Christmas List

While I was in the clinic the other day, a patient of mine asked me if I was done with my Christmas shopping. I laughed. Done? I have not even begun!

With the holidays fast approaching, people are rushing, scrambling, and hustling to get their last-minute shopping to complete their long Christmas list. It’s no wonder we get so stressed. Are we sucking out the joy of the season? Why did Christmas become so commercialized and when did this holiday become synonymous with shopping anyway?

To the modern times, Christmas is not Christmas, unless we have completed our list (and checked it twice), and all the gifts are bought and wrapped, and all of those gifts are sitting pretty under the Christmas tree waiting for their eager recipients to open them with much elation (or much disappointment if it’s not what they want) on Christmas morning. Bah, humbug!

I know this season is said to be the season of giving and people often refer to the Biblical story of the wise men who came from the East to visit the baby Jesus, and they brought gifts for him. This is supposed to be our model for gift giving on this season. Really? Maybe we got it all wrong. Maybe we are missing the real essence of the season. Maybe we are taking too much emphasis on the gift-giving. Or maybe I’m just playing Scrooge.

Ten days before Christmas. I got time. Where’s my list? What list? Oh, I have not even drafted one yet.

But wait. Isn’t it 12/21/2012 arriving before 12/25/2012? Isn’t that the end of the Mayan calendar? Isn’t that the end of the world? What if the Mayans are right?

Then I don’t have to do my shopping after all!

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Mayan calendar

My Christmas Calling

Christmas morning. Freshly fallen snow was on the ground. It was a White Christmas after all. Bah, humbug!

I forced myself to get up from bed. My throat was so sore, it felt like somebody stuck a fork in my throat and scraped it raw. My body aches like I just ran a marathon. I caught a Christmas bug, you know. No, not the “joyful feeling” of the holidays. A real bug.

I don’t want to go to work, emotionally and physically. But I had to. I am on-call for Christmas, and our patients in the hospital, especially in the ICU, needs my care. (But who will care for me?) On days like this, I just have to suck it in, take a couple (or make it a handful!) of Tylenol and will myself to go.

I left home with the kids still sleeping and the gifts under the tree unopened. Maybe I would be able to come home early and we can open the gifts.

In the hospital I greeted people with perfunctory “Merry Christmas,” though I was not feeling the “merry” part, and in fact was in a Scrooge-mood. It was a busy day: 32 total hospitalized patients I rounded upon, 2 hospitals I went to, 19 ICU patients, 12 ventilator-dependent, 2 carbon monoxide poisoning that needed hyperbaric oxygen treatment, 1 chest tube insertion, 1 endotracheal intubation, 1 arterial catheter placement, 2 central venous catheter placement……. and a partridge in a pear tree.

As I dealt with the very critical patients and talked with their family, I knew that I was not the bearer of good tidings and joy, but rather of grim news most of the times. As the families broke into tears and comes to term to the gravity of the condition of their loved ones, I thought that these people are experiencing far worse Christmas than I am. At least I am going home tonight. My patients will not. Some of them will not come home, ever. And for these families, Christmas will never be the same.

Slowly my “Grinchy” attitude peeled off and was replaced with a sympathetic spirit. I then realized my purpose for this holiday, and that is to give my compassionate care for these unfortunate people, in this supposed to be joyful occasion.

The last patient I admitted to the ICU came late afternoon. He was 32 years old. When he was 7, he received a life-giving gift, when he became a recipient of a heart transplant. His donor heart had kept him alive for all these 25 years. However, for the past few years, his existence was less than joyful. Complications after complications have developed, and one by one his organs started failing, including his borrowed heart.

Today he was brought to the Emergency Department almost dead. After transferring him to our ICU, placing him on a mechanical ventilator, placing tubes and catheters in his body, and flooding his system with medicines, his condition did not really improve much. After I spoke with her mother in the ICU waiting room, she quietly, but boldly stated, in between sobs, that she was ready to let go of her boy who have suffered enough. She indicated that she just wanted him to go gently into the night. Somehow, the ‘miracle’ heart will be resting this Christmas night.

Did the miracle ended? I don’t think so. For the miracle of love persists. Love that is shown here by letting go, which in some occasion, is more selfless than holding on.

There is another  7-year old boy who is waiting for his gift. That boy is my son waiting at home. He may be anxious to open his gifts, but then again, he may be anxious just to see me come home.