A large statue of the Virgin Mary guards the entrance to St. Francis Hospital. Nearby stands a big, snow-covered pine tree bathed in blue lights. As I pass through the reception area, a life-size, mechanical Santa waves a cheery hello.
On the third floor, under an antiseptic sheet, mother’s form looks slight, fragile. I am glad I’ve come. We kiss and hug and cry. She fusses. I shouldn’t have driven so far. The weather is to unpredictable this time of year. The roads are unsafe for a woman alone. But, her eyes light up as we talk.
The food is tasteless, she jokes. The trays look suspiciously like the ones she sent back to the kitchen during her last stay two months ago.
Was our respite so short, I wonder?
As we chat, we drink cider from the container on her window sill and munch grapes from the fruit basket on her night stand. The doctors and nurses are good people, she says, but they’re just too busy taking care of the patients who’re really sick. Besides, she is going to be all right. She says so.
The heparin injected in the plug in her arm every four hours does seem to be clearing her lungs of the blood clots faster than the shots she had in her stomach last time. Her chest x-rays show improvement. If only she weren't so pale and thin.
Mother says she feels fortunate. Her roommate just came back from surgery. Breast cancer. So, mother, with only one leg and blood clots in her lungs, cares for their needs via the bedside buzzer.
From the intercom in the hallway, strains of “Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,” drift into the small room at the end of the long corridor. It doesn't matter that the television doesn’t work.
There’s enough activity, mother says, outside her doorway. We watch as the head nurse makes her rounds with the medicine cart. She pauses only briefly to direct an elderly man back to his room.
Last Christmas, mother enjoyed a healthy reprieve. No hospitals, no tumors, no radiation.
This year, well, mother says a hospital is a lonely place at Christmas.
From the third floor window, I look down on the dark, deserted city street below.
The other visitors have all gone home, past the mechanical Santa, the blue-lit Christmas tree and the Virgin Mary, who on this night will have help watching over her flock.
*Dedicated to my mother, Ollie Null Bailey, who passed away a number of years ago. I was her biggest fan and she was mine. She loved the essays I wrote, both published and unpublished. She told me one time that one of my essays about her made her cry. I told her I hadn’t meant to make her sad. She said, “Oh it didn’t make me sad. It made me happy to think you thought that much of me.” She was special.
Blessings to you and yours! And join me in doing at least one kindness for someone this holiday season.