Snow is drifting down lightly outside my window, and the early-morning light is just starting to shine into my room. I am nestled in my bed, snug and content. Nothing is going to get me out of bed this morning, I think. Then my alarm goes off, and the realization that it is Thursday, that I have a more important place to be, pulls me out of the warmth of my bed. I know I am headed to a place filled with more joy than even a comfy bed can offer me.
Usually, I loved my work as an RN in the coronary care unit. But I always dreaded leaving my family on Christmas. Poor me.
So, whenever the schedule called for me to work on the holiday, I'd think back to 1980 and my patient, Mr. Watkins.
Ever since I was hit hard with myalgic encephalopathy/chronic fatique syndrome, the illness so eloquently portrayed by Jen Brea in the film Unrest, the holidays have been very different for me. Gone are the holiday gatherings, the caroling with friends and neighbors, the concerts. My body is too weak to attend any of these festivities, and the sound makes me dizzy within a very short time. I've been mostly housebound these 27 years.
I'm not going to share the whole story. That period of time was awkward and painful and private. Health scares and hospital stays seem more personal when they happen over the holidays. There’s something a little more permanent about them in the collective family memory. We’ll never forget that Christmas in the hospital.
Ma always made the most delicious Thanksgivings: turkey with stuffing; mounds of mashed potatoes dotted with bright green peas; a Jell-O mold containing pineapple and cranberry sauce; cole slaw and candied yams. Her holiday dinners were culinary feasts—meals that stretched the elastic waistband of my pants but still left room for me to nibble on leftovers later in the evening. Thanksgiving with my parents, maternal grandmother, and two children was the perfect holiday—until the year it wasn’t.