Christmas morning can be a special time for many West Shore residents. Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, many still have the day off to relax, recuperate and spend some time with loved ones.
But we often forget there are those who still have to get up and go to work the morning of Dec. 25.
And for those that do, it can be a challenging day.
“It’s not a positive experience,” says Dr. Christopher Morrow, one of 36 emergency room doctors that split their time between Victoria General Hospital and Royal Jubilee Hospital. “The emergency room is not a happy place (on Christmas) … It’s not really a happy place in general.”
In his 12 years of practicing emergency medicine, the Oak Bay resident has missed about half of the Christmas mornings with his family. The fact his children are getting a little older – they’re now 12 and 14 – doesn’t make it any easier, he says.
“It’s one of the real sacrifices … It really hurts when you leave your kids on Christmas morning.”
That goes for everyone working at hospitals, not just doctors. “Generally, it’s a very hard time in health care … Holidays really accentuate the social problems we have.”
Emergency rooms actually see a small bump on and around Christmas Day in cases related to social issues, Morrow says, such as excessive drinking, domestic abuse, suicide attempts and mental illness, as well as frail elderly patients brought in by visiting relatives who are concerned about their health.
“You see the loneliest of the lonely,” he says, adding it is a harsh reminder of the hard realities of others’ lives. “The emergency room really is the end of the safety net.”
Some of that slight increase in patients is due to family physicians being away, primary care clinics having reduced hours and other services being closed for at least a portion of the holiday.
But Morrow says staff try to make the best of it by helping each other out. “Some people don’t mind it,” he says, adding that people without small children will often trade shifts to help more families spend at least the morning together. “You just work around it … you modify your celebrations.”
It’s not just hospital workers who have to modify their celebrations at Christmas time, he says. Some patients can actually help lift spirits in the ward when they come in with a minor injury relating to the holiday. That brief stay before returning to their holiday festivities can often provide a bright moment in an otherwise gloomy day.
However, creating and maintaining the holiday vibe around the ER can be challenging.
While nurses can sometimes get away with wearing a Santa hat or a fun sweater, Morrow says, doctors can’t, especially if they have to deliver a serious diagnosis or tell a family member a patient has passed away. Regardless whether the family celebrates Christmas or not, the impact of such news isn’t lessened by wearing a goofy hat. “It just doesn’t work,” he says.
There’s a time and a place for holiday cheer, but the ER may not be that place, especially on Christmas morning.
Did you know?
Those working in hospitals aren’t the only ones getting up for work today. All essential service providers have some level of staff ready in the event of a Dec. 25 emergency. That includes everyone from paramedics to firefighters to dispatchers.
Of course, it’s not just emergency responders who are ready at the helm. Often overlooked are the staff of movie theatres, restaurants, hotels, popular holiday venues, convenience stores and other service providers such as bus and taxi drivers.
Whether they celebrate the holiday or not, they are spending time away from their families and friends while working to make the day more special for others.