42: Hospital Surprise

42: Hospital Surprise

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Hospital Surprise

How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it.

~George Elliston

It was December 3rd, 1963, and my mother and I had arrived at the Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto. I was there for a serious heart operation — but that was the least of my worries.

I was only six, miles away from my Newfoundland home, and Christmas was just around the corner. Prior to my hospital stay, like most six-year-old children, I had written my letter to Santa, stressing my address on the bottom of the page with a black Crayola crayon, as not to be overlooked. Now my Christmas dreams would be dashed, thanks to a blonde nurse with a strong Scottish accent who told me I would be spending Christmas at the hospital. I hated that nurse for telling me that.

I was sure my Christmas would be ruined as Santa would never find me there.

As I watched the fluffy snowflakes float to the ground the Scottish nurse came into the room and asked, “Are you waiting for the parade?”

“What parade?” I asked, deliberately staring at the floor.

“The Santa Claus parade,” she answered. It was to start at 2:00. She then said, “If you want, I can come later and take you to the recreation room, where you can watch through the big window.” She crossed the room and deposited two little pink pills in my hand and put a paper cup full of apple juice on the metal table next to my bed “And then,” she said, “if you are feeling up to it, you can stay in the recreation room and meet Santa. He will be here after the parade.”

“Meet Santa?” She now had my complete attention. “Santa is coming here?”

I agreed to go and watch the parade, and shortly before 2:00, the nurse reappeared and pushed my wheelchair to a large room that was filled with other patients, some of whom were attached to IV poles or in wheelchairs, and all trying to get the best spot to watch the parade. With the nurse’s help we all found suitable places to watch from the window, and before long we saw the first sign of the parade. We all watched excitedly and waved to the clowns, the bumper cars, and the marching bands as they went by. I could only imagine the sound of the fine musical instruments as their sounds rang out in the cold Toronto air. Finally, at the end of the parade Santa appeared. He was waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.

As the parade went out of sight, the blonde nurse reappeared and announced that Santa would be arriving at the hospital an hour later, so if anyone wanted to get their letter ready, this was the time.

This was my chance! Immediately I wheeled myself to the table and snatched a pencil and a couple sheets of paper, and found a quiet corner of the room.

Dear Santa,

I need an Easy Bake Oven, a paint set and some colouring books, and don’t bring it to my house, please bring it here to the Toronto hospital.

Thank you, Debby

Shortly after, the nurse came in and arranged us all in a semi-circle, and told us to listen for bells. Sure enough, within minutes the distinct sound of bells filled the hallway and spilled into the room. At that point, the room erupted in cheers and claps as Santa stepped inside.

He was plump, though not as plump as I had imagined him. His red suit fit perfectly, and his black boots matched his wide belt. His eyes were a twinkling blue and his white hair blended with the trim of his cap.

He laughed his famous “ho ho ho” and many of the children tried to imitate him.

One by one, the children had a chance to go up and drop their letters into the oversized mailbag he was carrying. Finally it was my turn. I wheeled myself to the center of the room and faced the big man.

He smiled and asked, “Who do we have here?”

“Debby Janes from Newfoundland,” I answered proudly.

He leaned back on the chair and said, “Well, Debby Janes from Newfoundland, what brings you to the hospital?”

“Well, sir, I need to get my heart fixed,” I replied.

“Oh, I see,” said Santa.

“And here is my letter,” I said, thrusting the folded paper toward him.

He laughed a loud “ho ho ho” and tucked the letter into the mailbag, promising to read it.

“Thank you,” I answered, “and you and Mrs. Claus have a very Merry Christmas.”

I wheeled myself back to my spot in the circle and watched as the rest of the children took their turn presenting Santa with their letters, but I have to admit, the remainder of the afternoon was a blur.

That night, as I lay tucked in my hospital bed, I refused to think of needles, operations, bad hearts, or anything else that would spoil my day. I couldn’t wait to see my mother the next day and tell her what had happened. I slept soundly that night for the first time in a long time. I had met Santa — and he knew where to find me! Maybe Christmas wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

~Deborah Janes Collins

Bolton, Ontario

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