71: Not So Fancy

71: Not So Fancy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Not So Fancy

May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas which is peace;
The heart of Christmas which is love.

~Ada V. Hendricks

I’d always dressed up fancy on Christmas Day. By fancy, I mean a red sweater and flashy earrings shaped like Christmas ornaments. That all changed two years ago.

On my lunch break I phoned my seventy-four-year-old mother, Gerrie. After only a minute I realized something was wrong. Mom sounded off, and reported that while doing paperwork, her arms began flailing in all directions; when they stopped, she felt nauseous and cold. She had gone back to bed to warm up.

“Can you get a thermometer and take your temperature?” I asked.

“No need. I’ll be fine. I just need rest,” she said.

“Arms don’t fly around without reason. Will you please find it?”

“Oh, I suppose there’s one in my bedside table.”

“Good. Push the button and put it under your tongue.”

“Sure, dear.”

Moments later, the thermometer displayed Mom had a fever.

My heart raced. “I’m coming to get you. We’ll head straight to the hospital. Are you dressed?”

“Yes, but I don’t need to go anywhere. I’m okay.” She resisted but her voice was sluggish, and I knew my mother was far from okay.

“If you have a fever, we’re to go to the emergency department. That’s what your surgeon told us, remember?” I said.

Mom sighed. “Well, I guess it won’t hurt.”

I noticed the sickly yellow hue in the whites of my mother’s blue eyes as I escorted her to my van. I swiftly drove to the hospital in Markham, Ontario, the home base of her surgeon.

“I hope they don’t keep me overnight,” she mused. “I planned to go to the mall tomorrow. You know I love Christmas shopping.”

“Getting better is the priority now,” I responded.

I knew Mom had already exceeded the life expectancy for a person with her health challenges. I knew she was in danger. And I knew she would fight like a warrior to get well. I remembered her family physician saying to me, “Your mom’s tough. Most people don’t survive an attack like she did, but her condition is unpredictable. You need to watch for signs of trouble.”

“I’ll drop you at the entrance and go park,” I said.

“No, I’ll walk with you, dear,” said Mom.

I frowned. “I don’t think that’s smart.”

“I’ll walk while I still can,” she countered.

“Okay,” I said. She was, after all, still the boss.

We parked and started toward the door. Mom was unsteady. I took her arm.

“Why don’t you sit on the curb while I get a wheelchair?” I suggested.

“No. We’re close,” came the reply.

We made it to the door. A short time later Mom saw the emergency room doctor and was put through a slew of tests… tests that showed big problems. She was admitted, medical professionals took over and she was given medications by IV. Exhausted, I went home and slept.

The next day, Mom’s surgeon visited her room and explained that her liver bile duct was infected; she would be in the hospital for days. Once the infection cleared, he would do a procedure.

“I need to get that duct unblocked, one way or another,” he said. I could tell by his expression that my mother’s life depended on it.

By Friday, the infection had improved, and the surgeon was ready. As we headed to the operating room, I whispered in Mom’s ear, “I love you. You’ll be fine. There’s shopping to do when this is over.”

My mother smiled at me — a reassuring and tender smile. In that instant, I melted. It was the same smile she flashed to make me feel better when I skinned my toe on my bike pedal at age nine, when a boy broke my heart at age seventeen, and when I was about to give birth to my first child at age thirty-two.

“I love you and your whole family. You’re the world’s best daughter,” she said.

We kissed as the surgeon arrived, and then she was whisked away.

I sat in the waiting room. Passing the time was agony. I stared at a TV. Finally, the surgeon dressed in his greens hurried into the room.

“Come with me,” he said. His face looked drawn. I couldn’t tell if the procedure had gone well or not. We entered a curtained cubicle in the recovery area, but Mom wasn’t there. Deep inside, my heart dropped.

“It wasn’t easy,” he began, “but I got through the blocked duct. It’s open.”

My eyes suddenly welled with tears. Every pore of my body relaxed. “You saved her. I don’t know how to thank you. I want you to know we both think you’re amazing.”

The surgeon grinned. His tired, gentle eyes danced. He nodded his head several times in silence. Then, he said humbly, “Mmm, yes. I’m glad it was a success. Look, here she comes.”

An orderly wheeled a gurney toward us. Mom was asleep, looking small and peaceful under the sheets.

“I have another procedure now. See you soon,” the surgeon said as he left.

My mom stirred. Her eyes opened.

“He did it,” I said.

“He’s incredible,” Mom said.

“I told him so. I thanked him, too,” I said.

“Good girl,” she said.

After a few hours, Mom was wheeled to a room on another unit. Two days later, on December 23rd, the surgeon dropped by. He looked less tired and bore good news: I could take Mom to my home in Bradford, Ontario.

Upon our arrival, my husband Ian served up chicken broth. I spent the evening spoiling my mother. At bedtime, reality set in. I had a long gift-giving list, including toys for our two young children. My mother was weak, and not fit to shop. I had tons to do and little time.

The next morning after breakfast, I said to Mom, “You need to recover. Today’s Christmas Eve day. I’ll shop.”

Mom nodded. “Thanks, dear.”

I ran like mad around town. I cut my shopping list in half. I bought two toys, candy, turkey, and boxed stuffing. I returned home with a couple of bags.

“I got the essentials, the last dregs on the shelves. It’s going to be a sparse Christmas,” I said to my husband.

“Who cares? Your mom’s here,” he said.

“You’re right,” I agreed.

On December 25th, our family stayed in pyjamas all day. We watched the kids open their stockings, exchanged the few gifts under the tree, and played board games. My mom napped. We ate a yummy turkey dinner and watched a holiday movie. We never got dressed.

“What a lovely Christmas,” Mom said as I kissed her goodnight. “We should do the exact same thing next year.”

“Only minus the hospital part,” I added.

Mom smiled that smile again.

The next Christmas, that’s exactly what we did. And I may never dress fancy again!

~Patricia Miller

Bradford, Ontario

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