Bringing Christmas Cheer To The Hospital
Ana Perez got an early Christmas present this year: her daughter Carina.
The baby wasn’t due until late January, but she was born on Oct. 24. Carina weighed only one pound and 12 ounces at birth.
“She was born 12 weeks early, so there were a lot of complications that could have happened that didn’t happen, so that was really good and hopeful," Perez said. "But overall she’s doing really well.”
Perez comes to the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, every morning after she drops her three-year-old son off at preschool. At the end of the day, her husband takes her place.
Perez said this year, the holidays feel more stressful than usual.
“It’s a little strange, honestly, because you kind of want to get ready for the holidays," she said. "Especially with a three-year-old, you want to get excited and kind of prepare. But it’s hard, because we’re essentially splitting our time between our family and our family here at UCSD.”
Like other parents with babies in the NICU, Perez couldn’t take her daughter to visit Santa.
So UCSD brought Santa to the unit. Nurse Manager Jan Herbert said he took a picture with every family.
“It brings a smile to everybody’s face," Hebert said. "They’re so excited to have that little bit of normalcy in their life, and very often it’s like their first family photo with Santa, or their first kind of Christmas celebration for that family, so it’s fun.”
Hebert explained staff do what they can to help families get through the holiday season.
“This is a stressful place anyway, and then you add the holidays on top of that," Hebert said. "We try to make them feel as much a part of our UCSD NICU family as possible during their whole stay, but it’s especially important during the holidays.”
Of course, this time of year can be stressful for hospital staff, too. That’s why at UCSD, they take turns working on Christmas Day. And to make things a little more festive, the hospital brings in a feast for people who have to work during the holidays.
And then there’s UCSD Chaplin Mark Reeves. His primary job is to attend to the spiritual and emotional needs of both patients and staff. Reeves also offers support to the patients’ family members who live out of town.
“Sometimes they can’t be here, you know, they have other things to attend to," Reeves said. "Maybe they don’t have the resources or the finances to be able to fly in to be with their loved ones during the holiday. We want to assure them that someone is always standing in the gap.”
The response Reeves gets from patients gives truth to the old saying that it’s better to give than receive.
“They’re so grateful, and they often say, ‘thank you for taking the time to come,’" he recalled. "It’s like, no, thank you for inviting me to come, because during the holidays, we would have it no other way, and we would have it no other way every day.”
As people who work in hospitals will tell you, illnesses don’t take a holiday. UCSD expects to have some 300 patients to take care of on Christmas Day.