Melissa, Ward Sister on Koala Ward, was one of the inspirations behind a character on the GOSH Children's Charity Home for Christmas animation. Here she discusses her memories about working over Christmas at GOSH.
Working at GOSH over Christmas
“I have been a nurse since 1989, originally qualifying in adult nursing. I commenced my children’s nurse training at GOSH in 1994. I have worked every Christmas from the time I trained until 2010 (when I had my daughter). I chose to work Christmas at GOSH, I just loved it!”
“Working Christmas always made me think about the fact that for some children and their families, they don’t have a choice but to spend it in hospital, and it really put everything into perspective for me. I was always able to go home afterwards, it’s not that far for me, so every time I worked on Christmas Day, it was just about trying to make the best of that situation for families.”
“When I used to work nights over Christmas, we used to turn the lights on in the wards really early to wake the children up! During the night on Christmas Eve, we would go round and put the pillow cases at the end of each of the children’s beds, filled with toys, so we used to wake them early, shouting ‘Santa’s been!’”
“There was one little boy, years ago, he started crying when he woke up, as he thought that Father Christmas wouldn’t have visited him while he was in hospital. I always remember that, and it reminds me how important it is to have that joy and happiness with the children and the families. Sometimes you question yourself on whether being in hospital with some really poorly children is really a time to celebrate, but in my experience, as the Play Team and the nurses are just fantastic at bringing the Christmas joy to the wards, the parents often recognise the importance of it as well.”
“One year, we had a young girl who was in hospital after having a car accident with her mum, who had sadly died. It was in the build up to Christmas so we had some Christmas music on, there were decorations around the ward and the staff were wearing antlers, but when her Dad came in, we thought it would be best to turn off the music. We thought as they had been through so much trauma, they wouldn’t want to get involved in anything like that. But he disagreed and said, “No, you can’t stop Christmas”.
Christmassy Atmosphere at GOSH
“Christmas is a big thing for children and their families in hospital. We also have lots of families at GOSH who don’t celebrate Christmas as they are from different faiths, but when you’re in hospital, they don’t tend to see it from the religious side, but instead see Christmas as a holiday and a time for celebration more generally. They will still bring lots of lovely things in to make the wards feel more festive and fun as well, a family brought in lights for all the different rooms on Parrot Ward one year!”
“People definitely come together more this time of year. I think they do in hospital anyway, but particularly at Christmas. It’s sad that some children have to be in hospital and some of the diagnoses are awful – it really makes me think about how lucky I am, that I get to go home for Christmas.”
“It’s not just about Christmas Day at the hospital either, the days leading up to it are always so exciting. Sallyanne, the Play specialist and Siobhan, the Play worker on Koala Ward are just brilliant. They have the Elf of the Shelf and get the children really involved in that, and then the nurses who are on the night shifts will move it around and get it to do different things, so it just becomes a big game!”
“The days leading up to Christmas are so lovely! You start getting all the presents ready for the children and all the decorations are up on the wards. There is normally some background Christmas music playing and lots of talk about Father Christmas coming. There’s just a buzz of excitement in all the patients, and just that anticipation of what they’re going to get. We’re a pretty jolly ward anyway, but we get even more excited around Christmas!”
“I think for us, this Christmas will be quite similar, even despite COVID-19. We’re making a few changes to our decorations and things like that, to make sure we’re following all the safety guidelines and stipulations, but our Play workers are just amazing. I know they’ll make it as fun and positive for the children on the wards as possible!”
“We are like a big family on Koala Ward and really look after each other. We’re very close and have spent a lot of time together – it’s a fabulous team. For staff who won’t be able to get home this Christmas due to COVID, they have opted to work instead as they want to be around their friends here at GOSH. They know that it will be fun day working with their friends, who are like their family, to be part of the joy of Christmas in a very special place.”
“When I used to work on Christmas Day, I never felt like I was missing out on anything. I felt lucky to have both – and it got me out of the washing up! You’ve got your family Christmas and the one at the hospital, so it’s even better.”
How would you describe Christmas at GOSH to someone who has never been to the hospital before?
“First things first, from a children’s perspective, I would want to reassure them that Father Christmas visits GOSH first, obviously! And although that children aren’t at home, there are lots of activities they can get involved with and it’s really fun. There’s such a happy atmosphere, it’s just joyful. We try to make the best of the day as possible on Christmas. They have Christmas dinner – there's one for the mums and dads as well! This year is going to look a bit different as we currently can’t have any grandparents or siblings visiting, so we’ll try and encourage those patients who have laptops (and we can use our iPads here) to do lots of video calls as well.”
“The staff here are really good at making quick relationships with families. These families are trusting you with their loved ones, their life and their soul, so you do forge connections quite quickly – a professional one and a compassionate one. We don’t change whether it’s Christmas or not to be honest, we always try to make the experience at GOSH the best it can possibly be. We just have that extra bit of magic at Christmas time!”
What would you say your favourite thing is about Christmas at GOSH?
“For me, it really highlights the teamwork and certainly on Koala, that closeness that we have as a team and how much we support each other – I think that shines through even more at Christmas.”
Can you describe how it makes you feel to know that people from across the country donate money to support GOSH this Christmas?
“I always get quite emotional that people are thinking about the children and the families here. That compassion, especially with everything else that’s going on in the world, kind of resets you to remind you that there’s good in human beings. GOSH is a very healing place to work, it really makes you realise what you have.”
What motivates you everyday to come to work at GOSH?
“The kids, without a doubt. They’re funny, they’re brave, they’re courageous. Children haven’t got the same anticipations that we have as adults either, so they often recover really well. Having their families there, and the Play team and the nurses who take away their fears, the way they recover is so much quicker than adults. It’s a privilege to work here.”
Find out more about GOSH Children's Charity Home for Christmas campaign