The song (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays is a holiday classic. It tells the story of the joy that ensues when returning home for the holidays. Spending quality time with family and friends is one of the greatest pleasures of the season, but unfortunately, not everyone can share in this experience. The reality is that many Montrealers will be spending the holidays confined to a hospital bed at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) faced with serious illnesses. They will miss out on precious moments with their loved ones, making what is supposed to be a festive and happy time anything but.
Chantal Firmini has been a nurse for close to 27 years at the MUHC and she has cared for countless patients who have spent the holidays in the hospital. “Being in the hospital over the holidays is very sad,” she explains. “Patients are missing out on traditions and celebrations with their families and for some of our more elderly patients, they often don’t have any family members who they can spend time with,” she says.
While the staff does its best to make it as festive as possible, nurses like Chantal and her colleagues cannot recreate the warmth and comfort that comes from being surrounded by those you love. “We try to do our best and make the holidays as joyful as we can. There are often special meals that are provided to patients and we are sometimes able to distribute small care packages,” Chantal states. “We try to make the hospital a ‘home away from home’ even when it’s not,” she says.
MUHC physicians also do their part to help patients who are forced to spend the holidays in the hospital. “If the patients are well enough, physicians will give them a ‘day pass’ and they are allowed to spend a couple of hours at home with their families,” Chantal explains. “Patients who are in between treatments may also be able to briefly leave the hospital before returning for care. But, at the end of the day, all of these patients are still spending the holidays away from their homes and their loved ones, and it’s just not the same for them,” she says.
In addition to patients’ physical illnesses restricting them, there are some who also suffer from other burdens such as social, emotional, and financial challenges, making the holidays an even more difficult period to enjoy. MUHC social worker Claire Duchesneau has seen this all too often. “The holidays highlight and amplify the need for help,” she states. “We try to alleviate the stress during this time of year but it is very common to see some of our patients have trouble providing the basic necessities for their families, and being able to share a special holiday meal or offer a small gift to their children are simply out of the question. It is a beautiful time of the year for many but it is also one of the hardest times for others,” she says.
For the Montrealers who are fortunate to be in good health and have the privilege of creating cherished holiday memories at home with family and friends, making a donation to the MUHC Foundation is a tangible way to make a difference in the lives of these patients. It is a small and thoughtful gesture to let patients know that someone is thinking of them this holiday season and that they are not alone. A donation also enables hospital staff to provide a little extra help at a time when patients need it the most. “The holidays are often a time for reflection and certainly as healthcare workers, we are very aware of how many patients struggle during this time of year,” Claire explains. “It’s so easy to lend a hand and if you can make a person who is in a very vulnerable state smile, it makes you feel good!” she says.
With the holiday season now in full swing, there will be many demands for people’s attention and time. However, the next time the song (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays plays on the radio, please think of those who are unable to share in the comfort and joy of being surrounded by their loved ones.
For patients at the MUHC, they can certainly attest that there is definitely no place like home for the holidays.