As a nurse, this means three things. But first, what is the winter solstice? I was surprised to learn not everybody remembers this from grade school.
In the northern hemisphere it marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. For a scientific explanation and visual aids, see this link. The winter solstice (eastern standard time) this year is December 21st at 23:49. This night is longer and darker than any other night of the year, and daylight hours are shorter than any other day. From this time on, sunrise will be earlier each day and sunset later each night (until the summer solstice).
Three Things it Means to Nurses
The long, dark, cold winter days are depressing. But the solstice marks the beginning of the end of that.
We’ll See Daylight Soon
Every work day I leave my home at 6:00 a.m. It is dark. At the end of my 13-hour shift, I leave in the dark. Did the day ever exist, I wonder? And working two or three days in a row may mean I may never see daylight for long stretches of time. It is depressing.
Although this day also marks the beginning of winter, it also means that spring is coming. Longer days are ahead. Each day the sun will rise earlier and set later. Before long we’ll be driving to work in the light, and it will still be light when we drive home. As a nurse working long shifts, this is a really big deal.
Relief of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year, usually in the fall and winter months. It can vary in severity from feeling blah to major depression. Irritability, lethargy, craving for food high in carbohydrates (and gaining weight), oversleeping, and depressive feelings are just a few of the possible symptoms. It is bad enough to feel like you never see daylight, but feeling tired and getting fat is just too much. When we’re all feeling the same darkness within, it makes for a really long shift with cranky staff. With the return of longer days, our moods improve and our bodies feel so much better.
We Made it Through the Holidays
The fall and winter holidays are a stressful time for nurses. Hashing out the scheduling is just the beginning. While the rest of the family is off and enjoying the holidays, nurses are working harder than ever. More sick patients and more sick nurses means acuity is up and staffing is down. Hospitals are a 24/7/365 operation, and somebody has to work those hours, even on holidays. Off for the New Year? Great! But after working 13 hours on the 31st, who feels like celebrating? It’s dark and cold and we’re tired. Sure, give us a wee dram. We’ll be out cold and won’t be awake to see the ball drop with our loved ones.
Speaking of loved ones, we’re taking care of yours. While the darkness and working holidays may be depressing to nurses, the patients like it even less. They’re suffering from the same things, but they’re in the hospital, too, suffering in a different way. It is a reminder that no matter how our day is going, there is somebody having a worse day who needs us.
The Bottom Line
I love being a nurse, and I love my job. Sure, I may whine about the winter, but when I’m at work, taking care of your loved one, I am totally engaged. It doesn’t matter if I’m helping a woman bring new life into the world, or caring for somebody in the winter of their life. While I’m working, that’s all there is and there is no place I’d rather be.
Brighter, longer days are coming. It also means only four short months until I can watch Jon Snow (the only snow I want to see) say “winter is coming”. But what does he know? Nothing.