Wow. That was quick, huh? When I was a kid, if you’d told me I would have to wait a year for something, you may as well have told me that I would have to wait until the end of time.
Somehow, those immensities of time that years used to be got replaced with fleeting, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them flurries, and now, somehow, Christmas is here once again.
Ah, Christmas. Like just about everything else in life, Christmas isn’t quite the same when you’re part of the veterinary profession. Much as we’d like to go to work wrapped in tinsel and wearing Christmas antlers (well, I would, anyway), it’s a hard look to pull off while a client is explaining to you his or her dog has been vomiting up blood for a week.
The Christmas clearout
Poisonings, foreign bodies, and pancreatitis caused by overindulgence all show their ugly faces more than any other time of the year. As well as this, vets and nurses reading this will be sadly familiar with the phenomenon of the Christmas clearout.
I’m not sure what it is about the onset of festivities; I’d like to think people use their yuletide break as a time to re-evaluate the quality of life of their pets, rather than they don’t like the idea of their elderly, incontinent moggie still being around when Great Aunt Nelly descends on the household. But the net result is the same: the weeks leading up to Christmas are a peak time for euthanasias. My personal record was five put-to-sleeps during a morning surgery on 23 December a few years ago.
Not really the best way to get into the festive spirit.
All this is before you make it to Christmas Day itself. I have always had a hard time explaining to friends and family the concept that, as a veterinary surgeon, you get, at best, a couple of days off for the Christmas break, so it’s tricky to find time to visit all the in-laws, out-laws and whatever other laws will be offended if you don’t pop by for a sherry – and this is if you aren’t actually on call.
Keep calm and carry on
Working out of hours at Christmas is a strange experience. Not only are you away from your own family, you can suddenly find yourself the centre point of someone else’s family – often a family in crisis because their day has suddenly been turned inside out by the unexpected illness (or worse) of their companion.
A strange festive Blitz spirit tends to descend on me and my co-workers at Christmas, a keep-calm-and-carry-on sort of attitude – the mere fact you’re working on a day when a lot of the world is eating turkey, pulling crackers and trying to ignore any tension at the dinner table makes you feel virtuous and good about yourself, in a way that slightly makes up for the work itself.
It’s supposed to be a time for celebration, so for those families that find themselves unexpectedly in a waiting room, worrying about a friend, some comforting words and reassurance go a long way and tend to be greatly appreciated.
Unfair things happen at Christmas. It’s the nature of the holiday.
Animals get sick and sometimes die like they do on any other day of the year, but it seems worse on a day when good things are supposed to happen.
When my wife worked her first Christmas, she was called out to put a donkey to sleep in the early hours of the morning – suffering from severe colic due to grass-cuttings fed to it by a well-meaning neighbour. Christmas is a strange time of the year to be working.
Time off at last
This year, for me at least, it’s going to be different. I’m a locum now, and although it comes with some downsides (my new boss is an idiot), one major upside is that, for the first time since I joined this strange, terrible and wonderful profession, I have two weeks off for Christmas. Two weeks! I’ll be able to watch all the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, and eat stuffing until I can no longer fit through the front door.
But while I am indulging, unwrapping and relaxing, I will be raising a glass of sherry or 12 to those poor heroes who are working and doing their best to stop other people’s families from falling apart while they are dreaming of terrible cracker jokes and mince pies.
I hope you’ll find time in between rounds of Pictionary to join me in a toast to vets, nurses, doctors and anyone else helping to keep society going while we forget about it all for a while. If you are on call this Christmas, I’m thinking about you. It’s appreciated.
Cheers, everyone. And thank you.
Image: Gesina Ottner / Fotolia