Joy to the Ward: Spreading Holiday Cheer in the Hospital
Dec 21, 2020 Nicole Levine
When the holidays come to the hospital, healing includes making spirits bright.
Nursing staff members become the chief providers of holiday cheer.
"It's so important to be uplifting and celebrate," says Joanne Ordono, a certified child life specialist who works with pediatric hematology-oncology patients and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. "We want you to know you're not a medical record number, or just a patient or mom or dad. You're a human. We're living through this together and celebrating what we have now."
Due to COVID-19, traditions and celebrations are a little different everywhere, and the hospital is no exception. No carolers, candy canes or chocolate gelt this year—but nurses still find creative ways to bring holiday cheer.
For example, local firefighters usually provide a visit from Santa Claus. But this year, to fall in line with hospital visitor guidelines, Santa is sending a different deputy to Cedars-Sinai in his place: Chief Nursing Officer David Marshall.
Holiday Firsts for Our Youngest Patients
For families with babies in the NICU, holiday celebrations give them a moment of joy and normalcy in a challenging time.
"No one expects to be here in the NICU," says Selma Braziel, nurse manager in Cedars-Sinai's NICU. "They expect to have a normal, nine-month pregnancy and go home with a healthy baby."
This year, they made winter holiday costumes—an extension of a popular NICU Halloween tradition that started 22 years ago by Dorothy Williams, a former Cedars-Sinai employee and one-time NICU mom who sews many of the costumes herself. This year, babies dressed up as Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf—after the children's book by Greg Wolfe—and North Pole elves.
They're also giving out newsletters with stories from former NICU families, complete with pictures of their children. These stories give families one of the most important gifts of the season: hope. Seeing other children who have left the NICU and grown into healthy toddlers and kids is a comfort.
"When they graduate from the NICU, we are still their family. We become an extension of their family every day," Ordono says. "So, of course, we celebrate the holidays together here. That's part of our bond and connection."
Decking the Halls
On Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's 8th floor, nurses decorated their stations and hallways to add a festive feel that is especially appreciated by patients taking small walks to help their recoveries from surgery.
The staff also gathered holiday cards for their patients.
"Wherever you are, the holidays are full of traditions. We want them to be special. We want to make sure our patients' holidays are memorable so they can say, 'I had surgery on Dec. 24, but my nurses took care of me.'"
Cartloads of Caring
At Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital, staff members are assembling holiday carts, building on the success of Thanksgiving week's gratitude-themed cart. Patients were offered the opportunity to write notes that were hung on a thankfulness tree and wreath, as well as to enjoy other activities and tokens that encouraged mindfulness and wellbeing.
This month, they're introducing Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and other festive carts to bring joy and comfort to patients who are spending their holidays in the hospital.
"We do our best to bring the holiday cheer," says Tamra Vallejos, charge nurse for 1 East. "This past year has stretched our imaginations to find new ways to help with feelings of isolation, and we're especially mindful of this during the holidays. Small gestures, like the art my co-workers draw on patient white boards, seem to be appreciated."
Nurses print photos they receive from family members and loved ones and hang them in patients' rooms. They also plan to carry on a long-running Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital tradition of giving special cards to each patient with their holiday dinner.
"In the end, the tried and true is always helpful: A willing ear, a compassionate heart and a moment of your time will always make a difference," Vallejos says.
The R&R committee for Cedars-Sinai's COVID-19 units is planning a party-to-go for their colleagues: gift bags and treats they can grab on their way to breaks or at the end of their shifts.
"A lot of them are giving up seeing their families because they work in the COVID-19 unit," says Lori Sheffield, associate director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit. "If they're willing to do that, we want to do everything we can to give them some joy."
Despite the year's many challenges, the donations from patients, their families and the community inspire gratitude, Sheffield says. She's also moved by the caring and compassion she sees in her colleagues for their patients and each other.
"Every day, someone does something that is so kind, I almost tear up," Sheffield says. "I've never met a nurse who is a nurse because it's their job. It becomes who you are."