Medical Practice

Doctoring at Christmas

By HANS DUVEFELT, MD

I find myself thinking about how being a doctor has come to impact the Christmas Holiday for me over the years. I have written about working late and driving home in the snow and dark of Christmas Eve in northern Maine; I have shuffled Osler’s written words into something that speaks to physicians of our times; I have written about the angst around the Holidays I see in my addiction recovery patients.

This year, my thoughts go to the way Christmas is a time of reconnection for many people. We reconnect with family and friends we may not see as often as we would like, and many of us reconnect with secular traditions dating back to our childhood. Many people also reconnect more deeply with their Christian traditions, the ancient celebration of Hanukkah or the newer one of Kwanzaa.

As a doctor, I think Christmas is a time when individuals are more open toward others, more willing to extend “good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). It can be an opener for future relationships to form or grow, a time to share our humanity in the context of experiencing something larger than ourselves and our everyday existence. It allows us to get a little more personal by sharing something of what we all have in common – the need for togetherness with those we love.

Many people in this country routinely say things like, “have a good weekend”. I’m not sure that is such a universal high point in life. For some, it is a time for dreaded chores, for others a time to muster enough energy for that second job to help pay the bills.

Christmas is a more universal time of feeling celebratory and unselfish, and for me it marks the passage of time as well as the consistency of it. It was my time of awe and delight when I was a child, and now it is that for my grandchildren. As Christmas week culminates in the New Year celebration, it also helps me think about what’s next – for me and everyone in my family.

During the coming weeks, I will make sure to share some of the joy and peace I feel in my own heart with my patients and I will be more than usually sensitive to signals of holiday blues or distress in them.

This is not a time to flaunt what we have – lavish presents, successful relatives, gourmet food, fancy decorations or invitations to fun parties. It is a time to share some simple human warmth in the darkness and bitter cold of the northern Maine winter in a time of divisiveness, strife and unrest.

It is a time of “peace, good will toward men”, of greater openness to others. It is a good time for reconciliation or rekindling of relationships we may have neglected since the last time we wished each other Merry Christmas.

Hans Duvefelt is a Swedish-born rural Family Physician in Maine. This post originally appeared on his blog, A Country Doctor Writes, here.

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