A HOSPITAL emergency department is the last place anyone would want to spend Christmas, yet Dr Ash Mukherjee always volunteers to be on duty.
“It’s harder now,” the Armadale-Kelmscott Memorial Hospital emergency consultant said.
“When I was single, the other guys had families so that sacrifice, OK, I’m happy to do it, but now that my kids (two boys, aged 13 and 11) are older it’s ‘Why are you still at work, why aren’t you at Christmas lunch?’”
Describing himself as “not particularly religious”, but of Hindu faith, Dr Mukherjee has celebrated both Hindu and Christian festivals since childhood.
“One thing I noticed in the UK and Australia is that you don’t do big nativity sets with the baby in the cradle.”
“In India, everyone seemed to have one and would bring the family over to set it up for Christmas,” he said.
Christmas lunch at the Mukherjee household will normally be a curry, although friends are often treated to a roast.
“They’re always saying ‘But we don’t want roast, we get that at home, we want proper curry!’”
Born in India, Dr Mukherjee moved to the UK in 1995 and quickly worked his way up the ladder to department manager.
However, he found he missed working in emergency.
“We’re like a big family, more than any other department. We’ll shout and scream at one another, (but) we always work together.”
Armadale Hospital puts on a full lunch spread for patients and staff on Christmas Day, while the emergency department is covered in festive decorations.
Dr Mukherjee recalls working the night shift one Christmas in the UK, staff on duty fashioned a cricket bat out of plaster and a ball out of Elastoplast and played cricket in the corridors.
He said that despite the festive atmosphere, he still gets emotional this time of year.
“The worst thing is to have a patient die at Christmas,” he said.
“It’s awful not just because of the immediate loss for the family, but the effect on future Christmases, forever.”
The doctor said the holiday season could be a lonely time for the elderly and young people with mental health issues.
“Armadale has a lot of older people and residents from a low socio-economic background who can struggle without support at this time of year.”
Yet despite its difficulties, Dr Mukherjee said he loved his work and although he’s held managerial roles, he always returns to the front line of emergency medicine.
“Making a difference when (people) need it, there’s no comparison,” he said. “I cannot see anything as rewarding as a patient coming up to you and saying, ‘You saved my life’.”