A Doctor’s Christmas: Caring and Being Appreciated

Sam's 1st day of medical residency in 1977I have long felt that working in the hospital on Christmas day is as close to a spiritual experience as I can get. This is not because I have any specific religious training. I do not. It is because so many others have been steeped in Christian theology that the hospital is suffused with an extra sanctity and we, the agnostics, feel the quiet radiance.

The usual hospital stressors are reduced. The pace is slow. Patients have struggled home and the census is down. Pressure to make beds available for ER admissions is gone. The OR is quiet except for the occasional emergency.

The Muzak is predictable and focused. Even though holiday music has been played for weeks, on this day it is appropriate and therefore less irritating. Periodically, snippets of “The Messiah” ring through the corridors. The beauty of the classical music inspired by Christian theology is undeniable.

There is less medical craziness on Christmas. Typically, many symptoms and medical problems are caused by stress and it behooves the responsible physician to sort through the issues, hoping to repair the physical and to soothe the emotional. Unique among holidays, Christmas causes stress at home but on this day only the stress is not manifest as medical issues.

Consequently, emergencies have a different feel on Christmas. There is more time to care for the patient and less emotional distraction. Patients of all faiths are calmer and more thankful for the care they receive,

Being a doctor is about caring and about being appreciated. Christmas highlights this.

I have just spent Christmas in Milwaukee. It will prove to be my last Christmas with my father. I spent most of the time cooking (trying to recreate flavors from Christmas past including my mother’s Pecan Pie) or at his bedside. Sitting or chatting in his darkened room was reminiscent of pleasant, peaceful Christmas moments from past hospital experiences.

My father had no religious training as a child. As an adult he embraced Lord Melbourne’s expostulation, “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life.” But, he is a man of good will and endless grace. His life of quiet accomplishment is coming to a close.

Being a son (or daughter) is about caring and being appreciated. Christmas can highlight this.

Photo: snapshot of Sam leaving in the dark for his first day of work as a medical resident at Grady Hospital. It was 1977, we had just moved to Atlanta, and Eliza was six weeks old.

11 Responses to A Doctor’s Christmas: Caring and Being Appreciated

  1. Erin Boggs December 31, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

    This is really lovely, Sam! Happy holidays to you and your family!

    • Sam January 1, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

      Thank you, Erin. Wishing us all a healthy 2015, Sam

  2. Lisa Lloyd Hobson December 31, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    Sam, thank you for your loving, gentle reflection on Christmases in hospitals and with your family. Sad to hear your Dad’s life is coming to a close. I remember a thin, friendly man at our graduation weekend from MA. Thanks also to Debbie for the photo of young Dr. Sam Harrington. Love and best wishes to you all in the coming year.

    • Debbie January 1, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

      Lisa, I love that photo too. Can you believe I’ve kept track of it?! xo

    • Sam January 1, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

      Lisa, thank you for the memory. That was a long time ago. We left Milton and drove to D.C. for the mandatory family tour of “our nation’s Capital.” Little did I know that I would be calling it “home,” thirteen years later. Happy and healthy 2015, Sam

  3. Andy Franklin December 31, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    Jeez, (Christmas pun intended), in the photo you look like a 14 year old who is playing doctor. And I didn’t think doctors (or residents) still carried leather bags as recently at 1977?

    I’m sorry that your father is failing. I think the photo is an homage to him in some way.

    • Debbie January 1, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

      Andy, I agree. xo

    • Sam January 1, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

      I appreciate that thought, Andy. It also makes me think of the trials ands tribulations that my Amanda is experiencing now.

  4. Peter Smith December 31, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    This is beautifully written and memorable with its truth.

    Happy New Year to you and Debbie

  5. Sam January 1, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

    Many thanks, Peter.

  6. Heidi Fitz January 20, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    The calm in this beautifully crafted post, feels like a relief from the weight of decision making that the Gap Year has imposed.

    Thinking of your father.

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