It is a time for family and friends, for eating and drinking, for prayer and thanks-giving. Most businesses close during this long holiday to give their staff a well earned rest. However, for nurses and other medical staff, this is but a theory. Under normal circumstances, hospitals and clinics are open 24 hours a day. Sickness, accidents and medical crisis do not take a holiday.
In Botswana, nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. The nurse plays a crucial role because there is an acute shortage of laboratory technicians and doctors, a situation, which forces the nurse to fill the void. In other words, the nurse is expected to do more than his or her job. When doctors are in too short a supply to attend accident victims on the scene, the nurse will accompany the ambulance driver to the scene and do what the doctor would normally have done. With more than 100 health posts in their country, it is clear that the nurse is directly involved with the majority of the people. The reality of the healthcare system in this country has necessitated the restructuring of the curriculum such that nursing students are taught some of the duties which should be performed by the doctor. While everybody will be celebrating Christmas, nurses in Botswana will be on duty. Being on duty while others are celebrating can give a sense of isolation. However, most nurses feel that it is inevitable that their work is predicated on some sort of sacrifice. Thabani Bhebhe and Joyce Balule, both nurses at Nyangabgwe Hospital in Francistown, say that sacrificing is part of nursing. They argue that it is the duty of a nurse just like any other worker to adjust to the work situation that he or she finds oneself in. Dumilano Kebohula, another Nyangabgwe Hospital nurse, agrees with her colleagues and adds that usually everyone knows in advance whether they will be on duty during the holidays or not. According to her, whoever is on duty should be positive for the patient’s sake.
Nurses and other medical staff who care for little ones can make it a brighter time for the patient and family alike. During the holidays, the normal stresses of everyday hospitalization are going to be more illuminated says Kathryn Goodwin, a child life specialist for Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta. Keeping the family involved with Christmas activities with their child is a priority says Goodwin. The Atlanta hospital frequently brings children together for craft activities while Christmas carolers roam the halls. Some traditions can be modified or brought to the hospital by the parents. Nurses can help parents determine how they can fix a child’s favorite food while complying with a restricted diet. Arkansas Children’s Hospital features nurses and doctors putting on a “12 days of Christmas” program for the patients. Santa also visits the hospital on Christmas Day, bringing stockings full of goodies.
While the holidays are a stressful time for patients and their families, it is also a difficult time for nurses who are working during the holidays. “Working in a hospital is stressful, period,” says Paige Stephenson, RNC, a hospital retention nurse in Birmingham, Alabama. “Over the holidays, oftentimes it’s more difficult. We try to take extra care of the nurses during that time period. It’s emotional for them. I think they need extra TLC too because they end up giving so much the year”. According to the organization Mental Health America (MHA), there are a number of factors that contribute to the holiday blues including financial woes, over-commercialization, stress and the inability to be with ones family and friends. The MHA recommends setting realistic goals and expectations for holidays and prioritizing your time to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Fitting in time for exercise and eating healthy meals throughout the day are also essential to surviving the holiday season. Not only will you feel happier and healthier, but focusing on healthy habits will give you a head start on those New Year’s resolutions.