Working through the holiday

Published 9:20 pm Friday, December 25, 2009

While most Suffolk residents spent Christmas Day with their families, at parties or traveling to friends’ homes, a small group of people headed to their jobs keeping everybody else safe.

Police officers, firefighters, emergency dispatchers, doctors and nurses were among the many keeping the city running while most residents enjoyed the day off from work. Most took it in stride, however, saying they knew they signed up for holidays when they chose a career in public safety.

“It’s just part of the job,” said Brian Rubenstein, who was scheduled to work in the emergency room at Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View. Rubenstein says he had explained to his three daughters — 9, 6 and 2 years old — that he needed to work on Christmas to give back.

“I’ve told my daughters that we are a very blessed family,” Rubenstein said. “We have more than we need. When you have so much and you don’t need anything … there’s an obligation to give back.”

Rubenstein was scheduled for the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift beginning Christmas Day, meaning he still was going to be able to be home on Christmas morning.

“It’s a balancing act,” Rubenstein said. “I still want to be there for Christmas morning, but I also want them to see that at times, you have to sacrifice.”

Rubenstein expected to have a meal brought in by the staffers working that day. The entire staff doesn’t get to sit down and eat all at once, however.

“We might all get together and say a quick prayer and thank you for all the blessings we have,” Rubenstein said. “We try to make it a little more special.”

On Christmas Day, as with most holidays, Rubenstein expected less patients in the emergency room, but the ones that come in are sicker than usual, he said.

“We tend to see a sicker population on Christmas Day,” Rubenstein said. “We often see the person that overate and overdrank, both Christmas Day and the day after.”

Fellow physician Jeff Forman worked in the intensive care unit at Sentara Obici Hospital on Christmas Day. Forman, a pulmonary specialist, estimates he has worked more Christmas Days than not.

“You kind of accept it,” Forman said. “You know that’s part of the territory. My wife understands and accepts that. She knew when she got married to me that that was the situation.”

In between the public and the emergency room, sometimes, are emergency dispatchers and police officers. They, too, were on duty Christmas Day.

“It kind of varies,” said emergency dispatcher Andrea Beale. “Sometimes we get no calls at all. Last year it was pretty slow.”

Beale was scheduled to work the 911 lines from 3 to 11 p.m. Christmas Day. She told her 11-year-old son ahead of time that gifts would have to be opened early.

“I just let him know, Mommy has to work so we have to have Christmas a little bit earlier,” Beale said. “I know I have to be here. Somebody has to be here.”

Beale was scheduled in conjunction with officers C. Rau and J. Epperson on Christmas Day. Neither had volunteered to work, but they expected to, they said.

“I think I’ve worked it every Christmas,” Rau said. “It doesn’t upset me. This is the job that I signed on to do.”

Rau said call volumes on Christmas Day typically don’t change, but the types of calls do. Epperson agreed.

“It’s different, because all the businesses are closed,” Epperson said. “You don’t have the calls from your business and not a lot of traffic on the roads.”

A sad reality of the family get-togethers is that the number of family disturbances goes up, Rau said.

“It’s usually quiet in the morning, and starts to pick up around mid-afternoon,” Rau said.

Suffolk’s public servants agreed that working on holidays comes with the territory, but they said it can be rewarding — just like their jobs in general.

“It’s part of that idea of giving back,” Rubenstein said. “It just happens to be on a holiday.”