ON CHRISTMAS eve, the Nativity will be relieved over and over again at the hospital delivery room (DR).

Instead of celebrating the noche buena with their family, doctors, nurses, and midwives will attend to due maternity emergencies, much like of the shepherds who helped Joseph and Mary during the birth of Jesus Christ some 2,000 years ago.

These people aren’t masochists. The medical staff would rather go off-duty during Christmas eve.

“Malungkot kapag duty ka kasi iisipin mo iyung iba nagsasaya na sila kasama ang kanilang mga pamilya, tapos iyong mga anak mo hinihintay ka, tapos ikaw nagtratrabaho,” University of Santo Tomas Hospital (USTH) Pay Division midwife Carmelita Cayabyab said.

Cayabyab has been a DR midwife for 15 years. She recalls that her first time to be assigned on Christmas eve duty was her saddest Yuletide experience. Her husband was abroad at that time and she left her children at home.

“Ang nagpasaya na lang sa akin ay noong tumawag ako sa kanila (family), tapos dito may pagkain din na dinala ng mga resident doctors at kami-kami na lang ang nag-celebrate,” Cayabyab said.

Cayabyab said her children have now adjusted to the demands of her job.

Last year was her fourth time to be on duty during Christmas eve, and an unusual thing happened. “Doon na sa floor kami kumain at natulog, hindi na namin inayos iyung mga kalat kasi akala namin wala nang darating na pasyente, tapos ’nung nakatulog kami may dinalang emergency, iyung babae nag-le-labor,’” she said laughing.

DR nurse Sharon Ganuelas, USTH Clinical Division (the charity hospital, remembers her Christmas last year as a sad and shocking experience. “Nung nalaman ko iyong schedule ko na on-duty ako sa Christmas, naiyak talaga ako, kasi nga three months ko pa lang ‘nun so parang I was still adjusting,” she said.

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Luckily, they attended to only nine patients at that time. There was plenty of food brought by her fellow staff but she really did not enjoy the celebration. Because of the rigors of her work, the only thing in her mind then was to get some sleep.

This year, Ganuelas hopes to spend the holidays with her family in their province.

In the USTH Clinical Division, the average number of babies born on Christmas is eight as compared with three in the Pay Division.

But according to USTH Clinical Division DR chief resident Dr. Marlene Javier, spending Christmas in the DR is just like being at home, regardless of the number of patients.

Obstetrics-Gynecology consultant Dr. Corazon Quesada recounted that when she was still a DR resident, almost all of the medical staff looked forward to being on-duty on Christmas because it was filled with joyful activities like the belen-making contest and gift-giving to patients. A midnight mass was held, followed by the traditional noche buena where everybody feasted on the food prepared by the hospital. The paging system heightened the festive mood by playing Christmas carols over the air.

“Masaya noong araw. The way we celebrate it now is very different and plain. If I were to describe it before, the merriment was like when you celebrate it at home with your family,” Dr. Quesada explained.

Dr. Quesada recalled the rush whenever a mother gave birth at exactly 12:00. “Pabilisan ng tawag ang mga ospital sa mga istasyon ng radyo kasi kapag ganoon binibigyan nila ng premyo,” she said.

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Ever since these doctors, nurses, and midwives assumed posts in the DR, they have somehow neglected their spiritual obligations. The coming Christmas season brings a lot of burdens—hectic schedule, overtime work, and night shifts.

“Nami-miss ko na nga iyung pag-simbang gabi. Kaso, sa hirap kasi ng trabaho namin, minsan hindi ka na talaga makaalis, lalo na kapag may absent, wala kang magagawa kundi mag-overtime,” Ganuelas said.

Nevertheless, they do their duties with dedication. “I wish all the mothers and babies a good life,” Dr. Javier said.

We may all have varying perspectives on celebrating the birth of Christ, but the meaning of Christmas is essentially the same for all of us: It is a chance for sharing ourselves with others. Brix Gil M. Bayuga with reports from Joanne G. Fajardo

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