I remember lamenting my first December having to work straight through. A wise mentor helped me reframe my self-pity. “It’s a privilege to work on Christmas,” he told me. “Our patients count on us. You may not want to be in the hospital, but think of what they’re going through.” He smiled, as if he were welcoming me to a special club, one that I wasn’t wholeheartedly ready to join. “Your mere presence helps reduce each patient’s sense of loss.”
I had the privilege of working again this year, in much less harrowing circumstances. Several of the hospital staff gave me warm nods, acknowledging we were all part of the club — either choosing to work the holiday or ‘taking our turn.’
As an attending physician, it’s one of my jobs to pass on the tradition of medicine as a calling to the next generations of doctors. Using the essay as fodder, I asked my interns how they were coping with working their first Christmas.
One intern replied meaningfully that since he doesn’t celebrate the holiday, he’s glad to be working in place of others so that they can spend time with their families.
I was moved. I do get sentimental this time of year.