The Christmas Shift 2020
(I wrote this in January 2021 following working the whole of Christmas 2020- this is completely unedited and exactly how I felt once I reflected on the period).
Normally we wear tinsel in our hair, we wear sparkling glasses in the shape of Christmas trees. We walk the wards with smiles on our faces, we grab hands of those in beds pulling them close giving them some of our Christmas joy. We take Quality Streets from every ward we visit, we forget to count our beds or check for problems, instead we ignore the none uniform policy attire and the ‘no eating at the nurse’s station’ rule. We forget about ‘no visitors after 8pm’ smiling at the sons, daughters, wives, husbands of our patients. We visit A&E and unwillingly tango with a drunk. We’ll often get an unwelcome kiss from a man wearing a stained coat carrying whisky in his pocket, usually the same man every year.
Once our first rounds are done, we head back to the office, we pick at the abundance of food and fizzy drink and we write our reports jovial and happy. We think of our family at home, of them waiting for our shifts to finish. So it’s not so bad working Christmas, the hospital is half empty and the staff are mostly merry.
But not this year (2020). The world has changed. We have no tinsel in our hair, there are no Quality streets to pick at, the wards are full, busy the nurses tired, worn out. Some are glad to be here, it’s better than being at home alone, thinking of families far away. Others have children at home who have been reassured Father Christmas won’t forget them even if Mummy or Daddy is not there. The Dr’s who normally wear custom made scrubs with robins, Santa and elves crawling all over their torsos, instead wear plain blue pyjama like ones. The porter’s feet ache as they have walked the corridors almost continuously for 12 hours. We can’t see the faces of work colleagues we have known for years, as they walk towards us, we can’t recognise who they are. All we can see are tired weary eyes. Even their voices have changed, when they talk, we still can’t quite place who they are.
We can’t hold the hands of our patients; we can’t dance with the drunks. Instead, we run through the corridors our stethoscopes banging against our chests, we sweat under our masks as our goggles steam up with our heavy tired breaths. Our legs ache, our hearts ache as we watch more patient’s come, and we watch more leave, but not to go home. Some of us make those bad news calls in the middle of the night, some of us hold the crying nurses and Dr’s tight. We tell them it’s ok to cry, we tell them it’s ok to not be ok, we tell them to carry on, we can’t lose them now.
We scrub our hands until the skin is painful, the alcohol stings as we gel. We remove our masks for only minutes, savouring a breath without a filter. Our smiles are lost behind our masks as we try to reassure our teams, our patients. We listen as the staff share with us their fears, there woes. We apologise and empathise with relatives desperate to see loved-ones as we say no.
Yet we cheer and we rejoice as our emails tell us we will get the vaccine, we shake away the faces of some we’ve lost, and we think of our loved ones. Of holding our children without fear, of cups of teas with Grandparents, of swimming in blue seas, of holidays and travel, of hugging our friends, of sharing meals together. And of holding hands with our patients again, of next year dancing with the drunks.
We thank our personal gods, the scientists the drug companies and all those who will help deliver it. We thank you vaccine, for next year we will walk the wards with tinsel in our hair, our bellies full of Quality Street, and we shall dance with the drunks. And just maybe that sloppy, smelly, whisky infused kiss might even be a welcome reminder of what we lost the Christmas shifts of 2020.
Nicola Pickstone Jan 2021