The eve of Christmas is often a calm and happy one. Most people blissfully go to sleep, having spent the day with their family and having the most awaited day of the year to look forward to the next day. The holidays represent rest and relaxation, a chance to lay back and to enjoy the festivities. In the dusk of the evening, however, past the lights of the carols, there are those who keep a watchful eye over the sickly and the suffering, continuously tending to their needs.
In the National Children’s Hospital (NCH) at E. Rodriguez, head nurse Jachelle Dela-Cruz faces yet another season of Christmas with the patients in her ward, spent away from her family. On a busy workday, taking care of countless patients in her ward, Jachelle took the time to meet with The LaSallian for an interview, allowing a glimpse into the life led by a person who works during the holidays.
The struggles of holiday work
The fact that Jachelle has to spend the holidays away from her family is a major struggle in her line of work. “The hardest part would be being away from your family,” she says. “Because you’re spending time with people you don’t really know, you miss special events that you’re supposed to spend with special people in your life.”
The strain, without a doubt, takes its toll on Jachelle, especially since she puts a lot of value on her holidays. “I tend to miss a lot of Christmases and New Years…Those kinds of days, you don’t get to repeat them,” laments Jachelle.
Apart from the pains faced by any normal human being having to work on the holidays, Jachelle must also endure the struggles of the medical field. “Sometimes here, there’s only one nurse. You’re left alone here in the ward, and you have to cater to all of those patients,” says Jachelle, explaining the process of how things work in the NCH. “The night shift nurse is sometimes left alone from 10 pm to 6 am. So you have eight hours on your own, and you have to cater to a lot of patients.”
“When a patient dies, it gets very busy,” says Jachelle when asked about busy holidays. “And I’ve had [patients die] on both Christmas and New Year.”
“I’ve had a patient who died on Christmas day, and that patient was very close to me…because he came in every Friday for two years, then he had to go on Christmas day,” explains Jachelle. “I think that’s been the saddest [experience].”
Despite the weight of a patient’s death, Jachelle says that a nurse must still carry on. “Sometimes we cry alone or at the bedside with the parents, but after that, you have to be strong because you have to face other patients too.”
What keeps a nurse going
Despite the struggle in the hospital, Jachelle still manages to find happiness in the little things around her during the holidays. She feels as though she’s found a second family of sorts in the people there. “Even if you’re away from your family, you get to feel the festivities with your patients,” says Jachelle.
She reminisces about past Christmases spent in the hospital. “At 12 o’clock [midnight], we get to eat together. We bring food for a potluck, then we share the food. Sometimes, if we have extra food, we share it with the patients and parents too. So it’s basically one big feast.”
“It’s like a second family. And since we cater mostly to kids, it’s extra happy,” adds Jachelle.
Jachelle mentions a tradition in the hospital that makes the dreary atmosphere around the NCH a little more homey during the holidays. “Here, there are many sponsors, so before Christmas day or on Christmas Eve, donors would come and they’d give presents to kids. And seeing them open the gifts and being happy about it makes us happy too.”
To Jachelle, nurses don’t often get the recognition they deserve for all the work that they put in, especially for those who put in work during the holidays. “Because the medical field is such a thankless job. I think. Us nurses, we are the frontliners. So, when the doctor is away, we’re always there for the patient, but when the patient gets well, the doctor always gets the recognition. It’s always like, ‘Thank you to doctor so-and-so for making me feel better.’ We nurses don’t get recognition.”
Yet despite all the struggle and under-recognition that comes with the job, Jachelle still finds meaning and fulfillment in what she does. “Sometimes you don’t get to spend Christmas with the people you love, but I think it’s okay because when you go on duty, you’re there to make Christmas better for other people. Yes, you spend Christmas with your family, but minsan it’s more meaningful when you’re on duty,” she said.
Being a nurse, for Jachelle, is being an instrument to help the patients, to make them feel better, so at the end of the day, it’s still a win-win situation because she’ll be going home with fulfillment.
And when asked if she continues to look forward to Christmas despite knowing she’d have to undergo the toil and tribulations of her work once again, Jachelle smiles broadly without hesitation, “Of course! Christmas is Christmas.”
While throngs of people get to spend their holidays with loved ones, spending precious time with each other, Jachelle Dela-Paz spreads her own form of love amongst the community in the National Children’s Hospital. As people lie in bed awaiting the magical holiday, Jachelle pours out her blood, sweat, and tears for patients she truly cares for, and pushes on despite all the obstacles she encounters.
In a way, along with the many other unsung heroes of the holidays who work during the season, she makes Christmas for others, and allows the holidays to truly touch the people’s hearts.