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Christmas on the wards

December 24, 2012

When I was a hospital doctor I always worked over Christmas. Not out of choice, but because I didn’t have children so priority was always given to those who had. The first time it happened I was in North Yorkshire and Christmas Day fell over the weekend. Saturday if I remember correctly. So I was rota- ed to work that whole weekend. So that would mean working the normal week and then when I came to work Friday morning I would be continuously on call until the Monday morning.
Most people left the hospital on Friday lunchtime. The few of us that were left on call covered for our colleagues so they could get away early to start celebrating with their families.
The nursing staff were happy to be working on Christmas Day and wondered why I wasn’t so enthused, but they seemed to forget the substantial difference between their working and mine was that theirs was a shift that ended and allowed them to go home to their families whereas mine meant I couldn’t leave the hospital for 72 hours.
So Christmas morning arrived and I went to the wards. We had tried to let everyone go home that could, even if only for the day, so those left on the wards really had to be there. I realised I was lucky in that I was healthy so it was beholden on us to try to give the patients a good time. And the wards were probably less than two thirds full so it wasn’t busy.
I wouldn’t normally have helped with breakfast on the wards, but today was Christmas so I donned my tinsel headband and went to wish everyone merry christmas. Obviously I had to do all the work one routinely does at weekends, putting up drips, writing up drugs, sorting out folk who take a turn for the worse and admitting people through casualty.
But come lunchtime the Consultant surgeon on call came in with his family and toured the wards like a celebrity. The patients really seemed to enjoy seeing the human side of him and his small offspring. And he loved playing the Patron.
And there was wine and beer with the full Christmas lunch which we all served to the patients. And of course we were not holding back on the wine and the sherry for ourselves!
Those that could sit were put at a table in the middle of the ward, those bed ridden had us feed them. Probably not as good as a nurse doing it, but at least we were trying. There were crackers and all the trimmings. The NHS pulled out all the stops. We even gave every patient a present. And of course there were shed loads of Quality Street that relatives had kindly donated and we scoffed non stop.
We were keen to try and make it as good for the patients as possible and sang carols and played games until their visitors started to arrive mid afternoon.
And that had been fun and nice. But it wasn’t my usual family Christmas. And the mid afternoon lull when I went back to the Doctors’ Mess, was awful. Acutely lonely knowing, or at least feeling, that everyone else was with their family. Even the patients had their families visit. The nurses would be going home to their families. The doctors who lived locally would have their families. It was only the few on call medical staff that were really on their own. I hated it.
There was TV to watch. Well, the basic three channels so not much. No computers. No videos. Books didn’t hold an attraction. I went back to the wards just to be with people. Because that’s what Christmas is all about isn’t it?

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