No more Sunday night shifts in the library. No more commiserating with classmates about a rotation, an instructor, or a course that was vexing us.
We were graduates of the Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing. Alumnae. Former students.
None of my instructors are teaching any longer. I’m not even sure how many are still alive. The school has changed and they no longer wear caps. Times may change, and I may change fields within critical-care nursing, but I my heart will always be with my school. Here’s to the NEH SoN Class of 1984, wherever you are!
I made a minor career change and went into a Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), otherwise known as the Recovery Room, instead of going back to the ICU. It’s a good change. I enjoy the pace and the variety of patients. The hours aren’t bad but I am having trouble sleeping at night. I’m a night owl – always have been. Getting up for day shifts for orientation (or my own scheduled shift, for that matter) has been a challenge. Work cramps my style…I enjoyed my “life of leisure”; however, I really enjoy the income more than anything. Tony enjoys my income, too, since he can now sock away his entire paycheck into his savings account.
I miss not having time to get together with my gal pals though. Seems that when I’m free, they’re not; when they are, I’m at work. The drive is about an hour, but I have time to gear up for my shift on the way in and time to de-stress on the drive home. The only thing that sucks: Getting home late enough that I’m not at all interested in cooking when I get home, so I wake up hungry enough to eat a horse.
School has started again and honestly, I hate it. Do I really want this degree? I need at least the BSN – from there, I can do other things, even if they’re not related to nursing. I have trouble getting motivated for class, have trouble making myself do the assignments, have trouble caring whether or not I pass. I’ll fail these two courses….I just honestly don’t give a damn.
Other than that, things between me and Tony are getting better. We chat on Skype a lot and the talks are not as aloof or frustrating as they have been. I feel like we got over this chasm, and while we both will take some time to heal from the hurt, we came out of it stronger instead of our marriage fracturing badly.
Gotta try to sleep…0600 comes much, much too early these days.