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“Madame,” said the nurse, towering over her patient, who lay on her back in the hospital bed. “I’ve got good news for you.” The patient slowly came to, and the new dayshift nurse was not yet aware that she needed a little time to boot up cognitively before she could digest any information. Furthermore, she needed someone to translate the information into her native Cantonese, and no one fitting that description was around. She shifted her weight in the bed and managed to adjust the headrest of the bed. Something that she could not even fathom doing a week prior.

I came to know this patient’s elderly son and private caregiver who stayed by her side in all the time that she had been admitted. Barely speaking a word of English, she relied on those in her life to translate the words from nurses who were new to her case.

“You get to go home and spend Christmas with your family,” said the nurse, with what I presume was accompanied by a proud smile and joy.

In the hallway, I didn’t see her reaction, but I heard it. The entire floor heard it.

“Waaaaah,” she said with glee. There was no need for a translator on that morning. As the rest of the day came to pass, looks of joy, relief, and hope filled everyone’s faces who entered and exited her private room.

During my stay at various medical facilities over the years, I witnessed this more than once. The joy of being able to be surrounded by your loved ones, one more time, and especially for Christmas. To have the opportunity to forgive yourself for taking everything and everyone precious in your life for granted.

No one enters these halls voluntarily.

No one comes here for fun.

Everyone comes here expecting the worst.

Outside, however, through the dimly lit battery-saving screen on my phone, I sat in the foyer at four in the morning and discussed everyone’s attitudes on Christmas with a nurse who was on break.

Words such as these filled my screen as I scrolled social media…

“I never liked the holidays…”

“I only like the time off…”

“I can’t stand the music…”

“I hate going to Christmas parties…”

The last one is usually accompanied by memes of introverts celebrating cancelled plans and hiding underneath their blanket on the couch. Under that blanket is what always awaits them, every single night – an overly processed dinner and a television remote.

The holidays, especially Christmas, bring forth an opening to those we care about. We all lead busy lives filled with deadlines, convoluted schedules for our over-achieving children, and travel schedules that are forced upon us by disconnected bosses who have never valued us more than the photocopier.

Simply put, we do not get to see each other, or for that matter, we do not get to talk to one another and hear each other’s voices enough throughout the year.

Christmas, with is lights, music, and immediate crescendo of intensity starting on November first, gives us ample time to plan and rekindle the connections in our lives that truly matter. These are the connections that we turn to when we hear of a life-altering medical diagnosis. These are the connections that we turn to before heading home to break the bad news after losing our job earlier that day, and without warning. These are the connections that all performative behavioural traits that we have ingrained into our beings out of necessity all come down and let us relax with those we trust. It also should be a reminder of how fortunate you are to spend time with them in comfort and not in a bunker, hoping that the reach of indiscriminate bombs won’t cave you in.

Cynics and those who take every chance afforded to them to remind everyone on the internet that they are above the holidays are truly fortunate for now. We all will be in that woman’s hospital bed one day. It is my hope that you do not take these regimented and scheduled holidays for granted. It is my hope that you seize the opportunity to spend time with those who you love.

The majority of those whom I witnessed in these halls over the years did not have regular visitors. They did not have family or friends who cared enough about them to make their stay less miserable. Ultimately, if discharged before mid-December, they would be going back  to an empty home, alone. They do not have the option to spend it with loved ones, colleagues, and the rest of the humans that make the complex and rich tapestry that is our lives.

They, like those on social media, many of whom I know personally, will be spending their Christmas under a blanket alone. But they do not have a choice in the matter.

If you do, have a little perspective and act accordingly.

– Time of writing, Christmas Day, 2023