How to have a happy holiday while working in the hospital


iStock | Steve Debenport
iStock | Steve Debenport

So you’re working on Thanksgiving or Christmas or Festivus or whatever holiday you celebrate. That stinks, and I’m very sorry that you’re stuck at work. Still, you can make the shift less horrendous if you try.

Food is important. Especially on days when nobody else is working, things seem to go haywire and it can be nice to have a good lunch to look forward to, however you define “good lunch” (or good dinner or good midnight snack). Potlucks are big at my facility, but if your tastes run more toward grilled cheese or biryani, bring that instead.

Give some gifts to other people—and not just your coworkers. The nurses and techs on my unit all chip in and buy or beg those itty-bitty travel sizes of shampoo and body wash—the nice ones, not the weird hospital-issue stuff. Our more ambulatory patients like the chance to smell something from Aveda instead of baby wash, and it’s fun to wrap the little bottles like Christmas presents.

Our floors also have collections for personal care items and food for the homeless folks who live in the area of the hospital. It’s a large population, so we can never collect too much. Remember that a lot of homeless people still have pets, so dry cat and dog food are also good donations.

Remember, too, that there are homeless women out there, and so tampons and pads and so on can be really, really valuable. So are gift certificates to fast-food places. Canned food is great, but sometimes you have no way to cook. Doing something nice for people who are otherwise screwed will definitely make you feel better about having a job that requires you to work on holidays.

Ask about other people’s holiday traditions. This is especially cool if you work with people from all over. Different food traditions are always fun and often tasty, and it’s neat to see what your coworkers do on the day before or the day of their particular big holiday.

And finally, adjust your attitude. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re not in the hospital as a patient. That alone should make your holiday shift a little better. If you’re well enough to feel a little disgruntled, you’re well enough to feel a whole lot thankful for it.

Happy holidays, everybody, whatever it is you celebrate.

Agatha Lellis
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

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