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El Paso hospital worker finds ways to make it a merry Christmas in the ICU

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Miguel Reveles, a 26-year-old critical care nurse at University Medical Center’s intensive care unit, looks forward to working on the holidays. He worked on Thanksgiving this year, and is scheduled to work on Christmas too. He opted to work on the holidays last year as well. 

“I absolutely love working the holidays,” said Reveles, who described how the energy in the hospital perceptibly shifts on the holidays, as hospital workers seek to be a “mini-family” for their patients. 

Miguel Reveles

“On holidays, I find that everyone is so much happier, everyone is so much closer,” he said. “Unfortunately because of the pandemic, it’s almost illegal to hug each other, but this last Thanksgiving, everyone was just smiling. It’s hard to see a smile under these masks, but you can definitely see it in their eyes, there’s a little twinkle and I expect to see that this Christmas and New Year.”

This year, as the United States strains under the weight of a surging pandemic, more than 115,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project. In El Paso, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 fell below 500 this week for the first time since mid-October.

For patients hospitalized through the holidays, the upbeat attitude of nurses like Reveles can make all the difference, especially since family members aren’t able to be there at the bedside.

“(The day) starts with me flipping the light switch and wishing the patient a happy holidays, merry Christmas and a happy new year. Unfortunately, especially in the ICU, a lot of our patients are either not entirely conscious or they can’t necessarily speak for themselves … but that doesn’t mean that they can’t hear. So it always warms my heart to go ahead and hold their hand and wish them a Merry Christmas,” Reveles said. 

Although festive decorations are sparse in the hospital, Reveles likes to wear a necklace of holiday lights to put himself “in the spirit,” and sometimes even dons a Santa hat. He said that holidays at the hospital are sweet in many senses of the word.

“Everyone just loved baking for some reason, and there’s so many sweet pies and cakes and cupcakes and cookies,” said Reveles, describing the ad hoc potluck that often happens among hospital workers on holidays. 

On rare occasions, hospital workers will even bend the rules to give patients a special treat, he said, recalling a patient who had low blood sugar this past Thanksgiving.

“Our best solution at the time was either we give him some sugar through the vein, which will make him feel ill and we’d have to wait for pharmacy to bring that, or we could sneak him a piece of pecan pie which is just full of sugar. He more than gladly accepted the pecan pie with a smile on his face, and his sugar problem was solved,” Reveles said. 

Although the toll of the pandemic is still growing, and that pain is deeply felt among health-care workers, of whom at least 1,500 have died in the United States from COVID-19, there are glimmers of hope as well. 

COVID-19 vaccines have begun arriving at hospitals in El Paso, and Gov. Greg Abbott announced that Texas will receive 1.4 million doses of the vaccine by the end of this month. 

For those in the midst of battling the coronavirus, nurses can be their greatest ally. 

Reveles said he tries to imagine how he would want the patient to be treated if they were his family member, not just on the holidays, but always.

“How would you feel if your family member was in that position and (you) couldn’t hold their hand during their last breath?” he said. “It’s really us holding their hands at that last moment. So we kind of become their little mini-family away from home.”

Cover photo: Miguel Reveles, a critical care nurse at University Medical Center, will work on Christmas Day. (Photo courtesy of Diego Muniz)

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. Her new album came out on Sister Polygon Records in September 2020, and she is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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