Night Shift: A Little Holiday Cheer

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“I see you volunteered to work Thanksgiving Day,” my wife said looking over my shoulder at the group calendar on the computer. “You do remember that my entire extended family will be coming to our house that day…right?”


“It’s a tough shift to fill,” I said weakly while swallowing hard and envisioning the explosive political discussions sure to occur. “Besides, it’s usually slow, the group pays a bonus, and the atmosphere is so festive.”

“You are missing the family free-for-all?  And you think the ER is ‘festive?’”  She knew what it was going to be like and wanted me to suffer right along with her.

“Yeah,” I said hoping to change the subject. “Everyone dresses up and tries to bring the patients a little holiday cheer. The administration comes down and serves turkey to the staff. It’s quite the event. I was thinking of dressing up like a pilgrim. Or maybe a turkey…”


I could see her start to smile. “That’s a pretty funny thought. A six-foot-five, 250 pound turkey. I can just see you coming into the room to introduce yourself. The little kids will think they are being treated by Big Bird and the parents will think their little angel is being treated by an escapee from the mental ward.”

“At least, when I’m strutting my stuff down the hallway I can spread my tail feathers like a peacock.”

“I can see Ken Milne getting away with that kind of insanity in his ED,” she said dismissively. “But not you.”

“Just think,” she said in mock horror. “If you had a code and the patient woke up, they might see you and think that vultures were coming to eat them.”


“True,” I said screwing up my face and looking into the distance in deep thought. I liked that she was getting into this ridiculous distraction. “Or maybe I could be Squanto, the Indian who helped the pilgrims.”

“You don’t call them ‘Indians,’ you heathen,” she scolded. “They are ‘native Americans’ or ‘indigenous peoples.’ Where have you been for the last few decades?”

“Well, the pilgrims thought they were in India. So they were ‘Indians” to them.”

“Yeah, and they were so dumb that they didn’t even know how to plant corn without help.”

“OK, OK. Let’s not get into this whole self hatred thing. Besides, this is a day to give thanks for working together. It’s like the whole ‘shared decision-making’ thing that they want us to do with the patients.”

“Do you really do that?” she responded with a shrug. “I can’t really see you sharing the decision making with anyone.”

“Of course I do. I come in and sit down and explain the whole workup, the lab results and X-rays, my working differential diagnosis and my recommendations for therapy.”  I was in my most professorial state.

“And what if you recommend that they get admitted and they want to go home?  What do you do then?” she said with a challenging thrust of her chin.

“I just say, ‘That’s quite all right. But you’ll be dead by morning.’”

“That’s what I thought,” she replied tersely.

“Wait, wait, wait,” she followed quickly upon seeing the December schedule. “You’re working Christmas too?”

“I want some new sails for the boat and I knew you would never agree to it. So I did some guys a favor. They are paying a big bonus for Christmas Eve.”

“Oh honey. The grandkids are coming over. They want to see their Pop.”  She did her best sad puppy dog eyes.

“I’ll be home by 7:30. And they won’t come over until after they have opened their own presents. So I’ll be up by then. Everything will be fine. And I’m planning to wear my Santa Claus outfit again. A bunch of the nurses are going to dress up like elves.”

“Honey, be sure you take off your costume before you go to bed. Just in case the little ones come over before you wake up. You do remember what happened the last time you crashed after your shift in that outfit.”

The little guys heard you groaning ‘Ho, Ho, Ho in bed,”

“And they came running into the bedroom to discover Santa and mommy…, you remember?”

“It was all over the school. I even overheard someone snickering about it at the PTA meeting.”

“It gave new meaning to the old Christmas carol “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus,” I said with a big smile. “I know sugar plums were dancing in my head.”

“Knock it off, big guy. That was a long, long time ago. You don’t want to give your grandkids nightmares like your children. Whitney heard that story from her older brother. And when I took her to the mall she asked the Santa there if he was her daddy.”

“Well,” I said with a suspicious twist of the head. “Was he?  How is it that we’ve lived in three different states and we always have the same mail man?”

“It’s time to retire that joke,” she said in disgust. “On second thought,” she said changing the subject, “I don’t think you should go as Santa on Christmas Eve. Grandkids aside, I think you would ruin everything for the little kids who are unfortunate enough to come into the ER on Christmas Eve. What if you had to do something to them that was painful?  That would warp them forever.”

“I guess you’re right. How about I dress up like Rudolph, with the red nose and everything?”

“How about the Grinch?”

“You’re trying to save the kids from a bad experience. The Grinch in a white doctor’s coat would be like Nightmare on Elm Street. Every kid would have to have a psych consult.

“You’re not actually going to go to work dressed up like a turkey, you big goof, now are you?” she said with a little twinkle in her eye. She was on to the joke.

“Nah,” I said with a shrug. “They were all out of double XL tall turkey suits.”

“And Christmas?”

“I can’t fit into the suit any longer,” I said patting my belly. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring me my Christmas surprise…wink, wink.”

“I’ll bring you up some egg nog…if you’ve been a good boy. On a serious note, I know you volunteered to work the holiday to free up some of the younger guys. And I want to thank you. I know it is a sacrifice.”

“Thanks, but somebody has to do it. I won’t be the only one. We will have a full staff, nurses, techs, admin, everybody. And even though I bust on the C-suite guys all the time. I actually think the fact that they come down to serve us dinner is beautiful.”

“And that’s not to mention all the other people who will be making the world run on the holidays,” she said with that look that I fell in love with. “Remember the holidays you were in Iraq with the Marines. I still think about those guys and gals. And the ones who are out there wherever now.”

“It all works out,” I said with a know-it-all smile. “There will one less argument at the dinner table and next summer I will be sailing under some brand spanking new sails.”

She looked at me with that look of frustration I know so well. “So this isn’t really about doing something nice for somebody else. It’s all about you and that dang sailboat. I take back all the nice things I said about you.”

“Whew!  That’s good. I thought you were starting to like me,” I said with a wink.

She looked at me with the look that shouts “INCORRIGIBLE!!!  Then with a shake of the head, “Isn’t it time for you to go back to work already?”



FOUNDER/EXECUTIVE EDITOR Dr. Plaster has been an emergency physician for more than 30 years, working exclusively night shifts for the past 20 years in emergency departments across the country. During that period, he joined the U.S. Navy and served two tours in Iraq. Dr. Plaster is the founder and executive editor of Emergency Physicians Monthly and the founder of Plaster Publishing.

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