If you had to choose the place you’d like to be in during the holidays, most likely it wouldn’t be the hospital or a skilled nursing facility/rehab center. But for many patients, that’s exactly where they are.

Nurses are compassionate, so it makes sense that you would try to keep them feeling happy and cheery when they’re with you. We asked nurses for some tips on how to do it best. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say…

“I decorate the Christmas tree and make the patients part of the process by having them make ornaments in their art therapy. By placing the tree in a common area, I hope to give them a feeling of being home.”–Luisa Vega, DNP, PMHNP-BC, AGPCNP-BC, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at River Oaks Treatment Center.

“In most cases, Chanukah and Christmas are extra special times of the year for children. And most adults treasure December holiday childhood memories: dressing up in special clothes, lots of cookies, decorating the house, being in awe of shining lights, and, depending on the family, observing religious traditions. For children with chronic conditions or in hospice care, December can be a lonely, difficult, and anxious time. Many parents of my patients are unsure of what to do: I encourage my families to celebrate and encourage friends to join in. My colleagues and I call it ‘party at the bedside.’ Best of all, you can do it any time of the day or night—whenever the patient feels best, is most alert, and tends to be in the least amount of discomfort.”—Kate Dunphy, RN, Pediatric Hospice Nurse Case Manager, MJHS Health System.

“I talk to patients and ask about their family and any traditions they usually keep for that particular holiday. I also share some traditions my family has during the holidays.”–Maria Camacho, BSN, RN, IU Health West Hospital.

“We should be more kind and positive and lend an ear when they express concerns about not being with their families during the holidays. Just making sure we smile when greeting them or passing them in the hall can make a big difference. Being a patient during the holidays is extra hard because they are doing the right thing by being here, but also feeling bad about not being at home with their children, spouses, family, etc. I think incorporating extra fun activities and bringing special treats during holidays is great, and we do that here at River Oaks.”– Diana Nelson, BSN, RN, Staff Nurse at River Oaks Treatment Center.

“I ask patients about their family and traditions, and if family is coming to visit. I also draw a holiday-themed design on their Styrofoam cups and dry erase boards. Sometimes I’ll even print a holiday sign, color it and hang it in their room.”–Monaca Gentry, RN, IU Health West Hospital.

“For Christmas, I buy a box of cards and candy canes for my tech and me to sign and give to our patients. If a patient is diabetic, I make sure to give him/her sugar-free candy canes.”–Dickie Smith, RN, IU Health West Hospital.

“Nurses often work over the holidays, sacrificing time with family and friends to serve patients and their families. The best way to keep patients in good spirits over the holidays is by making sure the patient care team is in good spirits. At IU Health West Hospital, we offer a complimentary meal to working team members and their families on major holidays to show our appreciation.”–Lisa Sparks, chief nursing officer, IU Health West Hospital.

“I try to make my presence known especially during this time of year, because it goes along way when someone is not able to be with their family. I always try to be a good listener and allow them to plan what they will do differently next year with new sober life, while keeping the thought of being in treatment positive.”–Theresa L. Brown, RN, Director of Nursing at Solutions Recovery Treatment Center.

“For the patients with us over the holidays, we plan a Skype visit with the patient’s family if they were out of the area and unable to visit. On the holiday, one or two members of our Alcathon meeting will deliver gifts to the patients and offer their support.”–Corinne Conlin, RN, Director of Nursing at Sunrise House Treatment Center.

“I find joy in making my patients smile and laugh during times when they may feel stuck in the hospital during the holiday season! Once you start laughing, the healing starts.”– Mertis Shearry, BSN, RN, Director of Nursing at Laguna Treatment Hospital.

“Sometimes the best language between a nurse and a patient is the language of the heart. It makes people feel more loved and have a sense of belonging and purpose. And remember, serenity is an inside job.”– Kimberly Knapp, RN, Staff Nurse at Laguna Treatment Hospital.

Angela Mitchell, BSN, NS, CNML, Center Director, St. Paul’s PACE AKALOA, gave these tips:

  • Encourage involvement in care as much as possible–loved ones can include neighbors, friends, church members, etc.
  • Keep familiar items in the room such as favorite blanket/throw from home, pictures of family, etc.
  • Spend at least five minutes at the bedside, engaging in a “moment of caring.” Research shows that time spent sitting at the bedside promotes trust, which ultimately improves nurse satisfaction, patient satisfaction, and patient outcomes.
  • Provide a small gift. Even something small shows you are thinking of them and can bring patients joy during the holidays if they are feeling lonely.
  • Spread some holiday cheer. Pick an appropriate time of day to gather 3 – 4 team members to perform a bedside Christmas carol (20 – 30 seconds top). This can be done periodically throughout the morning and afternoon shifts.

Caroline Park, LVN, Staff Nurse at Laguna Treatment Hospital, likes to remind her patients that: “The best gift you can give to your loved ones this Christmas is YOU.”

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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