98: A Snowy Hospital Holiday

98: A Snowy Hospital Holiday

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Christmas Miracles

A Snowy Hospital Holiday

And the child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was on Him.

~Luke 2:40

Christmas Eve 1955, I sat on the wide marble windowsill of my third floor hospital room in the Essex County Isolation Hospital. I looked longingly at the circular driveway leading up to the front entrance and let my tears flow freely. Not because the predicted snowfall turned into a major blizzard, but for me, a twelve-year-old girl diagnosed with tuberculosis, confined to six months of isolation and forced to swallow handfuls of pills.

And because it was Christmastime and I wasn’t home.

A white blanket of snow covered the hospital’s grounds and shiny ice coated the trees… a scene any photographer would describe as a perfect postcard picture. Who wouldn’t appreciate this wonderful winter Christmas gift from God? Me, that’s who.

“God,” I prayed, “I’m really mad at You and not sure I like You much.” That was true. I wanted to be with my family, not in a hospital. I also had a slew of questions, which I didn’t hesitate to ask: “Why did you let my daddy die? Why did I have to get sick? Why am I stuck in this room? Nobody can come in but the nurses, and then they have to put on those ugly green gowns and gloves before they even touch me. Why does a glass wall separate me and the rest of the world?” In between my angry tears I told Him, “It’s not fair that I can’t celebrate Christmas with my mom and brother.”

I soon realized that nothing I said made a difference and I had to accept what was. Besides, He was probably not even listening.

I’d have to spend the day alone in my room, on my ugly brown metal bed, reading another chapter of my favorite Nancy Drew mystery. Alone.

There’d be no going to church to celebrate Jesus’s birthday, no caroling, no presents, no gathering of the relatives around the table, no sharing the stuffed turkey with all the trimmings, no playing games, no listening to family stories late into the night. This would all have to wait until next year when I returned home… if I got better.

I said “if” because my father died of TB just three months after he found out he had it. And I believed I would die too. I knew about God and heaven and eternal happiness but I was young and wanted to go to college, get married, have kids, and live to be a grandma. I prayed about that too, but got no sign that He even heard me.

I sat alone on the hospital room windowsill on Christmas morning. The nurses on duty bubbled with holiday spirit as they carried out their morning routines. They brought in the breakfast tray with a candy cane stuck in my bowl of oatmeal. They gave me my medication in a small red cup. “A splash of Christmas spirit,” said one.

Later in the day they strolled up and down the hallway, sang Christmas carols and took requests for favorites. They passed out gifts, wrapped with jolly-faced Santa Claus paper.

Regular visiting hours weren’t until two o’clock in the afternoon. I knew not to expect any visitors, especially after Father Francis, a priest from the nearby church, didn’t show up with Holy Communion. His absence only proved how bad the blizzard was, because if he could have come, he would have. Just like my mother and brother. If they could have come, they would have.

Just after lunch, a loud “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” and the jingling of sleigh bells echoed down the hallway. From my isolation room I observed through the glass wall. Most kids stood at their doors smiling with delight. A few of the younger patients made a speedy dash to the nurses’ station shouting, “It’s Santa!”

Yes, Santa Claus, dressed in his best red Christmas outfit and shiny black boots, had found his way to the hospital. Over his shoulder he toted an oversized black bag, bulging at the seams. He made his way to every room with gifts. For me, he handed gifts to a nurse who dressed in a green isolation gown to bring them into my room. I ripped open a Paint-by-Numbers kit, a new Nancy Drew mystery and a jar of multicolored hard candies. This surprise brought joy to my dreary room and heart.

The day went on and I still felt sad without my family there to enjoy the festivities with me. I looked out the window and noticed the driveway had been cleared and cars were inching their way toward the front door. A few people walked up the sidewalk after getting off a public bus. Traffic along the main road showed signs of things getting back to normal in the world outside.

Then out of nowhere, people bundled in winter clothing; carrying Christmas wrapped bags and boxes, filled our hallway. Families arrived, one by one in small groups. I heard squeals of happiness and hoped against hope that my mother and brother would show up too. But they didn’t even have a car; there was no way they could come.

I wanted to pray, again, but so far, God had ignored every prayer I whispered. There was no use. I decided to take a bubble bath to pass the time.

From the bathroom, I heard a knock on the glass wall and I peeked out. There they stood, my mom and brother with rosy cheeks, wrapped presents and great big smiles. “Merry Christmas!” they shouted.

I rushed to the window and cried with happiness. “I didn’t think I’d see you today!” They must have ridden the bus two hours to get there.

I wanted to burst out into the hallway, hug them and never let go. But instead, we put our open hands on the glass wall, palm to palm, pretending we were touching. I could feel their love through the glass.

That night my prayer included an apology. “I’m sorry God for doubting that You were listening. I really knew better. Thank you for getting my family to the hospital. This was the best Christmas ever. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”

And I haven’t.

~Helen Colella

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Answered Prayers

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