This is Derby Week in Louisville. If you don’t live here, the closest comparison I can make is New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Hoards of tourists flood the town, and for two weeks traffic is hell and there’s constantly something fun going on. A majority of the people who live here have a great time during the Derby Festival. They attend the events, go to the track at some point, host or attend parties, run races, and chase hot air balloons. Some offices close for the latter portion of the week, and all schools are out on Friday for Oaks Day. The Kentucky Oaks, run the day before Derby, is a race for fillies that in recent years has become nearly as popular as the Kentucky Derby. The exceptions are the people who have to work long hours during their city’s biggest celebration of the year. Bartenders, police officers, paramedics, and hotel employees can forget getting a day off. Medical personnel and others who are responsible for positions that have to be staffed 24/7 can only take time off according to their own company’s (often complicated) rules. Seniority is considered, a rotation a sometimes used, and shifts are often mandated.
I love the balloon race, but I’ve seen a lot more from hospital windows or on patient’s TVs than in person, because it’s the same day as the Mini-Marathon, and people who have been training for months cannot be expected to work the day of the big race. Our company always had a team competing. One year I even had to cover not just the nurse position, but call for the doctor who was on that day. Thankfully, he ran fast and no one had a heart attack while I was carrying his pager.
One year a young physician in our group was complaining that it had been four years since he’d last had an Oaks Day off. I spun around in my chair, gave him a glare that should have burned his corneas, and said, “I haven’t had an Oaks Day off in twenty years, and it’s always the longest and worst workday of the year. Anything else you want to complain about?” There wasn’t.
The problem is that on Oaks Day everyone in the entire city is working on a skeleton staff (or worse if people call in sick). And the people who are working are pissed about it and it takes an act of God for them to hit a lick at a snake all day long. I always spent more time talking people into doing their jobs than it would take for them to eventually do it. And then there’s Derby Day. Normally there’s some sort of rotation system, or there are enough people who just don’t care much about the Derby to keep things staffed. Sometimes not. One year Michael and I planned a Derby Party. We’d never had one before. Then, when it came down to Derby week and our regular weekend nurse insisted she wasn’t going to work that weekend and no one else was willing to work it, no matter how much I begged, and since my supervisor was off (she’s off every Derby Week) and I really had no authority to mandate anyone else to work . . . I worked it. We cancelled the party. And by the end of the month I was interviewing with another group. That’s when Derby really started to sour for me.
The year I had my first and second spinal surgeries Derby fell between them, so it was work as usual. But My third surgery was scheduled for mid-April, and I was told to expect a longer than usual recovery. It ended up leading to a second surgery and a permanent disability, but I had no way of knowing that then. The first thing people would say when I told them my surgery date was, “Good for you! You’ll be off for Derby!” It’s like when you find out you’re pregnant and due in December – a double bonus!
Anyway, every year since then it’s made me sad that although I have this time off that I’ve always wanted I can’t do anything with it. I have no transportation, so I can’t go to any events during the weekdays, and all the other activities are either too expensive or involve too much standing, uncomfortable sitting, or walking. We had one small party at our house, which was nice, and maybe once we’re in better shape financially we can do that again. But to look for the positives in the situation (as I’ve been trained to do) I will never again work a stressful sixteen-hour day on Oaks Day or have to cancel a party to work Derby Day.
Do certain times of year make you sad or angry? Why, and what can you do to think about it differently so it’s not ruined for you and your family?