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Physicians make spirits bright on Christmas Day

Dr. Christina Ames will spend her first Christmas with her six-month-old son apart for most of the day.

Dr. Ames, an emergency room physician in Regina, will be on duty at the General Hospital, tending to patients while many people tend to their Christmas traditions.

“I must say I’m a little sad to be missing most of Christmas Day with my two kids,” Dr. Ames told the SMA. “I have an almost three-year-old and a six-month-old. I will really miss them during Christmas Day, but I’ll get a small portion of the morning and evening to spend some time with them.”

Such is the lot of physicians across the province who staff health-care facilities that are open all day and night, every day of the week, including holidays. While the rest of the world celebrates on Christmas Day, a physician’s gift to the community is to be ready and waiting for anyone who might come through the hospital doors.

Holiday work comes with the territory

Dr. Ames says she knew this going into medical school, but adds working on Christmas Day has the beneficial side-effect of reinforcing in her children the responsibilities and sacrifices people make when they have made a commitment to medicine.

“They see that you do have responsibilities in your life that you have to fulfil, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing for them to see, even at a young age and even though I’ll miss them terribly.”

Dr. Ames has been an ER physician for seven years, so her young family is adjusting to the pattern of working every second Christmas Day. Dr. John Pesenti has been a Saskatoon ER physician for 15 years, and his family – three children between 11 and 17 – is well-versed in the routine. He credits his wife for “keeping the house together” while he puts in the hours that he does.

“Time now is probably our most precious commodity and over time, I think the kids understand that it’s very important to try and help people, so they understand why I go to work,” said Dr. Pesenti, who is also working on the 25th.

“They’ve been very good at setting aside other times to spend with me, so they’ve definitely gotten used to it. Initially it was probably tougher when they were younger if I had to leave and go to work partway through Christmas, but I’ve been very fortunate in emergency where the shifts allow me to spend at least part of the day with family and close friends.”

Dr. Pesenti’s mother was a physician, and he remembers times she was away serving her patients. Working Christmas Day and other holidays comes with the territory, but Dr. Pesenti says he feels fortunate to have a job that allows him to make a difference in people’s lives. That he gets to work with his “second family” on a day like Christmas is a bonus.

“The nurses, the respiratory techs, the clerks, everybody is very positive. Each of the people working realize that that’s not where anybody wants to be, so when the patients come in we really do make a special effort to try and make it as good an atmosphere as possible,” he said.

Patient numbers in the ER tend to be up on December 25, possible due to a lack of access to other health-care facilities. And patients tend to be sicker, probably because they have been holding off going to the emergency over Christmas. But Dr. Pesenti said he feels “very lucky that I have a job I truly love…. I still really enjoy going to work and I think I’m very lucky to be able to help somebody on possibly one of their worst days – that we’re able to try to help them out.”

Staff deck halls of emergency room

Dr. Ames notes the ER staff in Regina tries to spread Christmas cheer, despite the circumstances. Staff deck the halls. People contribute to a potluck.

“Even though we are missing our families we are with our emergency room family,” she said. “I feel so lucky to work with such a great group of people. It’s such a wonderful atmosphere in our emergency department and the docs, the allied health care staff, nursing staff, clerks, everyone – it’s a really nice atmosphere to be in so if you can’t be home with your family it’s a fantastic runner-up to being at home.”

She might even wear a Santa hat for the first time this year – all to make the experience more pleasant for patients whose Christmas finds them dashing through the snow to the hospital emergency room.

“You have to make the best of it. There are a lot of people who aren’t feeling well and who have gotten to the point where they feel unwell enough to come to the hospital. I think it’s wonderful that we can bring some Christmas cheer to them, some smiles, some Merry Christmases, just bring a nice atmosphere to what could otherwise be an unpleasant experience.”

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