Christmas Day at work and in hospital
What’s Christmas like for an emergency call operator, a firefighter, a garda and a family with a sick child?
Karen Sherry from Baldoyle in Dublin pictured with her four-month old son Sonny Murphy. Sonny will be spending Christmas in Temple Street Children’s University Hospital. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Ros Mac Cobb, centre, his brother Cathal (left) are both working with Dublin Fire Brigade on Christmas Day. Their brother Donnchadh (right) will be on call for the Irish Coast Guard.
Monica Cunningham pictured at the National Rehab Hospital. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Just because it is Christmas doesn’t mean people stop being sick or stop getting into medical difficulties. For some families, December 25th isn’t about an overabundance of quality time together consuming thousands of Quality Street calories. Instead, they are spending the day in hospitals around the country or in work, keeping the rest of us safe and well.
Only children with the most serious illnesses are kept in hospital at Christmas, as there’s a major push to let families spend the holidays together at home. The doctors are worked off their feet in the run-up to December 25th, and then the beds start to empty on Christmas Eve, and the hospital is suddenly quiet.
We spoke to a mother whose baby will be spending Christmas in hospital; a patient in the National Rehabilitation Hospital; and three emergency responders who treat the day like any other work day.
Sonny Murphy was born on July 24th and has been in hospital ever since. The four-month-old boy, from Dublin, has spina bifida which has resulted in physical difficulties with both his legs and his vocal cords.
Although he will be spending Christmas at Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, his family – parents Karen and Paul and big brother James – will be there with him and hope they may be allowed to take him home for a couple of hours.
“I was very upset initially when I found out that Sonny would be in hospital for Christmas Eve as I wanted him to be home when we were getting ready for Santa, ” says Karen.
“But the nurses at Temple Street have been fantastic and reassured us that he will have a lovely time as Santa comes to visit the children and there will be lots of festive music and lights, which I know he will love.
“In fact, he already has his own fairy lights around the cot which he absolutely adores and we will all be with him until he falls asleep on Christmas Eve and then we will come back in early the next morning.”
Karen says that although Sonny has been very sick for the past few months, he is showing signs of improvement and has never let it affect his mood.
“He’s such a gorgeous, happy little boy and has been through so much since he was born – including a tracheostomy,” she says. “But after spending 108 days in ICU, he has finally begun to thrive and is now feeding from a bottle and is off the ventilator. We are thrilled and I really feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“In fact, his medical team have said we may be able to take him home for a few hours on Christmas Day which would be the best present ever – all I want to do is snuggle up on the sofa with him. Whatever happens, we will make sure that he has a lovely day, and this time next year, hopefully, everything will be different and he will be home with us for good. He’s a little miracle and just having him here has made this Christmas extra special.”
Ros Mac Cobb is a firefighter in Dublin. Married to Janna, he has three children, Callum (eight), Sophie (six) and Finn (three). He says Christmas can be a difficult time in his job as it can highlight the suffering some people contend with in their lives – but he is glad to be able to help on Christmas Day and says it makes him more aware of the positive aspects of his own life.
“I have worked on Christmas Day many times since I started the job in 2006,” he says. “We treat it as a day like any other because we have a job to do and it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is – when someone is in trouble, we have to be there to help them out.
“The fact that it is Christmas can make for a strange atmosphere at work because we are called out only in an emergency and would often come upon families who need us to administer CPR or put out a fire with their decorations, presents and tree all around them, so it kind of makes it a bit sadder for all concerned.
“The same goes for RTAs [road traffic accidents] and little emergencies in the home, which usually tend to involve the elderly – this can really hit us hard as we get a glimpse into the lonely lives that some people live, so it really makes you thankful for what you have.”
Ros will be working the evening shift on Christmas Day so he will be at home for the all-important opening of Santa’s gifts. He says his children are well used to the routine by now. “I have been doing this job for years, so the kids are used to the fact that I may not be around for certain events,” he says. “I don’t start until 6pm on Christmas Day, so I will be there for all the excitement of Santa Claus and will be able to have dinner with the family.
“I will probably bring a few turkey sandwiches to work and while there may be a bit of a festive spirit, it’s generally business as usual.” But Ros won’t be without all family – his brother Cathal will be also working with the Fire Brigade on the day. Their brother Donnchadh will be on call for the Irish Coast Guard.
Monica Cunningham was diagnosed with breast cancer at the start of 2015 and, as a result of complications due to clotting, her right leg was amputated in March. She has been in the National Rehabilitation Hospital since mid-November, and she will remain there until at least early February.
“After my second round of chemotherapy, it was discovered that I had blood clots in my right leg,” she says.
“Doctors tried to open up the veins to break up the clotting, but the procedure wasn’t successful and I was told the only way to cure the pain was to have my leg amputated.
“The pain was unbearable, so I agreed and was in hospital for two months after the operation. Then when I went home, life was very difficult as I couldn’t really do anything for myself and although I have a son and a daughter who don’t live too far away from me, their houses are inaccessible to me.
“Thankfully a bed was found for me in the NRH last month and I am able to see some improvement in my life – the physios and occupational therapists have helped me to become more mobile and, hopefully, when I get a prosthetic fitted, I will be able to get back to normal.”
Monica (59) doesn’t mind spending Christmas in hospital as she says the staff do a fantastic job and there is such a positive atmosphere that it should actually be a really nice day.
“I would much rather be here at the NRH than at home,” she says.
“I can’t do anything for myself at home and when I’m in here, I am really well looked after and each member of staff makes you feel as if you are important rather than a burden to them.
“I spoke to the chef the other day, so I know we will be having a full Christmas dinner, and a traditional cooked breakfast to start the day, so we will be really spoiled. There will also be a festive feel on the ward and Noelle, one of the other patients here, will be celebrating her birthday on Christmas Day, so I’m sure we will have a good time and a bit of a laugh.
“I am still in treatment for cancer, but despite people thinking hospital is a bad place to be for Christmas, I don’t mind it at all.”
The emergency call operators
Grimes has two children – Isobel (8) and Zoe (6) – and she and her partner, Lar, will both be on hand to see what Santa has brought on Christmas morning. But later on, she will be heading in to work to ensure emergency calls are handled correctly.
“I answer 999 calls and provide assistance to callers. I will be working from 7pm on Christmas evening so will be able to have dinner with my family and hopefully have a few hours’ sleep before heading in to work,” she says.
“My shift is 12 hours long and I would usually handle about 70 calls. I have often worked during this period and last year I worked all over Christmas and New Year – but I don’t mind it at all as this is what I signed up for when I started my job. Medical and emergency facilities have to be consistent all year round as no one ever knows when they will need us.”
Her colleague, Cathal Keavey, is working the early morning shift and says people should follow the same precautions as they do throughout the year and not take a relaxed approach just because it is Christmas.
“I work as a dispatcher which involves finding the nearest emergency service provider to a particular caller,” he says.
“My advice for a safe Christmas would be for family members to be aware that if they are bringing an elderly person home from a hospital or nursing home, make sure to follow their required medication and diet.”
Pat Melody has worked for An Garda Síochána for 18 years. Based at Henry Street station in Limerick, his current role in the traffic corps takes him across the city and county. He has worked Christmas Day on many occasions and this year will be leaving his wife Barbara and children Niamh (12), Aoife (11) and Niall (9) very early in the morning, However, he is pretty sure that Santa will have already been before he heads out to work.
“I am working from 7am to 5pm on Christmas Day,” he says. “It’s an early start all right, but I’m sure the children will be up from 5.30am to see what Santa has brought, so and this is good becauseI will be there to see them open their presents.
“Barbara is a midwife and will be working on Christmas Eve, so it’s quite different in our house as there is never a guarantee we will both be off for special events. We will have our Christmas dinner when I get home and there are only the five of us this year, so having it later isn’t too much of a problem.”
He says while it is generally quieter on the roads over the 24-hour Christmas period, no one knows when a accidentcrash will happen, but by being careful, people can reduce the chances of being involved in an accident. for them
“There are usually lessfewer people on the roads on Christmas Day but accidents happen all the time and we have to be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week so we can help people when they need us,” he says.
“No one expects something to happen to them, but it does, all the time, and my advice would be for everyone who is heading out on the roads to take it easy – slow down and be mindful of weather conditions and, of course, don’t get behind the wheel if you have been drinking. Organise a taxi or a lift or stay over if you have to, but by not drinking and driving, you will help to save lives this Christmas.”