71: Not So Alone After All

71: Not So Alone After All

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Not So Alone After All

This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.

~Taylor Caldwell

Christmas in Tucson. I suppose that sounds exotic. Or at least warm. But it didn’t feel like that to me.

I had moved from the Midwest to Arizona in January and quickly found a job as a nurse in one of the area hospitals. I had worked previously on a cardiac floor, so I was hired for the evening shift on a cardiac telemetry wing. I loved the fast pace, learning more about heart arrhythmias, and counseling patients and families on the treatments.

As one of the most recent hires, I worked most holidays. I knew I didn’t have a prayer of getting Christmas off. All the other nurses had seniority. My boyfriend, a college student at the University of Arizona, flew home for his Christmas break. The nurse I moved to Tucson with somehow finagled the holiday off, so she was gone, too.

I didn’t realize how hard my first Christmas away from home would be.

“I’ll be fine.” I told myself. I called home a few times, but hearing the voices and all the plans for the holiday made me long to be there on Christmas morning. By the time Christmas Eve came, my twenty-three-year-old heart was hurting. I was a lonely Midwest girl in the middle of the Southwestern desert.

After my Christmas Eve shift, I attended church at midnight. The familiar songs and prayers began to lift my mood. At the end of the service, I slowly made my way to the exit. As I passed the glowing candlelight and poinsettias, I came face to face with the pastor. I offered my hand and choked out, “Merry Christmas,” while fighting off tears.

He tipped his head to one side and looked into my eyes. I knew he wanted to ask me what was wrong. I knew if he did, my fragile façade of Christmas cheer would crack and collapse into pieces. I hurried past him after mumbling something, and promptly burst into tears in the car.

Christmas day arrived. I made breakfast, and as I ate I gave myself a pep talk. “You already cried. Now you have to calm down. None of the patients want to be in the hospital for Christmas either.” It was my job to be a cheerful face for everyone I’d see at the hospital. I made my phone call home, and after wishing them all a happy celebration, I was off to work.

I took report from the day nurse while silently wishing I was going home with her to a festive holiday dinner. Most of the patients had gone home for the holiday; maybe it would be a quiet night. I took a big breath, grabbed the medicine cart and started my rounds.

With a smile plastered on my face, I entered the first room., “Merry Chri…” I began to say, but the man in the first bed was up and shaking my hand.

“Merry Christmas! Have some of the cookies my family brought.” He introduced me and they each thanked me for working on Christmas.

Before I knew it, I was nodding happily, shaking hands and accepting cookies. The mood in the room was so joyful, I couldn’t be sad. “It’s my pleasure,” I responded, now with a real smile.

The man in the next bed chimed in. “We saved you some treats; I wouldn’t let the day nurses eat it all,” he said with pride as he offered me some fudge and fruitcake. He and his wife radiated joy too, in spite of having to spend this day in the hospital.

With each patient and family member I met, I could feel my heart healing. We were all a part of the “Christmas in the Hospital Club.”

Finishing up my rounds, I entered the last room. The first bed was empty. In the next bed was a man in his thirties, which is young for a cardiac floor. I had taken care of him during the week. I saw he was alone in the dark, dozing on and off in front of a muted flickering television screen.

We exchanged a few pleasantries, but I could see he was feeling down. He told me that his family had come to visit earlier in the day. I knew just how he was feeling. He wasn’t hundreds of miles away from his family, but he might as well have been.

I’m not sure how I thought of it. “Do you play poker?”

“I sure do,” he said with a shy smile.

I found an old deck of cards at the nurse’s station, and between caring for my other patients I ducked into his room to play five-card draw. Instead of poker chips, we played for paperclips. I could only stay for a hand or two, but every time I came in, he’d have the cards dealt, smiling and ready to play. I can’t remember who won, but I do remember it was a lot of fun.

The end of my shift came. All the family members had left hours ago. Most of the patients were sleeping. The night shift nurses trickled in with stories of their celebrations and I actually enjoyed listening to them.

That Christmas day, I was the nurse, but my patients were the real healers.

~Ceil Ryan

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