Holiday shifts – it’s a part of medicine for many of us. Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving. We grudingly accept that is what the job requires and we usually show up dragging our feet, unhappy to be away from our families. As an anesthesia resident, I’ve certainly complained about my fair share and see many of my colleges in medicine doing the same. However, a couple of realizations have slowly changed my thinking, at least so that when I get assigned a holiday shift I can show up with a smile.
A good mentor can really change your perspective. Over a long holiday weekend we shared call duties, he brought up the additional responsibility of working these shifts via a life in medicine. His way of thinking was always getting to the simple root of things – and he commented, “we are lucky to be able to work… work is a GOOD thing!” His point was that many are denied even the opportunity to work – whether because of health, luck, education, or whatever chain of events. Many can’t work even if they wanted to and certainly would happily accept working on a holiday. Yet we in the medical field are blessed with an in demand job that generally pays well. Even so, we are only an accident or health issue from loss of the same blessing it is to work. Yes work IS a good thing, even on holiday shifts!
The other perspective to remember during a holiday shift is that of the patients. I will forever remember one Christmas shift, in which I spent on call at a children’s hospital. We weren’t particularly busy for most the day but were summoned to the OR for an emergent craniotomy. A young girl had been so excited running out of the car upon arrival to the family Christmas, she had slipped in the snow and fell. Falling backward without an opportunity to brace, she ended up with a skull fracture, resulting hematoma, and lifeline helicopter ride to the neurosurgical OR. She was understandable nervous before undergoing anesthesia. We were happy she was stable enough to take a moment before heading off to sleep to put on some Christmas music and a sing along a bit to the movie Frozen. Her parents however, were nearly inconsolable. Even when later learning she would be perfectly fine and home in a day or two, the fear and the emotional grief was evident. I’ll never forget their faces that day and in a moment of clarity thought simply, I have never had a Christmas, even on call, as bad as the one they were just having.
That’s the mentality I try to keep as I go into holiday shifts in medicine. There isn’t a patient I’ll see that day, that isn’t having a holiday that is likely worse than any I’ve ever had. That helps me appreciate the opportunity to work and the chance to help families in need – on their worst days, even when I’d rather be with my own family.
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