Memorial Day Weekend 2009: I am standing at my front screen door on Friday afternoon watching my neighbors across the street pack their car. I see sleeping bags, tents, cooking supplies and coolers of food. Camping supplies. They are going camping. They are smiling. Of course they are smiling, they are about to go out of town on a holiday weekend. I, on the other hand am not smiling because I don’t have a holiday weekend. My three-day weekend will be spent working in an inner city Emergency Room because I am a nurse and that’s what I do. On top of it, this was my first summer back in school after 15 years. I was earning my BSN. Our vacation wasn’t until August and I had decided against the pool membership thinking it was too much money, when it really wasn’t and I should have just spent the money. So here I stood on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, getting ready to work my three twelve hour shifts in a row, do schoolwork and look at my husband, children and the rest of the world who was off this weekend. I was miserable.
The above scenario is what nurses experience year after year if they are at the bedside working in a hospital inpatient area or the Emergency Room. Their job is 24/7, weekends and holidays included. Typically in a hospital the six paid holidays of the year are Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Years Day. Sure they committed themselves to do this when they decided to become nurses but it doesn’t make it any easier when you want to be home with your family. It doesn’t make it any easier watching your loved ones at home for days at a time enjoying their holiday weekends. I try to put on a happy face but deep down inside I am grumpy a little and lash out when I feel someone isn’t being considerate to my melancholy feelings of working the holidays.
On the other side of it, we nurses are there on holidays for our patients because we chose to embark on a career of caring. We leave for work before sunrise and return home after sunset or we leave for work at sunset and return home at sunrise. We are there to watch the cardiac arrests role in the door and to tell the families we couldn’t save their loved one’s life. We are there to prep patients for the surgeries to get the cancer out of the body immediately knowing that this could be this person’s last holiday season. We are there to watch amateur drinkers puke their guts out in the ER because they’ve had too much to drink on New Years Eve. To them it’s an emergency. To us, it’s a pain in the ass. We are there to encourage a wife to accept her husband’s decision to die a week before Christmas because he’s tired of his cancer. We are there to watch child protective services take away a schizophrenic woman’s children the night before Thanksgiving because she refused to take them to a family homeless shelter for the night. We are there on Labor Day weekend when everyone else is outside in the sunshine cherishing the last moments of summer before the kids go back to school. We are there late on a Saturday night on July 4th, when the city hosts it’s yearly firework display and there’s a heavy metal concert going on at the stadium at the same time and people are coming into the ER drunk, angry and violent. We are there on Memorial Day weekend when everyone is off and excited for summer to come. We are there on Easter Sunday when everyone is dressed in their Sunday best and off to church and brunch. We are there on Valentines Day when we’d rather be on a date with the love of our lives. We are there on Superbowl Sunday hoping someone at home records the Superbowl because we aren’t sure we’ll be able to stay awake to watch the second half when we get home. We are there on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day thinking of our own parents and thanking our spouses for giving us our children. Our coworkers become family. We bring in food, enjoy each others company as we try to make the best of it until we can go home to our families. We risk our lives to drive to work in the rain, sleet and deep snow because if we call out we won’t get paid and we’ll screw our coworkers over.
We know how to shake off the sadness we see in our patient care everyday and especially on the holidays. It’s part of that exterior shell that starts to grow around our hearts during nursing school and hardens more and more as the years of nursing go on so the sadness can’t hurt as bad. We aren’t there to be verbally abused or to take on unnecessary nonsense at work during a holiday though. That part of the job truly crushes our spirits worse than watching sadness.
I transferred out of the Emergency Room three years ago to the Perioperative world. I smile every Friday when I leave work because I don’t have to be there on weekends anymore except for an on call Saturday shift three or four times per year. My department works Christmas Eve and New Years Eve and days before and after weekday holidays. Even then there’s turmoil. If you really want to piss off a veteran nurse, give a nurse with far less experience than you Christmas Eve off and don’t take into account that this baby nurse was off last year and the year before when you the old hag nurse were where else but at work.
The best thing about working holidays is the day after or the Monday after the holiday when the rest of the world has to return to work and school but you the nurse are there in your pajamas with your cup of coffee, smiling and waving to your family as they leave the house for the day. Bye bye now, see you later. You, the nurse won’t be going to work today. Instead you’ll take your coffee and go back up to bed with your dog. Today is your holiday and aside from touching the lives of those you care for, this your reward for working the holidays. It’s one of my favorites.
Even though the holidays have ended, it’s still New Years weekend and nurses everywhere are at work, wishing they could be home. I wrote this today to honor all of my nurse sisters and brothers that have worked this holiday season and are at work right now to thank them for what they do.