Spreading Holiday Cheer in a Children's Hospital

Late November and December is typically a very busy time of year for businesses because managers are attempting to meet end-of-year deadlines, prepare for the new year, and juggle time-off requests from employees. As weary workers head home after working long hours they are typically faced with a mile-long to-do list that includes activities such as shopping for gifts, baking holiday treats, attending holiday parties, preparing for out-of-town guests or traveling, ensuring the Elf on the Shelf is in a new spot each morning, etc. Trust me, I get it; this time of year can seem overwhelming. However, back in December 2000 my view of the holiday season was forever changed.

Festive nurse

My first job out of college was working at the HSC Pediatric Center in Washington, D.C. As a newly graduated recreation therapist I was extremely excited to get a job working at a pediatric rehabilitation and transitional care hospital. In the months leading up to the holiday season my supervisor attempted to prepare me for the craziness that would ensue starting in November. The fascinating part was each time anyone in our rehabilitation department would talk about all that goes into executing a successful holiday season, the entire department would become giddy with excitement. Unsurprisingly, my friends who did not work in healthcare could not fathom how working late hours and coordinating holidays with sick or injured children in a hospital could be anything but sad.

So how in the world did the holiday magic become my coworkers' and my favorite time of the year? Heart, perspective, and a lot of magic!

Walking into work the Monday after Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite days of the year, because over the weekend our volunteer department coordinated a group of dedicated folks who sprinkled holiday decorations all over our hospital. Even stressful days seemed easier when working by the glow of a Christmas tree. It was not uncommon for therapists from all disciplines to come up with a creative way to include therapy goals into activities related to decorating a Christmas tree, baking cookies, writing letters to Santa, and sending holiday cards to loved ones.

But the beauty of ornaments and lights only go so far in the mind of a child. I lost count of how many times my patients would ask if Santa Claus would know they were in the hospital instead of at home. Ensuring the perfect gifts were waiting for each patient on Christmas morning was probably the most difficult, yet fun, task we faced.

Did you know that Santa has a workshop in almost every hospital? Now, I can only speak for the one at HSC, but it's not the typical workshop depicted in Hollywood movies.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas our department received donations consisting of toys, games, clothes (yep, even kids in the hospital get socks for Christmas!), art kits, baby dolls, and other items from HSC's annual wish list. We even had a few annual donors who made some pretty special Christmas wishes come true by purchasing a gift for each child based on a list we provided. My department was responsible for sorting through all of the donations and picking out exactly what Santa would deliver on Christmas morning. This job was so much fun that it was common for therapists from other departments to help pick out the perfect gifts for their patients. Santa's workshop at HSC was the place to be! A group of volunteers wrapped all of the gifts for each patient. On Christmas morning Santa Claus was escorted into each patient unit by a member of my department to deliver gifts to each patient. Then a group of volunteers spent the day playing with the kids and leading fun activities.

While the hospital is far from the ideal place for a child or anyone else to spend the holidays, keeping the magic alive was possible with a little imagination, a lot of heart, generous donations, and phenomenal volunteers. This year marks my sixth Christmas not working at HSC and I can assure you no holiday season since 2011 has been the same for me. In fact, I just got off the phone with one of my former colleagues asking her if all of the HSC kiddos are taken care of this year in terms of donations, because keeping the spirit of the holidays alive will forever be in my heart.

About the Author

Angie Kiger

Angie Kiger joined the Sunrise Medical team in the spring of 2012 as a Clinical Education Specialist. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Recreation Therapy from Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Angie also earned a Master of Education degree in Assistive Technology from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In addition, she earned a certificate in Assistive Technology from California State University at Northridge. Angie is an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), Seating and Mobility Specialist (SMS) and a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS).

Prior to joining the Sunrise team, Angie spent 12 years working at a sub-acute and transitional care pediatric hospital in Washington, D.C. as the Senior Therapist for the Assistive Technology Department and the Recreational Therapy & Child Life Department. Angie has had the opportunity to work with infants to adults with a variety of diagnoses and special needs in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. Angie has also worked as a contractor providing Assistive Technology evaluations and training in the local public school systems and in the community. In addition to working as a clinician, Angie has served as an adjunct instructor at George Mason University in the Assistive Technology program and presented at numerous conferences in United States and abroad. She has contributed to articles in trade publications and been featured as a guest author in Mobility Management magazine’s “Clinically Speaking” column.

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Date: 12/19/2017 12:00:00 AM


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