All ward, no play for nurses at Christmas

While the rest of us are home enjoying Christmas celebrations, a special corps of people will be on standby to take care of us if something should go wrong.

Hospital emergency departments can swell without warning this time of year, keeping teams of dedicated nurses and doctors on their toes and ready for anything.

Last year the top causes of Christmas Day visits to Wollongong Hospital's ED were fractures, head injuries and lacerations, and abdominal complaints - often the result of excessive consumption during the festive season.

But no problem is too big or too small for the staff who excel under pressure.

Clinical nurse manager Barb Howell is tasked with managing the ED from 7am to 3.30pm on Christmas Day this year.

She does, however, have a simple request which might keep things from turning hairy.

"We want people to take care of each other, be nice to everyone, drink sensibly and be careful," Mrs Howell said.

"I've had the busiest day of my life in the ED on Christmas Day and I've also had the quietest day - you really can't predict it," she said.

"You roll with the punches, you never know what you are going to get, but that's why we work here ... we like the unpredictability."

Having spent more than 30 years in emergency, Mrs Howell has seen it all - and she's ready for anything. She is proud to be sharing the day with her "wonderful crew", she said.

Everyone brings a plate of food to share - but no-one will be surprised if there is no time to eat.

"You just never know. We will be ready."

Down a few corridors, midwife Deb Young will be waiting for something magical - a baby born on Christmas Day.

"It's a really exciting place to be at Christmas and I feel really privileged to work here," Mrs Young said.

"Any babies born, we dress them up, take photos, we like to do something special for the families because they're away from all their loved ones too."

The good-spirited race is on again this year with Figtree Hospital to claim the first baby born in the Illawarra.

Mrs Young said it wasn't unusual for the ward to welcome up to four Christmas babies.

Even without any new little additions though, there is plenty of work to do.

"We often get expectant mums coming in who have problems with their pregnancies.

Some have copped a bit too much sun and not enough fluid in all the festive cheer.

"We also get pregnant mums coming in who feel unwell or exhausted after running around all day with other excited children."

But, whether she sees a dozen babies or none, Mrs Young is happy with her lot.

"We do this job from the heart, we feel privileged to be a part of such special moments and our families understand this is what we do and where we need to be."

Staff working in the pressure cooker environment on Christmas Day certainly don't want to jinx themselves.

"We just don't say the Q word, never ever, it's not a word we use," clinical nurse manager Barb Howell said.

While everyone is well versed at expecting the unexpected, they know better than to wish for a quiet shift.

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