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This year, I will be spending Christmas with my family. I count myself lucky. Missing out on Christmas is one of the small sacrifices that you sometimes have to make for the privilege of being a doctor.
I’ve heard that some hospitals encourage doctors to divide up the shifts over the holiday period among themselves. Everywhere that I have worked so far has just run the rota on as usual, as if it were any other week.
If you are due to work a normal nine-to-five day that means you will be off. If you’re rota-ed to work long days every day from December 22 to 26, bad luck, it’s time to start bargaining and pleading with colleagues for a swap.
Doctors who happen to be of other faiths and traditions become very popular at this time of year, as they are generally seen as the most likely to be agreeable to swaps. If you’re single and childless you’re also more likely to be prevailed upon, so that a colleague who’s also a parent can be there when their child wakes up and opens their presents from Santa Claus.
So far, I have had to work one Christmas Day. I didn’t actually miss out entirely, because a kind colleague did my Christmas Eve shift, and, in a radical departure, my family moved the entire celebrations - presents, turkey and all - to December 24 so that I could be there.
The shift itself was an unusual one. There’s a strange atmosphere about a hospital on Christmas Day. No-one, patient or staff member, really wants to be there, and yet there’s a sort of ‘we’re all in it together’ camaraderie that’s almost quite cheerful.
The wards are half empty, thanks firstly to the great preceding push to get as many people as possible discharged home for the festivities, and secondly to the fact that no-one wants to come into hospital on Christmas Day unless they really, really have to. They all tend to hang on in there until Boxing Day. Arguably, December 26 should be the day you really want to avoid working.
So there wasn’t actually all that much to do. I remember sitting down with the nurses to a canteen-cooked turkey and ham dinner, laid out on a patient trolley in one of the empty bays on the ward.
There was an awful lot of chocolate and sweets around, and someone had even brought crackers. There was time a bit later on to watch some Christmas TV in the doctor’s room. Nothing very much of note happened, there were no cardiac arrests, and as far as I know no-one died. It could definitely have been worse. Still, it’s nice to be off this year.
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