As an ICU nurse, Lauren Johnson’s first responsibility is to take care of her patients –but as a nurse, she realizes that means taking care of the family as well.

“It’s my job to take care of the patient,” said Johnson, who’s worked in the ICU at Rapides Regional Medical Center for 3 ½ years. “But that family is part of it as well.”
That’s especially true during the Christmas season when many families are spending time with their loved ones in the hospital instead of enjoying their usual holiday traditions.

“We had a tree set up in the nurses’ station for several days – but it was bare,” Johnson said. “One of the doctors mentioned how nice it would be if we could dedicate that tree to our ICU families – because so many of them wouldn’t be able to spend the holiday with their loved ones.”

So, Lauren did some brainstorming, made a few phone calls and in just a few days, had red heart and gold snowflake ornaments available for each ICU family. The families were also invited to attach a tag inscribed with a Christmas prayer or wish.
Volunteers hand out the ornaments and tags during visiting hours – and families take it from there.

The Clifton family – whose loved one has been in ICU since September – took the opportunity to write down a Christmas prayer.
“My dad wants to go home,” said Debbie Clifton, of the Clifton community. She, along with her siblings, mother, cousins and in-laws, take turns in the ICU waiting area. 

“So, that was the prayer we put on our ornament,” Clifton said. “Other than the little Christmas tree in his room, this is the only Christmas tree we have this year. We’re thankful for the nursing staff here. They are so good to him and so patient with us.”
Clifton’s Christmas wish is not uncommon.

“We realize we have families here who would like to be well and home for Christmas,” said Missy Carruth, RN, ICU manager. “If they can’t be home for Christmas, at least we’re able to bring some of that spirit of Christmas to them.”
Patients are invited to take their ornaments with them when they are discharged from ICU – or, if they choose, leave the ornament on the tree for others to enjoy.

“Many of our families have been surprised or thankful for the opportunity to dedicate an ornament,” Johnson said. “Christmas is one of the last things on their mind. And maybe this is the one tradition t hey will be able to keep this year.