A smile, a laugh, a cry, and when medically permitted, a hug

People of different faiths have varied perspectives on the value and meaning of the December holidays. Getting past the commercialization can also be a challenge. Nevertheless, with the possible exception of individuals who are humbug down to the core, we are all affected positively by the spirit of giving, receiving, and togetherness this time of year. I am not speaking here about giving and receiving “stuff,” but giving, receiving, and being together in a much more profound sense.

This struck me particularly strongly this year as I spent the second half of December as a doctor on the leukemia service. Over the past two weeks I’ve seen proof that the holidays happen where you are: piles of packages on a wheelchair being rolled into a waiting room of family members, – pushed by a Santa in a hospital gown wearing a mask to keep out germs; an IV pole decorated like a Christmas tree; a patient who could not leave the hospital getting excited about ordering gifts for loved ones on line; and what can best be described as a “Skype-mas” family celebration.

These remarkable people, both patients and their families, were able to look past their physical struggles and challenges, at least for a brief time, and find inspiration in being together (in person or virtually) – in giving and receiving.

Our goal, as medical professionals, is to do everything possible so our patients can get well and be home with loved ones next year when the December holidays roll around again. Despite our best efforts, we know this might not be the case for everyone, and that, for some, this could be their last holiday together. Whatever the ultimate outcome, our patients and their families made the most of it. The two weeks was full of creativity, a smile, a laugh, a cry, and when medically permitted, a hug. The medical team focused on the physical well-being of our patients, while our patients and their families focused on being together. What a privilege it was to behold.