Bedside comfort and joy: Staff at Baptist, OCH go extra mile to bring the holiday spirit to their patients

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For the second year in a row, Mike Bounds won’t be home for Christmas.

But this year, at least, it may sort of feel like home, thanks to the efforts of the staff at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, which has arranged for family members to celebrate Christmas with Bounds during his long journey back to health.

Last Christmas, Bounds, 63, found himself at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, where he spent 18 days recovering from back surgery. Christmas passed almost without notice.

Today will be a different story.

“I was thinking what we could do to make it feel a little more like Christmas for our patients,” said Debra Rhinewalt, Baptist’s palliative care coordinator. “I started thinking, ‘What if we could arrange to have Mike’s family celebrate Christmas here?’ The big question was where would we put everybody. Then, I thought, maybe we could use the family therapy room. It would be perfect.”

Rhinewalt’s idea is a natural outgrowth of her job — palliative care focuses on helping patients who have permanent changes adapt to their new reality. Adapting the sterile, antiseptic environment common to hospitals into something a bit more festive seemed to fit with her duties.

For Mike and his wife, Trish, the idea of a family gathering right down the hall is a definite spirit-lifter.

“It’s just wonderful,” Trish said. “Mike’s had such a tough time these last couple of years, so this is a real blessing. It feels like Christmas.”

For his part, Mike — who suffers from diabetes — has accepted this year’s challenge of coping with the amputation of his right leg, just below the knee, with good humor.

“I didn’t even know what had happened,” he said. “I came into the hospital on Nov. 30, and a week later I finally came around. That’s when I realized I’d had my leg amputated. But there was never any bitterness or anger. I just figured, ‘Hey, I”m 6-foot-4 on one side and 4-foot-6 on the other.'”

He said today’s Christmas celebration will provide continued encouragement in the weeks and months of recuperation and rehab that lie ahead.

“It’s going to be a great Christmas,” he said.

As best as Trish can calculate, today’s gathering will include about 15 family members — ranging in age from 9 months to 83 years.

“We have our first grandchild, who was born in March, so that makes this Christmas even more special,” she said.

Bringing Christmas to the hospital

Efforts by local hospitals to make their facilities a little more “Christmas-y” are not confined to the Bounds family.

Throughout the month of December, staff at both Baptist and OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville have been busy, in ways large and small, to add a festive touch for those who will be confined to the hospital this holiday.

“Typically, we have about 30 patients who will be with us on Christmas Day,” said Mary Kathryn Kight, marketing director at OCH. “Our employees try to make the hospital feel a little bit more like being home for the holidays.

Christmas trees adorn all of the hospital’s lobbies and waiting areas and are decorated with hand-made angel ornaments from Amy McReynold’s second grade art class at Sudduth Elementary made last year. Nurses decorate their stations. Patients in the swing bed unit enjoy making crafts and ornaments and hanging them on the department’s Christmas tree.

When Santa stops by OCH for the annual Santa’s Sweet Shoppe, Kight said, he visits pediatric patients and brings treats for the children. Employees deliver Christmas cards crafted by local students to patients throughout December, and the OCH Harmonizers go door-to-door singing carols to patients.

Kight said the efforts are often spontaneous as staff gets caught up in the Christmas spirit.

“Some nurses have been known to bring Christmas trees or other festive decorations to patients’ rooms to lift their spirits and make them feel more at home,” Kight said. “Employees in the dietary department assemble goody bags to include on patients’ trays on Christmas day and change out the regular place mats with festive ones.”

It’s much the same in Columbus, said Baptist’s Megan Pratt.

“Employees of Baptist Behavioral Health go to the dollar store and purchase small gifts and activities of daily living-type items for patients to receive on Christmas Day,” Pratt said. “Dietary changes out the patient meal tray covers from the normal covers to holiday-themed covers. Sometimes the small changes make a big difference.”

Staff in various departments also look for unique ways to spread the Christmas cheer. A former patient brings special blankets to Critical Care Unit patients and the mother of one employee has organized a group that makes special Christmas pillow cases for patients in the Transitional Care Unit.

Much like at OCH, Baptist staff decorate work stations, waiting rooms and lobbies for Christmas.

“Several churches provide special snacks for family members in the Critical Care Unit waiting room and, of course, pastoral care is available as requested,” Pratt said.

Where is Christmas?

While the Bounds certainly hope next Christmas doesn’t find Mike in a hospital room, they expect today to be a special Christmas just the same.

“I’m sure I”ll always remember it,” Mike said. “I remember something my 83-year-old mother said when I told her a while back that I wouldn’t be at her house for Christmas this year. She said, ‘Christmas isn’t where you are; it’s who you’re with.’

“So this year, Christmas is right here in the hospital.”

“We’re blessed,” Trish agreed.

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