Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The ghost of Christmas Past

The year before I moved to Ambridge to take up my present lofty post, I was working in the Second City General Hospital on the wards as a jobbing paediatric SHO. As such I was on call for Casualty for any potential paediatric emergencies. This was the tail end of the eighties, when you could tell the paediatric docs by the brightness and eccentricity of their knitwear, white coats being strictly off limits on the kids wards.

For domestic reasons I liked working Christmas back then, so that Christmas Eve found me resplendent in the jazziest of woolly jumpers prowling the ward and tending the on call bleep. It’s not such a bad time to be working in hospital. The wards were awash with choc’s and biccies donated by grateful parents, and nearly empty of patients- nobody wanting to trust that Santa could seek them out down the overlarge Victorian chimneys of SCGH that looked distinctly uninviting. Especially since this was in the pre-Air-Ambulance era so there was no convenient helipad for the landing of reindeer powered sleighs and such.

We had out fair share of victims of Tinsellitis* in through casualty, but all had been treatable and fit for home, and everything was looking rosy. The only crimp in the arrangements for the festive season was an ambulance strike, which saw the Army out on the streets providing cover using their converted Landrover ambulances. As it happened this may well have turned out a boon since it had, for the first time in years, deigned to snow and then freeze hard all through Christmas week.

And so it came to pass that late that evening the pager went off and I trotted into A&E only slightly redder in the face than in the jersey. A woman had arrived in labour, and the Squaddies hadn't realized the SCGH delivery suite was a couple of miles up the road in an NHS run nursing home staffed by nuns (if you've seen the excellent “Call the Midwife” on the Beeb, you know the sort of place I mean). The poor woman had no transport and had already slipped on the ice earlier in the week breaking a wrist, so she had trudged from her flat in the advanced stages of labour and called the ambulance from a payphone, only to have the Field Ambulance of the 477th turn up to collect her instead.

The delivery went without incident and without a whimper from mum, and barely any from her newborn infant, and all we were missing were a few animals, shepherds, wise men and guiding stars, but still somehow this particular birth felt special. But then so do they all.

* A seasonal upper respiratory illness occurring in the week leading up to Christmas which, as any parent will confidently assert, is uniquely sensitive to antibiotics.

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