A corps of professionals works holidays to provide comfort, safety for others

Dec. 23, 2011

Some people trade midnight Mass for midnight rounds in the emergency room. Others trade a holiday feast for breakroom leftovers.

But if you ask a pair of nurses at Community Memorial Hospital, they wouldn't trade their jobs for mainstream traditions.

It would be easy to forget that not everyone who wants to celebrate the holidays has the chance, at least not the way most people can. Heidi Fuerstenberg has been a nurse for 12 years and moved to weekends when she had kids.

Heidi works long hours and often gets little or even no sleep so she can spend time with her daughter, Kristin, and her son, Ryan. Sometimes, that means sacrificing time on holidays to be at work. It's a sacrifice, Heidi says, that allows her to gain perspective on the important things in her life.

"People who are in the hospital on the holidays are never there by choice, and they're just hoping for something most of us take for granted, which is health," she said.

"I come from a family full of service careers. There are so many police and nurses and military in our family, so I learned early on that people who need us are nondiscriminatory in their timing. It doesn't matter if it's two in the morning or a weekend or Christmas Eve, when people need you, they need you."

Not only does Heidi come from a family of service people, she created a family with one. Her husband, Sean, is a police officer in Grafton who works nights.

"I knew that when I started in this field, there'd be nights and holidays as part of this job," Sean explains. "There's still crimes that occur on Christmas Eve, day."

But spending time away from their kids, even for work they're proud of, can be an onerous task. Heidi and her co-workers understand their sacrifice, and she says it galvanizes their resolve, not to mention their holiday spirit.

"My co-workers are what make it so enjoyable. We kind of realize we're all in the same boat. I think complaints are extremely few and far between. We make it fun," she says.

"We've rang in the New Year together, watching fireworks out the windows, and had Christmas dinner in the nurse's office."

Family sacrifice

But Sean and Heidi both recognize the opportunity that working nights or weekends gives them: an opportunity nearly every day to spend more time with their family.

"To have the jobs we have, we're grateful for that and to spend the time we do have (with our family) even if we're tired," says Sean.

There have been times when both Sean and Heidi have to work and since both work nights, their kids often stay with friends or relatives. Heidi says working nights is a blessing because her kids sleep through most of her time at work.

On the other hand, working nights does allow Heidi to be around for part of the holidays if she does have to work.

"We're used to having our holidays interrupted with work schedules."

Sean echoed her sentiments, adding that he and his wife do their best not to let their nocturnal work responsibilities interfere with their responsibili ties as parents.

"A lot of 24 hours without sleep, but it's all worth it.

Hospital holiday veteran

Mary Kuehn, a Menomonee Falls native, has been a nurse for nearly three decades. She's used to long hours, holidays on call and a job that may take her away from the family on holidays.

"One year you have it kind of good, you can spend Christmas with your kids, another year you can't," Kuehn explains. Hospital staff usually work holidays every other year. If you have Thanksgiving off this year, you'll likely work it next year. Same with Christmas and so on.

"It is no different than any other day. If you work 12 hours, then you're expected, on your holiday, to work 12 hours."

Kuehn admits, the responsibilities can be taxing and sacrifices do have to be made in her personal life to make her work schedule fit with her home schedule. But she says she knows what she signed up for.

"You kind of fight with those emotions, but for the most part when you go into this line of work and you want to work at a hospital, you know from the outset that's your expectation. If I chose to work in a hospital, I'm fully aware I'm going to work weekends, holidays."

And while the average person may not want to give up unwrapping presents on Christmas Eve, or the holiday spirit of being with friends and family, Keuhn says the hospital brings its own holiday cheer.

"I think it's a pretty terrific job in general, no matter what day you're working. You do have a sense of pride, when you do have an amazing save or something that really feels good, that's a good feeling," she explained.

"I kind of like working on the holidays. It's camaraderie around here. Some of the people I work with I consider them my family."

Better to give

Mary and people like her work the holidays so others can enjoy them. No one plans to go to the emergency room on Christmas, but if an accident happens, there are people who truly want to be there, so patients can get the help they need.

Mary admits some people appreciate the help, while other people channel their inner Scrooge.

"It's kind of an extreme spectrum. People are very understanding because it's very busy here and there may be wait times, but on the flip side, everybody has somewhere they need to be."

Mary Kuehn has a husband and family, but she's making her rounds on Christmas. She could be with them, or anywhere else, but she's at the hospital.

Heidi and Sean Fuerstenberg have a family of their own. Yet each of them takes pride in giving up their holiday time to make sure others are safe on Christmas, Thanksgiving, or whenever needed.

It's a gift they gladly give.

That means even on the holiest of nights, their stars are brightly shining.

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