Holiday Traditions

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemGrowing up in the Midwest, I always wished for snow during the winter holidays. As you know, our family celebrates Christmas, and snow on Christmas Day meant two things. First, I got to play outdoors with all of my cousins, and, if the snow was moist enough, we could make snowmen. Second, after dinner with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins, all of the children would wait patiently (as patiently as we could, that is) until dusk, because it meant that my mom’s cousin would hook up the horses to the sleigh, and we would all be treated to sleigh rides around the snow-covered countryside. It was especially magical if the snow was still falling and fresh on the ground, because the sleigh would glide silently along with only its lights to help show the way. Just writing about those sleigh rides now, I re-experience the warm feelings of Christmas days past.sleigh

Determined to create our own traditions once we were married, my husband and I decided to give each of our children a traditional gift that they could count on each Christmas. Each year, we gave our daughter a bell ornament. Each of our twin sons received nutcrackers. These were small gifts, but they became significant in the lives of our children. I recall one particular Christmas evening, I was tucking one of the twins into bed, and I asked him what his favorite present had been. He had a particularly bountiful Christmas, getting a fishing rod and reel, a Game Boy, and some other smaller toys.

His response surprised me. Without stopping to think, he said, “My favorite present this year was my nutcracker.” This twin is now a grown man with a family of his own, but it warms my heart when I visit him right before the holidays, and among his family’s modest set of decorations, a line of nutcrackers from years past are lined up on the shelves in his living room. For him, they bring warm feelings of family. In a way, they transport him back in time across thousands of miles to many Christmas mornings.

I would like to think that everyone grew up with wonderful winter holiday traditions and memories, but we know that is not the case for everyone. Some families would not have gifts without the generosity of Secret Santas who “adopt” them through not-for-profit organizations. Others might not enjoy a nice holiday meal, were it not for generous donations made to food pantries, or for the volunteers who cook and serve those meals. Still many others struggle with health problems or are experiencing circumstances that make the holidays seem lonely or bring sadness or despair.

I know that many of you have been so generous this year by contributing to the recent UTMB Health Food Drive in support of Ball High School’s “Share Your Holidays Food Drive” (sponsored by ABC13). In fact, I learned that UTMB contributed nearly a ton of food to the Galveston County Food Bank. In combination with donations from all others throughout the area, this will provide 18,641 meals for our neighbors in need this holiday season.

Julian Ramirez, Larry Krcma, Sharon Lacy and Lori Blackwell load a van with food donations

Julian Ramirez, Larry Krcma, Sharon Lacy and Lori Blackwell load a UTMB catering van with food donations.

Many others of you are adopting families this year from organizations like the Salvation Army. And still many others of you will help fill the void of family as you care for our patients who will be hospitalized over the holidays. We deeply appreciate your contributions to the well-being of our patients and the sacrifices you make to assure that our patients will be receiving the very Best Care.

As we head into the holiday season, I hope that we will all be mindful of the needs of others around us. I have always believed that the true meaning of the holidays is found when we make things better for others.

The following are 10 easy ideas to brighten the holidays for someone else:

  1. Visit those who are lonely.
  2. Make a random act of kindness.
  3. Decorate someone’s home who cannot decorate for themselves.
  4. Adopt a family.
  5. Give what you can (you don’t have to spend a lot of money to show you care!).
  6. Give your time, whether simply sharing your company or through volunteering.
  7. Contribute to Toys for Tots or another toy drive.
  8. Help the homeless.
  9. Make a charitable donation.
  10. Pay it forward.

There are many traditions this time of year, but one thing is certain. This is a time of giving and sharing with those around us, and that sharing is not only limited to those that we love and care for. It is also for the person that we have never met and will never see.

The Simple Gift of Presence

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemHave you ever gone somewhere with a friend or family member, and the other person who sat at the table with you was busy surfing the web or texting someone else on their laptop or cell phone rather than interacting with you?

Conversely, have you ever experienced a difficult time in your life when someone came along and offered support in such a way that you felt cared for? This person may have been calming, reassuring, easy to talk to, and—most importantly—they understood your struggles.

The simple gift of another’s presence can be healing.

We all want the Best Care for our patients—we want to be sure they are cared for in the safest, most effective and most compassionate way. In a fast-paced care environment, however, it may sometimes happen that we forget that patients can feel vulnerable and nervous when in the hospital (or even in a clinic setting). In a hospital in particular, there are times when a patient can’t care for themselves. At other times, if left unattended, the patient could become a safety risk to themselves or others. At these times, they need compassionate, one-on-one observation to remain calm, safe and secure. Being closely watched also helps ensure they receive the highest standard of care possible. This is one reason why there are windows that look into the patients’ rooms at every nurses’ station in our hospital units.

Positive regard for another as a human being with value is at the heart of true caring. Engaging with someone usually extends beyond the exchange of words. It means we share our presence, including our behavior and actions. The way we talk to patients and visitors, the way we look at them, the whole quality of our presence, can make them feel understood and help them feel at ease. These compassionate behaviors help foster feelings in the patient and their family that we truly want the best possible outcome for them. In turn, their sense of well-being can promote wellness—did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), higher levels of well-being are associated with better immune functioning and speedier recovery? Our potential to affect others by being present is both a great gift and a great responsibility.

One patient sitter at UTMB, Joe Romfeld, demonstrated just this sort of compassionate care for one of our patients. Of Joe, a colleague recently wrote:

“Joe was an excellent patient care technician/sitter today. He was very attentive to our patient. He made sure the bed had fresh linens and that the patient had a clean gown. He even went so far as to disinfect the entire mattress before he put the clean sheets on. He made sure that the room was neat, and he disinfected all the hard surfaces in the room.

The patient had several episodes of nausea and vomiting, and Joe was very caring and compassionate. He did not get on a cell phone once today, and he sat in the room with the patient and made the patient feel comfortable and at ease.

I tell you this because it was so refreshing! In some of my past experiences with sitters, if they are in the patient’s room, they are often on their phones. Sometimes, sitters sit outside the room and have little interaction with the patient. Every time I went in the room, Joe asked me how he could help.

He is such a hard worker! He should be starting nursing school this coming fall, as he is just finishing his pre-requisites. He would be a wonderful employee—kind, compassionate, caring and a very hard worker. I have known Joe for over a year and have had opportunity to work with him many times. He has always had a strong work ethic and always put the patient first. I feel like a better person because I got to work with him today.”

Our caring presence is a way we can all demonstrate Best Care at UTMB. Whether we deliver care or simply interact with patients and visitors, we can be mindful of how others may be feeling. Even a momentary interaction can make a difference. Let us all consider ways we can cultivate our attention and our ability to attend closely to those around us, and in this way, we can bring care and concern to others. Take some time to give others the gift of your kindness!

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” —Mother Teresa

Compassion is a verb.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOne year during the holidays in Wisconsin, I realized I had forgotten to get a greeting card to give to my father-in-law on Christmas morning, which my family celebrates. So my son, Blake, and I went to the local drugstore to find one.

While we were in the greeting card aisle, I noticed another lady who was also looking for a card. She reached the cashier just before we did. Standing in line behind her, we overheard her conversation with the cashier.

“That’ll be $5.99,” he said.

“Oh, I think it is only $1.99,” she replied.

The cashier double-checked the price. “No, it’s $5.99,” he said.

“But it was on the $1.99 rack. It’s for my daughter,” she replied.

The cashier then said, “No ma’am, I’m sorry. It must have been misplaced on the rack. It doesn’t matter where it was, it’s $5.99.”

Clearly disappointed, the woman exited the line to replace the card on the rack. My heart truly went out to her. After I had completed my transaction, my son and I waited outside of the store. I just had this feeling that I needed to do something to help, because I could tell she couldn’t afford the card. When she came outside, we handed her a twenty dollar bill.

“Please, go buy the card you wanted for your daughter. Get her a small gift.”

I don’t know if I can really describe my emotions at that moment, as the lady’s eyes welled up with tears. I just knew I had to do something to help this person in need.

I remembered this experience because we are in the midst of the holiday season, but I wondered if there was something special we could all do for someone else—and not only during the holidays. Every day is a day for practicing kindness, compassion and generosity. We have opportunities daily to help our patients and visitors—and it doesn’t have to cost a cent.

Recently, Laura Amos, a patient care technician in the Galveston Recovery Room, stopped to help a patient who was walking with her IV pole in a main corridor of Jennie Sealy Hospital. The patient looked as if she was about to pass out. Laura noticed this immediately and asked the patient if she was okay. When the patient replied that she felt weak and dizzy, Laura stayed with the patient while another employee got a wheel chair. Then, Laura assisted the patient into the chair and helped take her to transportation, who escorted her to her room.

We can always offer something of ourselves to someone else at any time, whether it is our talent or a skill, a little moral support, or a word of kindness. After all, “Generosity does not come from wealth. Wealth comes from the flowers of kindness and love,” says physician and author, Dr. Debasish Mridha.

Laura not only demonstrated compassion for this person, but by being observant and proactively interacting with this patient, she also helped prevent a potential injury to the patient if she had fallen. This is a wonderful example of Best Care, and a wonderful example of how, by simply being aware of those around us in our hospitals and clinics, we have a real invitation to brighten someone’s day.

“The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving with passion and compassion and humor and style and generosity and kindness.” ~ Maya Angelou