As the song says, there's no place like home for the holidays. But for some patients, heading home isn't an option. So staff at Mayo Clinic find ways to bring the holidays to them. "We want to make the holidays special for our patients," says Michel Benz, a nurse manager in the Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit. "It's important to show our patients and caregivers how much we care about them and support them." One way she and her colleagues do that is through an annual caroling party, which brings together staff from Mayo's Inpatient Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant units. It's become a cherished tradition for many staff members, who bring their families and friends along to help spread cheer.
There's even an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus — played this year by Kay Jones, a longtime Hematology nurse, and her sister, Bonnie Schmidt. "It makes us feel good to know we've done something nice for patients," says Kay, who first stepped into Santa's boots a few years ago. It's a role she's well suited for, Benz tells us, adding that with her "kind and gentle personality and positive outlook, she was and is the perfect fit for Santa."
For a time this year, however, it looked like Kay might not be able to make her usual holiday rounds. Last February, she was diagnosed with acute leukemia — a disease she knows well from her work as a hematology nurse. As Kay began receiving treatment, her co-workers "rallied around her to show support," says Adam Holland, her nurse manager. They made T-shirts, stickers and bracelets that announced "Love for Kay" and "Team Kay" to show their beloved colleague, mentor and friend "that she was not alone in her journey." When her patients discovered Kay was on the receiving end of care, they also lent support with "encouraging words and hugs," Holland tells us.
Fortunately, Kay's cancer responded well to treatment, and she recently learned she is in remission. Which meant she was able to play Santa again, a role she says had a little extra meaning this year. "I felt I could really relate to what the patients were going through," she tells us. She drew on that personal experience when choosing a gift to give to the patients she and Bonnie visited. "I wanted to choose something people could put on their table and look at," says Kay. We hear the gifts — small gingerbread houses — were a big hit, as were the visits themselves.
"People's faces light up when they see Santa," says Kay. "It makes you feel so good to be able to make people feel better." Is that kind of what it's like to be a nurse? we asked Kay. "I guess there's not much difference," she admitted with a laugh. "You try to make people feel better as a nurse. You're trying to help someone when they really need it. It's a very rewarding profession." (We bet Santa would agree.)
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