Nurses and Holiday Stress

Painting by jparadisi

Painting by jparadisi

Nursing potentiates normal holiday stressors. For many nurses, the beauty of the winter holidays is diminished by feelings of stress.

Staffing woes contribute: Who knows why every year during the holidays, patient census randomly explodes abundantly or trickles down to near nothing, resulting in too much overtime or hours-deficient paychecks?

We go home to enjoy the glow of Christmas tree lights knowing our patients spend their holidays in a hospital or hospice bed, their rooms lit by overhead fluorescent lights, and this knowledge dampens a nurse’s ability to fully enjoy celebrations of bounty. We may experience feelings of guilt that our income is dependent on the misfortune of others, in this case, illness or trauma.

Mismatched schedules, especially those of night-shift nurses, complicate holiday arrangements with family. Gift giving weighs heavily on sensitive souls: Instead of buying gifts, shouldn’t the money be given to those in need? Or are our expressions of love for family and friends, the creation of memories and traditions left after our own health fails, equally important? Someday, we will become the ones missing from the family dinner table of Christmas’s future.

Here are suggestions for handling holiday stress:

  • Reduce expectations. Holiday preparations and gifts are expressions of love, not declarations of wealth. Stay within your physical and fiscal boundaries.
  • Plan quick, easy, and low-calorie meals in between holiday parties. You’ll feel better.
  • Enlist the help of children with holiday baking and food preparation. This is an opportunity to teach them to cook while spending time together.
  • Lighten your housework load by asking children to help with age-appropriate tasks like dusting, folding clothes, drying dishes, etc. Work out a payment incentive with them. Encourage them to use the money for Christmas shopping, to buy a toy for a less fortunate child, or donate to a food bank.
  • Plan downtime and use it for activities with personal meaning. Don’t skip yoga class or your morning run. Take a break from wrapping gifts for a cup of fragrant hot tea or cocoa with marshmallows. Spend an hour at church, take a long walk, or meditate to regain your sense of grounding.
  • Remember the gifts you give. Nurses give to their patients throughout the year gifts that cannot be remunerated on a paycheck. Although we do not have magic wands to cure disease, taking time to listen and help patients with their needs goes a long way. The best way to feel better is to help someone else feel better. This is the gift of nursing.

Does your nursing job ever affect your ability to enjoy the holidays? What steps do you take to reduce holiday stress?

Close Encounters at Thanksgiving: The Grocery Store

It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving, and I’m grocery shopping. Pushing the cart through

photo: jparadisi 2012

throngs of people looking for that special can of yams, I wish I’d pinned a sign reading, “Don’t follow, Makes frequent stops,” to my rear, so people might stop running into me.

Surprisingly, most of the shoppers are in good moods. I hear the words, “Excuse me,” “After you,” over and over. Only the very young adults, shopping for holiday meal preparations for the first time, I presume, express out loud their bewilderment at the crowds. Suddenly, their attention to space and time is required. This means they have to get out of the way while text messaging, instead of stopping abruptly in the middle of an aisle where more seasoned shoppers will trample them.

In the produce section I pull a thin plastic bag from a dwindling roll of them to fill with Brussels sprouts. Another woman poises to do the same. I’m sure she’s a nurse, like me, although I will never know. Simultaneously, we pause at the large bin of loose sprouts, realizing we have to gather them with our bare hands, because there is not even a rudimentary tool for the task. We eye each other, smile, then I say, “Wow, how many pairs of dirty hands have been in this bin before mine?”

She laughs. “I know,” she says, “I’m thinking the same thing. I’m going to have to scrub these well, and remove the outer leaves.”

“Me too,” I say.

I’m sure she’s a nurse.

Happy Thanksgiving from JParadisiRN

Shift Observations: On Luer Locks, Voting, Taxes, and Thanksgiving

While tightening a Luer lock connector to its mate after starting an IV, I curse myself once again for not playing with Legos more as a child. Working with the catheters and tubing used for delivering intravenous medications requires combining fine motor skills (action) with the ability to see how they connect.

Instead, my childhood preference for playing with dolls foreshadowed a love of the human body in my dual roles of artist and nurse. I’m more interested in muscles, ligaments, and the miles of vasculature and nerves connecting the anatomy of a human being, than the plastic bits and pieces carrying medications into them, yet they are tools of my trade. I secure the caps and connectors snuggly, while carefully keeping their tips sterile.

Likewise, I am more interested in relationships, the way human beings connect to one another: nurses to patients, coworker to coworker, artist to model, family member to family member. Would connections between people be more resilient with some sort of psychosocial Luer lock, or would we chew at such connections with the single-minded determination of a wolf gnawing off its paw (or someone else’s paw for that matter) to escape a trap?

Someone has said,

“The building block of society is the individual, not the family unit.”

This statement conflicts with what I was taught,

“The family unit is the building block of society”

It seems to me that the problems of adult life, everything from, “At which family member’s home will we spend the holidays?” to, “Does this issue deserve my vote for funding from higher taxation?” arise from the conflict between these two statements.

Seriously, whose bright idea was it to combine Election Day, property taxes, and Thanksgiving during the month of November? Are they trying to put people in a bad mood?

Politics and holidays: at times they bring out the worst in us. Whether making decisions in the voting booth, or negotiating family holiday plans, I’m learning, with difficulty, that people are more important than the Luer locks connecting us.