As you probably know, I spent a third of my life as an EMT in Central London. Anyone who worked in that job will tell you that the two busiest days of the year are New Year’s Eve, and Christmas Day.
But why Christmas Day? The shops are closed, and most people are at home opening presents, wearing bad taste jumpers, and anticipating a day of eating, drinking, and watching TV.
For emergency ambulance crews, the day starts with the leftovers of the previous shift. Christmas Eve parties, drunken revellers who had fallen over, some in virtual comas from excessive alcohol consumption. Head injuries, cuts and bruises from fights, maybe broken ankles if the streets were icy. Calls to the Police Station to examine injured prisoners, and all this on top of the everyday medical emergencies that don’t go away just because it is the 25th of December.
Once the presents are open, there are the accidents involving children. Rushing off to try out new rollerblades, skateboards, and cycles, many have sustained injuries not long after breakfast. For some, that will mean a few hours spent in the emergency department of the local hospital, awaiting stitches and Tetanus injections. For the unlucky few, it will result in being on life support in the Intensive Care Unit; worried parents sitting by the bed.
Many people start drinking much earlier on Christmas day. Few of those would usually have alcohol just after breakfast, so by midday they are feeling the effects. As the food comes out of the oven, the calls change to burns, scalds, and deep cuts from carving knives. For those that escape kitchen accidents and settle down for the afternoon, the greater than usual consumption of food becomes the problem.
Wind can be incredibly painful. Though it is not life-threatening, to a family the worse for drink and stress, that sharp pain may be indicative of something more sinister, like a blocked bowel, or perhaps a heart attack. So they call 999, and then get stressed out even more by having to wait longer than usual because we are so busy. For some unfortunates, the combination of alcohol, stress, and over-eating does actually cause a heart attack. Also Diabetic Coma, exacerbation of existing breathing problems like Asthma, or the rupture of an Aortic Aneurysm.
By early afternoon, it is not unusual to be trying to resuscitate people who have literally dropped dead in front of the Christmas Tree. This is usually going on in front of a number of distraught family members, some still holding unopened presents.
The early evening brings its own problems. Calls to people who cannot be roused because they have had so much to drink. Babies and small children put down to rest, then found in situations of medical emergency, like high temperatures or even cot death. Following those dramas, people start to leave for home. This now involves car accidents where the drivers are over the limit from ‘just a couple of drinks’. Their relative insisted they have something before they leave, and that might have been a whole tumbler full of brandy, on top of that ‘couple of glasses’ with dinner. They might be unfamiliar with the area, go the wrong way up a one-way street, or not notice that person who was walking over a pedestrian crossing.
In some cases, the victims are also drunk; sometimes wandering around in the hope of finding a shop open, or deciding to cycle home after having been drinking all day.
For most of you this year, it will be a happy and trouble free day. But when you hear a siren in the distance, or see the blue lights of an ambulance pass your window, now you will now why.