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On call at Christmas! - Doctors ready to leave families to rush to help the sick

Published:Sunday | December 25, 2016 | 12:47 AMErica Virtue

As the Yuletide reaches a crescendo this weekend, some of Jamaica's finest doctors have only one wish - to have a Christmas without a medical emergency.

For consultant neurosurgeon at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), Dr Carl Bruce, his wish for an emergency surgery-free holiday could be wishful thinking, and his staff has let him know.

"They say, 'Dream on, Carl.' That is their way of saying it will not happen," said Bruce.

"That is why doctors lean on family at this time because they may be sharing a meal with their families and the hospital calls. There is an emergency. And like clockwork, you are heading out as you are taking the call," added the renowned neurosurgeon in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.

While some workers may take vacation at Christmas time, doctors get no leave after December 15. They are jumping out of bed, leaving unfinished breakfast or dinner and unopened presents to tend to those in need.




"I have worked on Christmas Day. I have had to do surgery on Christmas Day, and while it's another day for us, we are cognisant that it's a Christmas gift to a family or families whose loved ones are in need of urgent medical assistance," added Bruce.

His gift giving goes beyond the operating theatre as he goes into the innermost part of the brain every week, sometimes three times each week.

Bruce organises and raise funds to purchase surgical equipment through an annual celebrity golf charity.

"Most of us work 16-hour shifts, with eight hours to rest. But many times, I am driving out of the hospital, and the security asks me, 'Why are you turning back?', and I say, 'I have an emergency.'

"Doctors must have under-standing spouses and families because of the amount of time they spend away from them. The sacrifices they make are not lost on the children, and that's why many children often become doctors like one or both of their parents," said Bruce as he argued that most doctors get an average of four hours of sleep.

Bruce heaped praises on his staff at the UHWI: "They are a magnificent team. My success is their success because I couldn't do it without them."

He has special praise for the doctors at the Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department, who are the first responders to emergencies, and must make the first call.

According to Bruce, it is a no-brainer that those in A&E are the finest doctors, as their decisions and action can impact life and death.

He also saluted all anesthesiologists and intensive care unit nurses, whom he described as a "special breed and calibre of nurses".

The routine is the same for doctors at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), who often say sorry to their families in order to give cheer to other families at Christmas time.

Consultant anaesthesiologist at KPH, Dr Christine Stephen, recalls vividly five years ago when a family tradition was halted because she was called to duty.

"Eggnog is a family tradition in my home. I remember being called away and everything was stalled to wait for me at an unspecified time. Breakfast was stalled. Present opening was stalled. And hours later, when I returned, and saw that everybody waited on me, the tears just came. I was overwhelmed that they made the sacrifice for me," Stephen told The Sunday Gleaner.

Today is her first Christmas Day on duty, but she has worked Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day previously.




"Leaving home is very hard when you receive the call, but we work well as a team, and when we are all there, knowing that our actions will impact the life of someone in a major way, we forget how hard it was to leave.

"That's how we make it easy on ourselves. We enjoy working with each other.

"We understand that the patients are vulnerable, and our job is to allay their fears and dialogue with the families as well. It's my job. It's our job. It is what we signed up for. But I am not going to lie to you and say it's not hard to get the calls at family time. But they are our patients, whether it's Christmas or just a regular day," added Stephen.