How to make Christmas in hospital a little merrier

Whether you or a loved one needs to stay in hospital this festive season it doesn’t need to be strictly “treatment as usual” Here are some ways to help make it a little more enjoyable.

On Christmas Eve many people will be going to sleep in their own beds with excited thoughts of opening presents with their families around the Christmas tree, but there are many who do not have this picture of Christmas to look forward to. 

Not everyone will be well enough to celebrate. Some family members may spend Christmas in hospital, which is a starkly different picture.

Maddie Martin* knows exactly what that picture looks like.

“I have an autoimmune disease that flares with stress. Christmas equals stress for me,” she tells. “[One year] I’d progressively got worse and worse in the lead up to Christmas.”

Maddie went to hospital on Christmas Eve where she spent the next two weeks. It was a double edged sword for Maddie because she longed for the very thing that was causing her illness.

“I had two small children so it was devastating. To not be there to see them open presents from Santa and see the good in Christmas, as opposed to only seeing the stress, was really upsetting. I asked the hospital if I could go home to do all that, but they couldn’t release me because I was so unwell,” she tells.

A Christmas meal rolled around which helped Maddie find a little Christmas joy.

“I think it’s like anything in this world – it’s what you make of it. Being in hospital while most people are enjoying time off with their family and friends is not ideal, but the hospital was great in terms of the effort they made to acknowledge Christmas was happening “on the outside”. And maybe it’s even better – your visitors are there by choice and in my experience, made something that is usually really stressful and borne of obligation, a ray of sunshine and love.”

Although hospitals are famous for being sterile environments (literally and figuratively) the people who work in them are not. They understand the emotions that may go along with spending Christmas in hospital and many endeavour to bring a little joy to the festive season too, tells counselor from the patient and family support team at St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Anne Ogden.
Christmas dog

“Our hospital recognises the season of Christmas and often the staff sing carols in the days leading up to the day. The staff make a special effort to put up Christmas decorations, wear Christmas t-shirts and have music playing. Pastoral Care staff prepare special messages for the patients and these are put on their breakfast trays, so they start the day feeling special,” says Anne.

While every hospital may do things slightly differently, don’t be afraid to ask questions and see what your particular hospital is open to when it comes to celebrating. 

“It is business as usual on Christmas Day in the hospital, although it is a little busier as we get patients ready and help families who wish to take their loved one home for the day, even if for only a few hours. We are happy for families to bring in special foods etc., of course still in line with their dietary requirements.” 

“We encourage as many visitors as they would like – even family pets! The main tip would be to ask the patient what they want. Visitors can be overwhelming if you are not well, so it is good to have visitors spread throughout the day and staying for only a short while,” Anne says.

Anne works in palliative care, so often her patients are seriously ill, and they may require more compassion and love during the festive season as their situation may bring up mixed emotions.

“In Palliative Care we try to make it as nice as possible, because we are aware that this could be their last Christmas,” she says. “And we are mindful that some of our patients may feel a little sad on this day, so they need extra care and attention as well.”

The true joy of Christmas is not about where you are, or what gifts you receive. The true joy is about being with people you love and sharing special times. While a hospital may not be the ideal place, if it’s where you have to be, you just need to add your own cheer.

*Name has been changed.

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