For many nurses and doctors, Christmas is a working holiday
The last time nurse Dawn Sculco worked the intensive care unit over Christmas at Valley View Hospital, a call came to the emergency room asking for her specifically.
She wasn’t sure if she should say it was she who had answered the phone, since the number was from an outside line.
But she said yes, and the caller turned out to be a patient she’d helped after a heart attack over Christmas the year before.
“He said, ‘I just wanted to call and see if you were working because I wanted to thank you for giving me another Christmas,’” Sculco remembers.
“For everybody that works on Christmas, that’s the reason that they do it,” Sculco said.
That was in 2013, and Sculco, now the chief nursing officer at Valley View Hospital, will be on call this year while other nurses, doctors, housekeeping staff, chefs and others keep the hospital running and patients safe over the biggest holiday of the year.
“I often choose to work Christmas, because most of my colleagues have young children, and I don’t,” said Deb Hume, who has been a nurse for more than 30 years.
Hospital staff members do what they can to make their Christmas shift enjoyable. The people who really don’t want to be in the hospital are the patients.
“Patients obviously don’t want to be there. Families of patients don’t want to be there,” Hume said.
The Christmas shift in the Valley View emergency room is typically slower than a normal day.
There may be ski injuries, ice-related slip and falls, or patients with the flu. This year, a lot of kids are showing up to the hospital with croup, emergency room doctor Brandy Drake said.
The worst kind of calls are injuries inflicted by family members in domestic disputes, which fortunately doesn’t happen in the Roaring Fork Valley as often as more populous areas, Drake said.
“I always thought of the holidays as a festive time to spend quiet time with family, but unfortunately a lot of families don’t have that dynamic, and it can be a hard time for people,” Drake said. “That is really hard to see.”
When any kind of injury happens over Christmas, it can seem worse to those affected due to the time of year.
“It’s always hard having something like that happen, but on the holiday, it makes it more difficult,” Drake said.
The hospital staff — from the administrators and the floor nurses to the housekeepers and chefs — try to bring an air of festivity for the patients.
Food trays will be decorated, and patients will receive a special meal for the holiday.
“A lot of (the staff) are behind the scenes, and most patients and relatives that come in have no idea what it takes to keep a hospital running over a public holiday, particularly Christmas,” Hume said.
The dining staff also cooks a holiday feast offered free to employees working that day. Other staff will bring in cookies and sparkling cider to share, according to Hume.
“Sometimes when you’re working Christmas and are away from family, it can seem like a really long day. But in reality, Valley View staff is our second family,” Hume said.
While working Christmas or any other holiday can be disheartening, nurses, doctors, other hospital staff, along with first responders, fire fighters, dispatchers and others, do it for the same reason they chose their careers in the first place.
“I would prefer to be home with my family, but it’s part of what I signed up for as an ER doctor,” Drake said.
Sculco put it this way: “It’s not about coming in on Christmas, it’s about taking care of the patients.”