Continuances (AKA: Shift work and online courses during the holidays)

There is a television commercial that is running now in our area, that extolls both the virtue and responsibility of nurses during the holiday season. It’s Christmas Day, they work. It’s 2 a.m., they work. It’s New Year’s Eve, they are working. You get the idea. So, do I because I was once a nurse. Weekends, nights, and holidays are the staple schedule of those in health care and young in their profession. It is all too familiar to me.

By the time I had earned my graduate degree, I had also (and, not by chance) earned the right to not work nights. As a full- time pediatric nurse practitioner at Johns Hopkins, nights were not required. But, every third weekend was – and, you worked until the job was done – whether that meant noon or 6pm. You arrived by 7am, made rounds, addressed concerns, did admission physicals, and discharged patients – although, often not in that neat order.  It was a rare day we were done by noon on a Saturday or Sunday. More commonly, the weekend shifts were terribly long and lonely, as most of the staff was spread thin or not required to be there (specialists).

But, after as I stayed a nurse practitioner for several years and got further away from working nights, I recognized something.  I found that it was healthier for me to work “normal” hours.  However, this was not a primary concern or even a consideration as a young professional who wanted a job.  As I headed towards normalcy with a work schedule, my husband began a 27-year stint of working a rotation of nights, weekends, and of course, holidays. So, some years he was just getting off of work when we opened presents on Christmas morning if he was scheduled for nights. And, some years we opened on Christmas Eve because he was off that shift but not the next day.  Holiday meals were arranged around these shifts. The same applied to New Year’s, Easter, Birthdays, and other special occasions. There were times it was lonely, too. But, the loneliness was fleeting as a shift can only last so long.

This year, one of my sons worked at 5 a.m. on Christmas Day. It was fine. We are adept at arranging our holiday schedule around individual needs. And, perhaps it is fortunate that we do not have any family locally, so we can do what works for our family and not worry about having to mess with the time it takes to fit in going to Grandma’s or see the cousins at Uncle Johns.  All of our holiday weirdness came to light yesterday when my son told us of explaining our “quiet” holidays to his co-workers.

In addition, another area of life that continues through holidays and school breaks is online courses.  As I sit here now, my youngest son is taking an online test for his AP Stats course. I’ve written about our involvement in online and/or distance courses before. School is out, but he continues to work on this course because he has to. The pace is rigorous and demanding. So, it doesn’t matter that it is the day after Christmas and his high school is on break. It was time for his unit test for an online course, so he is taking it.

My point? Well, it’s this: life doesn’t stop for holidays. We’d all like it to and try to make it so but there are many instances when it just needs to continue. The nurse needs to show up for her shift. The physician needs to staff the Emergency Room. The online teacher needs to grade the paper or exam. And, the virtual student needs to continue to test or turn in his work.  During the holidays, life continues whether we like it or not.  The difference is how one decides to cope with these continuances.  Are they inconveniences or blessings in disguise? I suppose, based on my experience, they are some of each.

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