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Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 21 October 2020

'No one would choose to work on Christmas Day, but we're all in it together'

Doctors, nurses, midwives and others will be working across the country today and throughout the week.

20181219_140052 Holly and Arya Coyle Source: Family photo

MANY PEOPLE ARE not working today but for lots of health workers, among other professions, Christmas Day is like any other day. 

Doctors, nurses, midwives and others will be working across the country today and throughout the week.

Fiona Walsh, a midwife from the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital in Dublin, is working over the Christmas period. 

A large part of her work will involve visiting mothers and newborns at home.

“Nothing changes for us really, it’s all the same as any other week,” Walsh told TheJournal.ie.

She said working over Christmas is “something I’m so used to I just get on with it”. Walsh hasn’t had a full Christmas break since she got married in 2003.

During house calls, which take place seven days a week, midwives like Walsh check both the health of the baby and the mother. They perform a heel prick test, which screens for conditions such as cystic fibrosis (CF) and PKU, when the baby is between three and five days old.

Walsh said most mothers want to get home as soon as possible when their baby is born – even more so over the Christmas period, particular if they have young children.

It’s very important if they have small kids at home, they’re all desperate to get home. There’s more pressure this time of year to get people home. It also frees up beds in hospital for the next lot of patients.

One of the women Walsh visited on Christmas Day last year was Holly Coyle, who gave birth to her daughter Arya on 21 December 2017 and was discharged from the Coombe the next day.

“We actually had a midwife visit us every day day until the 26th, we really got the same care that we would have in hospital. My blood pressure and stitches were checked and the baby’s weight.”

Source: HSE Ireland/YouTube

Arya had jaundice when she was born so Walsh helped monitor this and gave advice in terms of how to treat it so the baby wouldn’t need to be readmitted to hospital.

Coyle said she’s very grateful for the home-visit service as otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to leave hospital.

“I had a six-year-old son at home, Hunter – my biggest fear was not being able to make it out on Christmas Day. I would have been crushed if I wasn’t there for him for Christmas. It really meant the world to me that we were able to be home.”

‘We’re all in this together’ 

Dr Peter Lavin, a consultant nephrologist in Tallaght Hospital in Dublin, also regularly works over the Christmas period.

Many of his patients need dialysis “three times a week, regardless of what time a year it is”, including today.

Lavin said the nurses he works with “tend to do a lot of organising to try to get as many people home as early as possible”.

“If the day normally begins at 8am, nurses will specifically come in particularly early to get people in and out so as many people as possible can get home for Christmas lunch, it’s a lot of work on the nurses’ part,” he told us. 

20181218_145331 (1) Dr Peter Lavin in the Haemodialysis Unit at Tallaght University Hospital Source: Tallaght University Hospital

Lavin said he and his colleagues will try to make the atmosphere as upbeat as possible this week, with many wearing Christmas jumpers and playing festive music.

“You try to make the best of it, no one would choose to work on Christmas Day. At the same time it’s part of what you’ve signed up to do, we’re all in it together.

I will go and have a chat with all the patients to catch up with them socially, make sure everyone is feeling okay … the social element can be as important as looking after them medically.

Lavin said any inpatient who is well enough to be discharged for Christmas Day will be, even if it’s only briefly, but some people are unfortunately too ill for this.

“If people are at all well enough to get out for an hour we’ll arrange that – even if it’s just to see the outdoors, it gives them a little bit of hope.”

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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