By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News
All across the country today, people are ripping open presents, sitting down to turkey dinners or maybe simply enjoying a relaxing day off while everyone else celebrates Christmas. Many people are also getting sick, injured or finding themselves involved in dangerous disputes.
“Emergencies don’t take a holiday,” said Tom Scime, operations manager for the Town of Tonawanda paramedics.
Scime, who’s been at the job for 30 years, says that while there may be some leniency allowing paramedics to make a stop at home if they’re nearby, shifts still need to be covered and people still need medical attention and rides to the hospital.
In just the Town of Tonawanda and Kenmore last Christmas, dispatch received on average one call every 45 minutes for paramedic attention alone. Throw in police calls and they peaked at about 150 calls for the entire day. Scime says that’s actually a bit above average — most days paramedics get about 26 calls.
For emergency workers, Scime said, the joys can be high on Christmas day, but the tragedies can be even lower than normal.
“Tragedy abounds all the time, but magnifies during the Christmas season ... they weigh heavy on your heart,” Scime said. “I think emotionally you’re disconnected from home and you tend to have a higher stress day because of some sort of tragic event that takes place,” he added.
City of Tonawanda Police Officer Dave Ljiljanich echoed Scime’s sentiment, saying emotions tend to run a little high on the holidays as people interact with families.
“It’s bothersome to see that on these holidays ... that’s supposed to be for family gatherings,” he said. “There are family disputes and family problems when they should be enjoying each other and they’re not.”
Still, Ljiljanich said, many officers on duty, like himself, are allowed to be at home on holidays, leaving only when they get a call. Because city cops are required to live within the municipality, they’re never too far away.
In the end, Scime and Ljiljanich said they’re not too bothered by working on the holidays — it’s just something that comes with the job. And luckily, the kids and families understand their responsibilities as well.
“They’re very good about it because they know that if dad’s got a call, dad will go but he will come back,” said Ljiljanich, who has three children ages 7, 6 and 5.
”They’ll hold off opening gifts but if it takes too long they’ll do what they’ve got to do,” he added with a laugh.
Scime, whose children are now grown, says it was more difficult when they were younger because he was “low man on the totem pole,” and had to work many holidays. But for the most part, the paramedics look out for the own, coming in an hour early here and there to help each other get home to celebrate the holiday.
For hospital workers, there may not be as much leeway to take calls from home, but Mary Jane Lodico, registered nurse at Kenmore Mercy Hospital said enjoying the holidays at work is a little like spending time with family anyway.
“We’re there so often, it’s like a family,” she said, adding she and her co-workers bring in snacks and refreshments to help keep the day festive.
Dr. Michael Gough, pulminologist and intensivist at Kenmore Mercy, said it’s all about comraderie.
“Working the holidays is always unique because I work in the intensive care unit and I work very closely with a large team of nurses, pharmacists and others,” he said. “It’s a multidisciplinary team ... we all work closely together every day.
“You do little things to try to maintain the spirit of the holiday season,” he added.
Lodico and Gough said there’s an effort in the hospital to extend that holiday spirit to the patients as well — the ill and injured are often in even greater need of that special attention during Christmas.
“You have patients there who have life-threatening illnesses. The stress and strain of that at any time is tremendous but when you factor in the holidays and it’s supposed to be joyous and happy and you have a loved one on life support who’s struggling through a very serious illness, it does put a larger strain on family members,” Gough said.
Lodico said the nurses in her unit often try to look out for patients who’ve been with them for a while and they know will remain throughout the holidays.
“Administration hands out cards from the hospital to the patient. A lot of times we have elderly people here so we sometimes adopt them and pitch in and get them a robe or slippers or something for the room ... or we buy toys,” Lodico said. “We know who’s still going to be around on Christmas and we make sure their day is just as special as ours is when we get home.”
But like law enforcement and paramedics, Lodico and Gough said they’re not really all that bothered by working through Christmas, because it’s needed. Lodico said she feels strongly about helping people all through the year, holiday or not, it makes no difference.
Gough says it’s all about stepping up.
“It’s part of the choice you make when you take this job,” he said. “Critically ill patients don’t just take the day off.”
And if all else fails, a healthy dose of humor helps the day go by too.
“No one calls 911 and invites us to the party,” Scime laughed. “And if they do, you wonder what’s going on.”
Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.