My Christmas Calling

Christmas morning. Freshly fallen snow was on the ground. It was a White Christmas after all. Bah, humbug!

I forced myself to get up from bed. My throat was so sore, it felt like somebody stuck a fork in my throat and scraped it raw. My body aches like I just ran a marathon. I caught a Christmas bug, you know. No, not the “joyful feeling” of the holidays. A real bug.

I don’t want to go to work, emotionally and physically. But I had to. I am on-call for Christmas, and our patients in the hospital, especially in the ICU, needs my care. (But who will care for me?) On days like this, I just have to suck it in, take a couple (or make it a handful!) of Tylenol and will myself to go.

I left home with the kids still sleeping and the gifts under the tree unopened. Maybe I would be able to come home early and we can open the gifts.

In the hospital I greeted people with perfunctory “Merry Christmas,” though I was not feeling the “merry” part, and in fact was in a Scrooge-mood. It was a busy day: 32 total hospitalized patients I rounded upon, 2 hospitals I went to, 19 ICU patients, 12 ventilator-dependent, 2 carbon monoxide poisoning that needed hyperbaric oxygen treatment, 1 chest tube insertion, 1 endotracheal intubation, 1 arterial catheter placement, 2 central venous catheter placement……. and a partridge in a pear tree.

As I dealt with the very critical patients and talked with their family, I knew that I was not the bearer of good tidings and joy, but rather of grim news most of the times. As the families broke into tears and comes to term to the gravity of the condition of their loved ones, I thought that these people are experiencing far worse Christmas than I am. At least I am going home tonight. My patients will not. Some of them will not come home, ever. And for these families, Christmas will never be the same.

Slowly my “Grinchy” attitude peeled off and was replaced with a sympathetic spirit. I then realized my purpose for this holiday, and that is to give my compassionate care for these unfortunate people, in this supposed to be joyful occasion.

The last patient I admitted to the ICU came late afternoon. He was 32 years old. When he was 7, he received a life-giving gift, when he became a recipient of a heart transplant. His donor heart had kept him alive for all these 25 years. However, for the past few years, his existence was less than joyful. Complications after complications have developed, and one by one his organs started failing, including his borrowed heart.

Today he was brought to the Emergency Department almost dead. After transferring him to our ICU, placing him on a mechanical ventilator, placing tubes and catheters in his body, and flooding his system with medicines, his condition did not really improve much. After I spoke with her mother in the ICU waiting room, she quietly, but boldly stated, in between sobs, that she was ready to let go of her boy who have suffered enough. She indicated that she just wanted him to go gently into the night. Somehow, the ‘miracle’ heart will be resting this Christmas night.

Did the miracle ended? I don’t think so. For the miracle of love persists. Love that is shown here by letting go, which in some occasion, is more selfless than holding on.

There is another  7-year old boy who is waiting for his gift. That boy is my son waiting at home. He may be anxious to open his gifts, but then again, he may be anxious just to see me come home.

Home Oasis

I was on-call this past weekend, and last Friday I got home past 8 PM. The dinner table was already set when I arrived, and my wife and kids greeted me cheerfully. My wife sat with me in the table even though she and the kids ate already (I called earlier and told them to eat without me as I knew I will be late), just to keep me company.

I have not warmed my seat yet at the table and just had a couple of bites of my food when my beeper went off. As I stood up to make a call, my beeper went off again. And again. In a span of a few minutes I learned that I had 3 more admissions, 2 of those into the ICU. The ICU admits are both young, one 18-year-old, and one 29-year-old. Both were very sick. I knew I have to go back to the hospital.

I just finished my dinner (a finished meal is sometimes a luxury when I’m on-call), and I left home again. It was way past midnight when I was able to drive back home. I was happy to see that our porch and driveway lights are on when I arrived home. It was reassuring to know that I was expected and somebody kept the lights on for me.

After I washed and changed clothes, I crawled into bed weary and exhausted. I was surprised to find that my wife, even though she was in bed, stayed awake waiting for me. Her loving embrace dissolved all my weariness and fatigue away. This more than makes up for a grueling day. I am truly blessed to have a home oasis.

Just give me a couple of hours of sleep, and with the tender loving care I get from home, I will be ready to face another long day. And whatever arduous work is thrown my way, I know what is waiting for me, by the end of the day.

TGIF! Not!

Today is Friday. But for me, it is not TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday). It is GHMIF -God help me it’s Friday!

Obviously we can’t close the hospitals and the ICU on weekends, so somebody has to cover them. I’m it for this weekend. And I am experiencing all the anticipation, the angst, the feeling of a-sword-hanging-above-your- head, and the antipathy, that goes with being on-call. My countenance and even my personality changes when I’m on-call. It is obvious in my scowl as if it is branded in my forehead: “Don’t talk to me, I’m busy”. My wife calls it the “on-call syndrome” (maybe it is similar to pre-menstrual syndrome, just a little worse).

When we take call over the weekend, it can be overwhelming and there is the possibility that you may be working for about 60 hours continously. Thankfully it has not happened to me yet, (I hope it never will), for I have always managed to steal a few hours of sleep during weekends that I was on-call.

I can’t wait for the day when help comes and I’m relieved of my duty; when I can say TGIM! Thank God it’s Monday.

I hate weekend duty