This is a beautiful post by my friend, Dr. Rob Lindeman, a fellow emergency physician and pediatrician, long-time blogger and now ‘baby-toddler coach.’
Link to his site can be found at the end of this piece, and in my links section. Please have a look!
I loved working in the Emergency Department on Christmas. I mean I really loved it.
I’m Jewish, and for me Christmas had always meant Chinese food and a movie. This got dull by my teen years. In the days before the internet, there was literally nothing for us Jews to do on Christmas. We sat around and talked to one another. I know: how horrible is that?
Jewish health care professionals, on the other hand, work on Christmas. Virtually everyone who can get the holiday off does take it off, and that leaves the Members of the Tribe, as we sometimes call ourselves, to pick up Christmas shifts.
Now for those who’ve never seen the inside of a hospital on Christmas, I recommend visiting at least once, if only to spread cheer for those who can’t be home. Christmas is just different from every hospital holiday. Everyone is in a good mood, there’s all the Santa hats, the food in the cafeteria is free (or it used to be, anyway), and the hospital is relatively quiet because there are no elective procedures scheduled for the entire week.
Well, that’s not entirely true: the hospital is not completely quiet on Christmas. The Emergency Department is busy. It’s very busy. When I’ve worked Christmas, I’ve usually worked in the ED, and it’s been non-stop for the entire day. One earns his salary picking up the ED on Christmas.
The waiting room is full, triage is hopping, and every room is full. I remember the first Christmas I worked, my head fairly spinning looking at the board full of names, humming “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” tune from the 80’s (let’s just say there have been better Christmas songs.)
There are several reasons why the ED is so crowded on Christmas, not all of them so jolly. There are the cold and flu sufferers, the stomach bugs, the motor vehicle accidents. But one group made me particularly sad: the people who were in the ED because they just didn’t want to be with family. There was nothing wrong with these patients. They were not really sick. They were not injured. They wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else than at home. That’s one reason for the big crowds.
By nightfall, the census remains high. Now families are falling asleep in the waiting room and in the patient rooms, waiting to be seen.
I peer into a dark patient room. A young mother and her 2-year old son are laying on the exam table, both fast asleep. The boy is audibly wheezing. The board says “asthma” next to his name.
I knock gently and clear my throat. Mom springs up and hurriedly sweeps away the hair that has stuck to her face. She smiles embarrassedly introduces herself.
“And who’s this?” I ask, nodding toward the precious little blonde boy still asleep on the table.
“His name is Balthazar,” she replies, “he’s one of the Three Kings.”
I get it immediately. I’m not extremely well-versed in New Testament Scripture but I know the story from the Gospel of Matthew about the three wise men (or “magi” or “kings”, depending on the rendering) who visit the baby Jesus in the manger, bearing gifts.
And I feel an immediate sense of warmth toward this child and this mother. Here it was, Christmas Day, and Balthazar had come to “visit” me, a Jewish man.
This Balthazar was not particularly distressed with his asthma attack. He was sleeping, after all, and that was a good sign. A couple of nebs and a dose of prednisolone and he was on his way, improved. I had no “gifts” for him. A prescription. That was all.
Like many such stories, this one can have meaning if you want it to, or it can mean nothing at all. I’m still not sure what this episode means in my life. But it feels meaningful. I often think about Balthazar’s visit to the ED that Christmas. And I’m grateful.