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‘Twas the night before Christmas (in an ED)

By Mindo - 20th Dec 2021

I recently came across a poem that captures what being a doctor in an emergency department over the holiday season is really like

Medical Christmas’ tend not to occupy the mid-portion of a normal distribution curve. You’re either on call, or you have managed to snag the main festive day off with your family. But let’s be totally honest, no one chooses to be the holder of bleeps or on-call phones – as the last line of defence in our hospitals and surgeries.

Despite that rather downbeat opening paragraph, I should point out that this is not the beginning of a Christmas Grinch column. It merely reflects the reality of practising medicine on days where normal life is suspended and the perfect Yuletide narrative does not include a brush with medicine or ill health.

Former obstetrician and author Adam Kay caught the emergency department mood well in his book, ‘Twas the Nightshift before Christmas. “A&E departments are busier than turkey farms, thanks to black eyes from carelessly popped champagne corks, fleshy forearms seared by roasting tins, and children concussing themselves by hurtling down the stairs in the box their Scalextric came in. Not to mention the fairy-light electrocutions, turkey bones trapped in tracheas, and finger amputations from careless parsnip chopping. Incidences of drunk driving go through the roof, often literally.”

Bring back memories? Hopefully not all bad – I’m sure there are a few special Christmas moments still lodged in your memory banks. Probably the most pleasant on-call Christmas I had as a junior doctor was in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin (now Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin). It was nice to be surrounded by kids who,despite some challenging diagnoses, were determined to make the most of the day. However, I suspect the main reason it stands out in my memory is that us Dublin-based NCHDs decided to break the on-call shifts for the day into shorter six-hour sessions.

It was nice to go into work on Christmas morning knowing I would be home for Christmas dinner that evening. Most of us have a favoured Christmas tradition. When my kids were growing up, I used to read them Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘Twas the Night before Christmas on Christmas Eve. And this year I’m really looking forward to reading it, via a WhatsApp call, to my first grandchild, Tara Nollaig, who will be a year old on 23 December.

I came across this medical adaption of the seasonal poem on Op-Med, the medical humanities section of It’s written by US emergency medicine physician, Dr Ashely Alker. I’ve sampled a few stanzas here to give you a flavour. I think you’ll like it – as the author says: “It is supposed to be fun, but also show appreciation for healthcare workers’ sacrifices during the holiday season.”

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