While many people spend Christmas Day gathered for a meal and gifts, sisters Mary Koller and Traci Shekhani have a different holiday tradition.

They will be working at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville.

They are among those who spend holidays at the hospital.

Koller and Shekhani are patient navigators at Mercyhealth and have worked in health care for more than 20 years.

At least half of their Christmas Days since working as nurses have been spent at work, Shekhani said in an email to The Gazette.

Shekhani prays every holiday for an uneventful shift, she said. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

“Several Christmases that I’ve worked in the past I’ve taken care of people in end-of-life situations,” Shekhani said. “It is so hard seeing a family grieve, and at a time like Christmas it breaks your heart to think they will likely always relive those memories on Christmas.”

The hospital is filled with more visitors and families on Christmas than most days, Shekhani said. Most tend to be cheerful despite unfortunate circumstances.

Hospital hallways are often filled with music, pretty colors and people in festive attire, Shekhani said. One patient recently decorated her room with poinsettias and a tree.

Koller and Shekhani are two of six children in their family, Shekhani said. Early planning is required to accommodate their hospital shifts. The family sometimes celebrates as early as the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Shekhani said she enjoys working with her older sister. The sisters take care of each other and are there when chaos ensues.

“We didn’t always plan on going into the health field together,” Shekhani said. “It just ended up that way. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Bringing cheer

Abraham Doolhoff, administrative fellow at Mercyhealth, knew he wanted to work in health care when he sang to patients at a nursing home as a child.

Doolhoff spent Thursday night singing holiday songs to patients at Mercyhealth.

As an administrative fellow, Doolhoff doesn’t get many opportunities to work directly with patients, he said.

When the opportunity presents itself, he takes advantage.

Doolhoff attributes two of Mercyhealth’s core values as his reasons for singing to patients during the holidays: healing in the broadest sense and treating each other like family.

Healing in the broadest sense means treating all patients as people, Doolhoff said.

Treating patients medically isn’t enough, Doolhoff said. Patients’ mental and emotional health need to be considered to ensure improved health outcomes.

Some patients don’t have family members who can sing or tend to them in the hospital, Doolhoff said. He sees singing as an opportunity to fill in where somebody else cannot.

“If I had a family member who was sick, if I thought (for) even an instant going and singing a song will make them feel a little better, I’d do that in an instant,” Doolhoff said.

Singing to patients is just as beneficial for Doolhoff as it is for patients, he said.

Employee burnout is a concern for health care providers nationally, Doolhoff said. Patient interaction keeps him grounded and reminds him why he is there.

“We’re all here because people need care,” Doolhoff said. “That’s the reason I do my best to get back to those patients because that’s why we’re all here.”

Reporter - Albany, Brodhead, Evansville, Footville, Orfordville, health

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