工作在圣诞节 Working Christmas Day(2008-12-24 20:54:33)
It was an
unusually quiet day in the emergency room on December twenty-fifth.
Quiet, that is, except for the nurses who were standing around the
nurses' station grumbling about having to work Christmas Day.
I was triage
nurse that day and had just been out to the waiting room to clean
up. Since there were no patients waiting to be seen at the time, I
came back to the nurses' station for a cup of hot cider from the
crockpot someone had brought in for Christmas.
Just then an
admitting clerk came back and told me I had five patients waiting
to be evaluated.
I whined, "Five,
how did I get five; I was just out there and no one was in the
"Well, there are
five signed in." So I went straight out and called the first name.
Five bodies showed up at my triage desk, a pale petite woman and
four small children in somewhat rumpled clothing.
"Are you all
sick?" I asked suspiciously.
"Yes," she said
weakly, and lowered her head.
replied, unconvinced, "who's first?" One by one they sat down, and
I asked the usual preliminary questions. When it came to
descriptions of their presenting problems, things got a little
vague. Two of the children had headaches, but the headaches weren't
accompanied by the normal body language of holding the head or
trying to keep it still or squinting or grimacing. Two children had
earaches, but only one could tell me which ear was affected. The
mother complained of a cough, but seemed to work to produce
wrong with the picture. Our hospital policy, however, was not to
turn away any patient, so we would see them. When I explained to
the mother that it might be a little while before a doctor saw her
because, even though the waiting room was empty, ambulances had
brought in several, more critical patients, in the back, she
responded, "Take your time, it's warm in here." She turned and,
with a smile, guided her brood into the waiting room.
On a hunch (call
it nursing judgment), I checked the chart after the admitting clerk
had finished registering the family. No address - they were
homeless. The waiting room was warm.
I looked out at
the family huddled by the Christmas tree. The littlest one was
pointing at the television and exclaiming something to her mother.
The oldest one was looking at her reflection in an ornament on the
I went back to
the nurses station and mentioned we had a homeless family in the
waiting room - a mother and four children between four and ten
years of age. The nurses, grumbling about working Christmas, turned
to compassion for a family just trying to get warm on Christmas.
The team went into action, much as we do when there's a medical
emergency. But this one was a Christmas emergency.
We were all
offered a free meal in the hospital cafeteria on Christmas Day, so
we claimed that meal and prepared a banquet for our Christmas
presents. We put together oranges and apples in a basket one of our
vendors had brought the department for Christmas. We made little
goodie bags of stickers we borrowed from the X-ray department,
candy that one of the doctors had brought the nurses, crayons the
hospital had from a recent coloring contest, nurse bear buttons the
hospital had given the nurses at annual training day and little
fuzzy bears that nurses clipped onto their stethoscopes. We also
found a mug, a package of powdered cocoa, and a few other odds and
ends. We pulled ribbon and wrapping paper and bells off the
department's decorations that we had all contributed to. As
seriously as we met physical needs of the patients that came to us
that day, our team worked to meet the needs, and exceed the
expectations, of a family who just wanted to be warm on Christmas
We took turns
joining the Christmas party in the waiting room. Each nurse took
his or her lunch break with the family, choosing to spend their
"off duty" time with these people whose laughter and delightful
chatter became quite contagious.
When it was my
turn, I sat with them at the little banquet table we had created in
the waiting room. We talked for a while about dreams. The four
children were telling me about what they would like to be when they
grow up. The six-year-old started the conversation. "I want to be a
nurse and help people," she declared.
After the four
children had shared their dreams, I looked at the Mom. She smiled
and said, "I just want my family to be safe, warm and content -
just like they are right now."
lasted most of the shift, before we were able to locate a shelter
that would take the family in on Christmas Day. The mother had
asked that their charts be pulled, so these patients were not seen
that day in the emergency department. But they were treated.
As they walked
to the door to leave, the four-year-old came running back, gave me
a hug and whispered, "Thanks for being our angels today." As she
ran back to join her family, they all waved one more time before
the door closed. I turned around slowly to get back to work, a
little embarrassed for the tears in my eyes. There stood a group of
my coworkers, one with a box of tissues, which she passed around to
each nurse who worked a Christmas Day she will never forget.