Christmas, a time for working much too hard

Christmas; it means different things to different people.

To laypeople, tinsel, Santa Claus, carols, good fellowship and hot, roaring fires, perhaps, but for GPs it's more likely to be hot, roaring patients.

In GP world, time is artificially stretched, and patients seem to think that Christmas lasts for about six months, during which time the health centre will be locked tight, which leads to things like the Christmas antibiotic (just in case, you understand) and the pre-Christmas check-up.

Flaubert (or was it Balzac? - anyway, some French guy) said that no man had really lived till he had walked out of a brothel in the early hours of the morning wanting to throw himself in the river. Now of course I can't comment on that; in rural general practice we don't (usually) have the opportunity to drink the cup of sensuality to its bitterest and most depraved dregs, but we do have our own stark truth; no one has really done a home visit till they've been called out in the wee hours on a freezing Christmas night, to be met at the top of the boreen by a grinning idiot with a hurricane lamp.

The hurricane lamp is of course utterly theatrical; it sheds no worthwhile light and casts mischievous shadows, its purpose only to emphasise the severity of the weather and the darkness of the night. It is mandatory that the boreen is impassable by motorised vehicle, but then the house is only 'a good stretch of the legs' away (at least two miles). You realise you have left your wellies behind, look longingly back at your warm car, and for a wild moment consider leaping into the driver's seat and scorching away madly.

But you don't, do you, because you're a doctor and you gotta do these things, so you squelch along in most unfestive misery, feet so frozen your verrucae are dropping off by the dozens.

The hedges are bare, liberated from the imprisoning foliage, like David redeemed by Michaelangelo from his marble tomb. The hilltops are spare and scant enough to set Mussorgsky whistling a tune, and nature is taking its clothes off, running buck-naked around the country, and making rude gestures at you.

And you think to yourself, not for the first time, 'I wish I'd done ENT'.

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