A bustling hospital. An unexpected arrival. A frigid Christmas Eve.
I was saying goodbye to another patient when fate collided us.
“I’m sorry Father,” I heard your son say, “you can no longer live with us, but here is a nice doctor who will find you a home. Merry Christmas, Dad.”
Pretending not to notice your son’s exasperation as you pleaded for him to stay, I choked down the anguish of my own awareness and proceeded to examine you.
Bound to the prison of your seat—scared, bewildered, frail—you looked so lost. You asked why, what you did wrong, where your son had gone, not fully comprehending the chaos surrounding. A deep sigh escaped pursed lips as I searched within for an answer that would never come. Taking your hands, contorted by disease, I gazed into eyes dulled by years gone by—their hope fading beneath a glimmer of fear of an iniquitous present and an unpromised future–and I made you a promise I wondered if I myself could keep.
“It’s going to be okay…you’ll see.”
But hours pass, and it was not okay—you couldn’t sleep, you wouldn’t eat, and the only sound I heard as I passed the door of your half-vacant room was the resonance of muffled tears.
Behind a mask, I also let myself weep.
* * *
Soon the day ended. I entered your room, prepared to make my final rounds. But instead of a bid goodbye, what escaped was an exclamation of the first words that came to my mind.
“Sir, I think we should have a party!”
And that was what we did.
A 90-year-old veteran. A 30-year-old internist. A 20-year-old nurse.
Gathered around your bed, over reconstituted cocoa, you shared with us your history, your joys, your life’s adventures. Over paper cups of chicken broth, I told you my story. As the muted treble of holiday cheer dripped through the bedside radio, together we heralded in, with bittersweetness, the arrival of Christmas Day.
You then took my hand.
As I started to apologize for the late hour, you stopped me. Eyes still glimmering, I hear you laugh, and I believe I finally catch a glimpse of what was the real you.
“Thank you for a blessed Christmas,” you said.
A blessed one, indeed.