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  • Writer's pictureRichard Cree

Merry Christmas

24th December 2020

UK COVID Deaths – Daily 574 / 7-Day average 510

Total UK COVID Deaths within 28 days – 69,625

Total UK Deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate – 79,349 (up to 11th Dec)

James Cook Hospital – Total COVID deaths – 386

All COVID cases within South Tees Hospitals Trust – 74

James Cook Critical Care

COVID cases – 13 (6 ventilated)

Non-COVID cases – 40 (14 ventilated)

Christmas Eve got off to a bad start this morning. When I arrived at the morning handover meeting I found that my colleague Brett, had been up for most of the night admitting a collection of new patients and, as a result, we were pretty full. We have seen a fairly rapid increase in the number of non-COVID patients over the past few days and whilst we have enough beds to put them in we are getting short of nurses. Like lots of hospitals, we rely on overtime shifts to fully staff the department, especially when we have a higher level of sickness than usual. Unfortunately, overtime shifts are a lot less appealing around Christmas and so things get busier.

Hospitals used to be much cheerier places over the Christmas period than they are nowadays. Infection control concerns have led to the banishment of tinsel, Christmas cards or fairy lights. It’s also becoming less acceptable for staff who come into contact with patients to wear Santa hats or antlers. Breaking bad news whilst wearing a flashing Christmas jumper was never ideal to be honest, but gradually, over time, decorations and frivolity have come to be seen as increasingly unprofessional. I remember, back when I was a new consultant, dressing up as Santa and delivering presents on Christmas Eve to all the ICU patients who were not sedated. It is hard to imagine such a thing happening now. The only piece of festive frivolity I wore today was a discrete ear-saver for my face-mask that has a picture of a reindeer on it. Many thanks to Martin’s mum, Olywn, for knitting it for me.

Despite all this, we are still permitted a single Christmas tree in our staff coffee-room. The tree is an artificial one that is wheeled out every year and is always decorated in a fairly eclectic style. It honestly looks like someone has fallen out of the loft whilst fetching the decorations and everything has been left where it landed on the tree below.

Nicky and I are lucky to be off work for the next five days. We have been looking forward to enjoying some uninterrupted time with the children and switching off from work for a few days. Unfortunately, Nicky’s father, Gordon, was readmitted to hospital yesterday. Just when we thought he had escaped the worst effects of COVID-19, he became more unwell and is currently on the ward receiving oxygen. His condition is stable and he is no worse today but we are, understandably, very worried about him and are praying for his quick recovery.

It seems that just when you think 2020 can’t get any worse, COVID comes along and gives you a good kicking. The year has not ended well. The optimism associated with V-Day has given way to fear and anxiety over the emergence of two new variants of the virus that look to be significantly more infectious. The early part of next year is going to be hard work. It would be all too easy to spend Christmas worrying about the patients that I admitted today, some of whom may not survive to see another Christmas. Many of us will be thinking of those who have lost loved ones and of families who cannot be together over the holiday. I feel particularly sorry for any poor lorry driver who will be spending Christmas Day in the cab of their vehicle stuck on a runway in Kent.

However, I’d also like you to give some thought to all the people whom the NHS has saved from the ravages of COVID-19 over the last nine months. People like my friend Gary who, thanks to all the ICU staff at Barnet Hospital, will get to spend Christmas with his family again this year. There are many seats around Christmas tables that would be empty tomorrow were it not for the hard work of the many dedicated people who work in our nation’s hospitals.

Merry Christmas.

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