Hospital workers agree: Christmas day duties have their rewards

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Every year, one day exists when the world seems to stop spinning so quickly on its axis. In the graceful winter stillness, all is silent. Troubles and worries nearly fade away as families gather and friends reunite. Magic is made real for children. And adults watch, instead of work, as the world passes by, just for the day.

That particular day is the 25th of December. It’s the most highly anticipated 24 hours of all, but, of course, it comes during that one time a year. After the typical holiday hustle and bustle that is normally associated with the earlier segment of those 24 hours, all is calm. Schools continue their breaks. Businesses remain closed. And all employees enjoy having the rest of the day off.

Or, almost all employees, that is.

Meet the following Punxsutawney Area Hospital staff members: Josh Noerr, a registered nurse who has worked in the intensive care unit for six years; Nancy Wolbert, a medical technologist who has worked in the laboratory for 21 years; and Judy Martino, who has worked in outpatient registration for 24 years.

All three will be working on Christmas Day this year.

And all three are OK with that.

“In a way, it feels good to be here on Christmas because the patients have to be here, so you feel like you can try to do a little bit to make it better for them to have to be here, too,” Wolbert said. “Once you get here, you really kind of just do your thing: Make everybody happy.”

Differing within each department, Noerr said, employees generally rotate the seemingly-melancholy task of working on the holiday. Wolbert usually works every third Christmas, while Noerr and Martino must work Dec. 25 every other year.

Though the three, in addition to many other hospital employees, will miss out on the traditional aspects the holiday offers — waking up to presents piled underneath a glowing pine tree, a warm house smelling of a Christmas feast to be shared with loved ones, and opening the front door to a gentle snowfall and familiar faces — they will not be disheartened, and their holiday spirit will not be dimmed.

Their unanimous reason for this: The patients.

It is, after all, the season for giving. And giving is just what these three employees enjoy most.

“I try to go over and above. The patients know it’s Christmas. It makes you feel a little bit bad for them. I spend a little bit more time in each room than I normally would,” Wolbert said. “If they want to jibber-jabber about something, we’ll do that. If they don’t want to talk, that’s alright too.”

Noerr, who notes the driving force behind his profession as helping people, said that working, not only during Christmas, but all year, is made worthwhile by the appreciation of his patients.

“It’s very gratifying. Being in a small town, a lot of times you will see somebody out that you’ve taken care of before, and you see that they’re doing much better. It’s pretty satisfying.”

Martino — who is commonly referred to as the “first face of the hospital” because she works at the front desk — said that she was aware she would have to work holidays when she entered into her profession. The burden is made lighter, she said, when, working the hospital switchboard, she answers the phone Dec. 25 and hears a hearty: “Well, Merry Christmas,” on the other end of the line.

“My first year was a little rough. I never had to work Christmas, but after that, I’ve adjusted to it. This is the profession that I’ve chosen. It’s just what we have to do. When you’re here, you just don’t mind it,” she said. “I work at the emergency room entrance, so when people come in, and if they’re sick, or if they’ve fallen, or something like that, they become very upset. So I don’t try to be cheerful, I just try to be sympathetic. I don’t mention the holiday. There are people who will say ‘Oh, you had to work Christmas,’ and I say, ‘Well that’s fine. It’s the profession I’ve chosen.’”

Working in health care has its drawbacks, such as working on Christmas Day. Of course, Martino, Noerr and Wolbert don’t seem to see it that way. Even their patients, who also spend their Christmas in the hospital, are more concerned with the holiday spirits of their health care providers rather than their own health.

“They are, so many times, sympathetic. They’ll say: ‘Oh, I feel so bad that you have to work on Christmas,” Wolbert said. “And that’s the last thing we want for them to feel. We want them to know we’re here for them.”

“They feel worse that we have to work than we do,” Noerr added.

Admittedly, Wolbert said, regarding the home-front aspect, it is sad to be at work on Christmas. All three hospital employees cited their favorite part of the holiday as the get-togethers with families. Of course, they will have to miss out on that during this Dec. 25.

Noerr, who will be working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, will be attempting to fool his son into believing Santa will visit Sunday as to not miss the Christmas-morning-wonder light up in his child’s eyes. Because his son is only two, Noerr said, it should be pretty easy. But when he gets a bit older, Noerr knows he will have to “get creative with stories.”

Wolbert’s two daughters, who have a difficult time accepting that their mother must work Saturday, “voted” that they are going to wait until she gets home Christmas evening to celebrate.

“It’s funny that my family members and friends that don’t work in the health care field — they just cannot believe that I have to work. It’s a 365-days-a-year job. It doesn’t ever close. But they just can’t believe it,” Wolbert said. “My teenagers are very put-out that I’m not going to be there and that we won’t wake up and do the regular, traditional thing. This is actually, in 21 years, the first time that I’m effecting them. I’ve always been there in the morning, so (this year) they’re a little sad by that. They comment on it on a daily basis because they are teenage girls. But, you know what? They’ll be fine with it.”

Though Christmas day will mark a day spent at work for Noerr, Martino and Wolbert, the three vow to hold high spirits, even though they will be at the hospital. All three share the same sentiment that, unlike their patients, at least they get to go home at the end of the day.

“At the holiday time, I think everyone that has to work just really tries to not be negative and not complain about it. You’re here, and that’s why we’re here,” Wolbert said. “I think that we really just try to make it more comfortable for the patients. If they have to be here, that’s fine. We’ll get through this.”