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World Cup fever sparks joy in hospitals

Hospitals can be lonely places as the days grow cold and long — especially during the holidays, and especially during a third pandemic winter. But this year cartoonist and physician Grace Farris, who works as a hospitalist in Austin, Texas was surprised and delighted to find her patients and colleagues rallying around a new sort of holiday spirit and connection — sparked by this month's World Cup soccer play-offs.

Dr. Grace Farris narrates, "If you've ever spent any time in a hospital, you probably know that the TVs are always on." A TV hung on a wall in a hospital room shows two people talking to each other. One says, "Where's Chandler?"
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Recently, though, instead of the Friends laugh track, Law & Order dialogue or grim local news, there's dot dot dot. A voice yells down a corridor, "GOOOOAAALLLLLL!". A sign on the wall points the way to the Cafeteria, ICU, and the radiology department.
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As a hospital-based doctor, a "hospitalist," I now realize it's the holiday even I didn't know I needed. A soccer ball hovers above this text and in the lower right corner, a tiny sign reads "Merry Everything".
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Usually, after some niceties with patients, I jump into medical stuff. Farris is standing next to a bed-ridden patient. A label points to her that reads "typical doctor communication style". She says to the patient, "Blah blah blah red blood cells blah blah blah".
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But now the script is flipped. Farris is now in another room with a different patient, standing at her bedside. The patient has a TV on with the World Cup playing. A bag of blood and an IV is connected to her arm. The patient says, "Some of the players are teenagers and they are bold! But the older ones are seasoned."
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In the hallways and staff workrooms, I'm finding kindred spirits in co-workers all over the hospital. A group of three works with face masks on stands around holding phone screens. One says, "Did you see Pulisic?" Next to her, a doctor says, "What's offsides again?" The third person, dressed in scrubs, says, "It's easier to just show you."
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I've never been into sports before, but the World Cup has made me and a bunch of my colleagues in other hospitals converts. Farris is listening again to her patient who is watching the World Cup on TV. "I can't walk anymore, but growing up in Mexico, soccer was in my blood," the patient in bed days. She is an older woman with glasses on.
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Karim EL Hachem, a doctor in New York, also has World Cup fever. He caught part of the Portugal and Switzerland game while on rounds. He and a patient are watching the World Cup game enthusiastically. "Phenomenal!" he exclaims. "So many goals!" the patient excitedly says.
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Vasundhara Singh, another NYC-based doctor, has enjoyed watching the World Cup with patients. An aerial view of a soccer field is covered with speech bubbles coming from different directions. Singh says, "It provides considerable banter and lighthearted chitchat." Another bubble says, "Olha!" "Let's go!" "Goal!" "Vamos!"
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Russ Kerbel, a hospitalist in Los Angeles, said he noticed ER staff checking the quarterfinals on their phones. A group of staff in scrubs with face masks on all have their cellphones out. A sign behind them says "Trauma". Audio commentary is coming out of two phones that says, "This will go to a shootout".
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In Porto Alegre, Brazil, hospitalist Guilherme Barcellos had hoped he would get to watch Brazil play in the semifinals while he was at the hospital. A view of the globe overlaid with soccer ball stitching hovers in the foreground. Barcellos says, "We started to think we could win." But instead, Brazil is out.
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A tiny gingerbread house sits next to two greeting cards propped up. One reads: Happy Holidays! The other says: Get well soon.
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Faris continues to narrate: Listen, I know the World Cup is mired in corruption and scandal, but the holidays are hard. Especially in the hospital. A group of Faris' colleagues gather around a TV screen with the commentator saying, "GOOOOAALLL!" Holiday garland and bows decorate the room.
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From where I'm standing, the World Cup is a slam0dunk, hole-in-one, home-run, excellent hospital holiday set piece. Faris stands next to a patient in bed. The World Cup is on the TV. The patient says, "Aren't these guys amazing?" The audio commentator exclaims, "What a beautiful finish!"
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Dr. Grace Farris is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas at Austin's Dell Medical School. Her latest book is Mom Milestones. You can find her on Instagram @coupdegracefarris.

Comic editing by Meredith Rizzo and Deborah Franklin/NPR.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Grace Farris