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The festive season: A reflective experience

16 Jan 2015

Mr David Sidloff

Mr David Sidloff is a General Surgery Registrar in the East Midlands.  He worked during the busy Christmas and New Year period and in this blog he reflects on his experience of working at this time of year.

Working as a surgical trainee over the holiday season is often bitter sweet. On one hand, the drive into work was tranquil and the wards were full of good food. On the other hand, winter pressures were in full swing with the surgical wards full of patients. The relative chaos of packed wards, felt closely matched by a respective isolation that seems to come with working over a bank holiday and trying to remain organised and make rational, timely decisions amidst the business was one of my biggest challenges to date. The on-calls themselves consisted of a traditional mix of gallbladder and bowel related emergencies.

This is my first year as a surgical registrar and I will always remember New Year’s Day 2015 as being the first time that I have had to personally call a family to tell them their loved one had passed away. At medical school, communication skills are keenly taught and when I picked up the phone I felt ready. However, it was not until the phone was answered that I fully realised how difficult breaking bad news is.  At the end of the conversation the patient’s relative wished me a happy new year, and this, in many ways encapsulates what a conflicting time of year this period is.

Tragedies that happen within these short few days seem to stick with me the most and this year was in many ways no different. However, I want to focus on a different aspect of working over the festive season: commitment. When the snow fell around Nottinghamshire a few days earlier on Boxing Day, it was very difficult for the night surgical team to get into work. Despite the treacherous driving conditions, they persevered so that they could take over and relieve us from a busy working day.

Surgical trainees often work in excess of their rota, usually to care for unwell patients, often for the extra training opportunities that arise outside of normal working hours, and sometimes simply to help the teams that we work within. On Boxing Day this fortitude was out in abundance. Despite choruses of “Do you want to build a snowman?” the trainees who had been working tirelessly for twelve hours, worked on. The commitment and dedication to providing a first class emergency surgery service in such circumstances outweighed all personal needs and this is not uncommon among surgical trainees. There is not a work-based assessment to cover this quality, however, in my opinion the extra hours provided by trainees at no extra cost to either the National Health Service or local trusts, does require recognition. They do this out of a dedication to give patients the highest quality of service.

By the time the night team arrived on Boxing Day, I had missed the opportunity to talk to my children, as they were tucked up in bed. At a time of year characterised by spending time with family, I had been working. I guess my next big challenge is finding that work life balance everyone talks about.

Mr David Sidloff, General Surgery Registrar, East Midlands

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