Thanksgiving

Dhweeja Dasarathy ’21 takes a moment to give thanks to physicians and health care practitioners who sacrifice their Thanksgiving holiday to a life-saving profession.

/Thanksgiving/ noun: A time to give thanks, to celebrate with family and friends, and to be grateful for all the blessings we have been surrounded with.

On the fourth Thursday of every November, families come together to celebrate Thanksgiving. The night before, airports are packed, the roads are jammed, and Uber’s profits spike. College students excitedly pack their bags, and high school students breathe a sigh of relief for their five days of reprieve. On the day itself, photos are posted constantly on Facebook and Instagram highlighting the massive family celebrations. Turkeys are carved, and the fanciest china is brought out for the occasion. For most families, it is a time to come together, share laughs, and finally be reunited for a night of family dinner and joy.

For most.

***

I had just gotten off my plane from Chicago and in my excitement to see my family, had slipped at the airport while rushing between terminals. Instead of my brother’s house in Cleveland, Ohio, I ended up in the emergency room.

The ER is a scene of massive chaos – trauma patients are wheeled in by EMTs, and the nurses rush to switch their shifts to get home to their families in time for dinner.

“We have a code blue, I repeat, a code blue. Get a crash cart in here,” someone yells. I sit impatiently, watching the nurses and a doctor rush to the patient’s side. I watch the IV drip as the cardiac monitor releases a continuous beep, the well-known signal for no heartbeat.

“Come on, somebody intubate him,” is followed by a “I can’t get a visual. I’m going to have to trach him.” One of the attendings places a small incision in the throat of the patient, desperately trying to find an airway. A few second later, and I hear a sigh of relief and a quietly muttered “got it.”

Among the hustle and bustle, I see attending surgeons tiredly taking off their scrub caps,yanking off their bloodied surgical gowns after a long surgery, and bearing the bad news of a loss of a family member. A few interns and a medical student wistfully trail behind. Their faces are dull, seemingly not ready to give the “though we did everything we could, we were unable to save him,” speech. On a day to give thanks, the surgeons will likely be blamed for the loss of a loved one, and I brace myself for the deafening wails that would ensue.

In another room, I hear a different wail – the bawl of a newborn baby. This time, tears of joy are shed and the doctor is pulled into a tight embrace. Her white coat is slightly creased as she is released. The family joyously embrace the new addition to theirs, blissfully unaware of what has happened in the room next door. It seems ironic that on Thanksgiving, though the physician is unable to spend time with her family, she is bringing together a new family.

As I lay on the teal colored sheets, gazing at the mundane, white hospital walls, I hear a patient cursing loudly in the room next door, begging for some narcotics to relieve his pain. This is shortly followed by the thundering footsteps of hospital security who then proceed to wait outside his room.

As Dr. Johnson, the resident on call, walks over and orders an X-Ray and prescribes me some pain medications, I note that she has just started her 24-hour shift. While her family in Missouri will be celebrating Thanksgiving dinner, they will be without her; she will be working the trauma shift. She accepts her job with grace, however, exclaiming that the hospital is like her second home.

Outside my room, the surgical schedule on the board is being constantly changed: physicians names are added and removed. I doze off to the squeaky sound of the marker assigning another doctor to eight hours of surgery. I am woken by a gentle tap, and am told that my foot hasn’t been fractured. Rather, it is just a bad sprain, and that I am ready to be discharged. I am thankful that I will be able to make it home in time for thanksgiving dinner.

Dr. Johnson isn’t the only doctor who won’t be home for Thanksgiving. Hundreds of doctors and nurses man the ICU, constantly monitoring their critically ill patients. Physicians rush to the hospital from their dinner tables as their pagers go off, and others try to get in just a few minutes of sleep in the uncomfortable “on call” rooms on Thanksgiving night. After all, the hospital still has to function, whether that be on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year.

So, as I sit at the dining table this Thanksgiving, surrounded by my loved ones, I thank the physicians who constantly sacrifice their sleep and families to help others. I thank the nurses and the hospital staff for working around the clock, doing their best to keep families together.

And I am grateful.

Grateful for all of those who don’t get to spend this day with their families, but are spending their Thanksgiving dinner in a dreary hospital cafeteria, surrounded by colleagues, responding to the constant beeps of their pagers.  

       

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