For hospital employees, Christmas Day is just another day

John Rickey Walker won't be there to see his 5-year-old granddaughter's face as she rips open her presents. He won't see her eyes light up when she unwraps a new toy or hear her giggle as she opens gifts from Santa.

That's all OK with Walker. He knows what really matters this holiday.

"When I get home from work on Christmas, I know my grandbaby will be there waiting to play with me and her new toys," said Walker, an environmental services employee at Emory Eastside Medical Center. "Working on the holiday makes me really appreciate my family all that much more. When I see that sweet girl playing with her new toys and waiting for me to play with her when I get home, I know I'll be as happy as if I saw snow."

In most industries, Christmas is a mainstay break. Employees take the day off and relish in festivities with their family and friends. Yet, as illness knows nothing of calendars and holidays, for hospital employees the day is business as usual. Holiday or not, patients need to be looked after, tests need to be run and medications need to be dosed out.

"For hospital employees, they are used to working all the time, holidays and all," said Paula Martin, director of public relations for Gwinnett Medical Center. "We try to make the holidays a little more special, though."

Laura DaSilva, a surgical nurse at Emory Eastside, and her family simply work the holiday around her schedule, opening gifts the night before and eating a Christmas dinner later in the day.

While she is at work, though, DaSilva joins her co-workers in the cafeteria, sharing the turkey spread prepared by the hospital kitchen staff. Though nothing can replace the tastes of a home-cooked holiday meal and the comfortable company of family, the hospital's effort to vitalize Christmas don't go unnoticed, she said.

"It kind of feels like any other day, but more uplifting, with more spirit," she said. "It's not depressing like you might think. The hospital meal, well, I'm not hard to please. As long as I don't have to cook it, I'm happy. And really, it's not bad. It's not a home-cooked meal, but we are all so close here, that it feels almost like being with family."

Holiday parties are thrown throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Carolers roam the halls, singing hymns of good tidings for the enjoyment of both patients and employees, said Sheila Adcock, public relations director for Emory Eastside. Christmas trees are decorated with glowing lights and ornaments in hospital annex. Wreaths are hung from windows and strings of garland and tinsel sparkle in the hallways. While it may seem frivolous, employees say this attempt to spruce up the interior of the building does keep patients from being downtrodden during the holiday season.

"I think the patients do notice and it does help them," Walker said. "No one likes being sick on a holiday, so if we can make things look happier for them, then it's a good thing."

With or without these additions of holiday cheer, R. Fraiser, a respiratory therapist at Emory Eastside, would find joy in working through the day. Fraiser, like many of his co-workers, understands the real meaning of Christmas, and, he said, it has nothing to do with tinsel, turkey or presents.

"I do work on Christmas, and I find that I like it a lot more than any other day," Fraiser said. "Being of service brings me more happiness than sitting at home with gifts. I find real comfort and happiness in making others happy. I am truly helping others, and that it what Christmas is all about."