by Debbie Roome
The emergency was over, my breathing easier as the doctor scribbled in my file. “I realise it’s Christmas Eve, Mrs. Fraser, but from what you’ve told me, I’d prefer you stay overnight.”
I’d guessed as much. My history of asthma was long and dramatic and to be honest, I would feel safer here until my breathing was back to normal. That’s not to say I was happy about it, though. “I asked You for a trouble-free Christmas,” I muttered to God. “This isn’t what I had in mind.”
“Are you alright with that, Gayle?” My husband looked weary with dark smudges under his eyes.
I squeezed his hand. “You go home, love. Tell the family I’m fine and I’ll be home in the morning.”
As the nurse helped me into a wheelchair, I continued my dialogue with God. Maybe I shouldn’t have dusted the cabin but it needed freshening up. I so wanted this Christmas to be special. My thoughts flitted to the faces of my grandchildren, white with shock, their mouths small circles of fear as I struggled for breath. I thought of my daughters and their husbands and how we’d planned to have a white Christmas up in the mountains.
“There’s no one else in the ward.” The nurse pulled my mind back to the present. “We’ve sent as many people home as possible.” She laid a hand on my shoulder. “And you’re sounding much better. I’m sure you’ll be released tomorrow.”
The ward had ivory walls, apricot floral curtains, and smelled of pine disinfectant. A Christmas tree stood in the corner, sprinkled with tinsel and shiny baubles. I waited for the nurse to disappear and then slid out of bed and padded over to the window. Outside, lacy sheets of snow drifted quietly and the road was dark and deserted. A street lamp cast a cone of golden light that looked like a heavenly Christmas tree. “I’m sorry for being grumpy, God. I suppose I brought this upon myself.”
It was as though a heavenly finger touched my lips. Are you willing to be used?
Used? In a country hospital late on Christmas Eve?
The nurse came in at 11 p.m. to check my breathing. I was still wheezing slightly but the tightness had improved. “Your chest sounds a lot easier,” she said, putting the stethoscope back on the trolley. “Would you mind if we put another patient in with you? We’re short-staffed with it being Christmas.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Alcohol poisoning. She’ll be coming up in a few minutes.”
I pictured a creased old alcoholic and as I opened my mouth to say I’d rather not, God spoke clearly into my heart. “I’d be glad to have her here.”
She arrived five minutes later, a slight creature with tousled black hair and pallid skin. She looked to be in her teens. The nurse half lifted her into bed and then hung a clear bag of fluid on an IV pole. A tube dangled like a silver rope, taped to the back of her hand.
When she was gone, there was a moment’s silence as we checked each other out. Then I pulled my thoughts together. “Hi, I’m Gayle.”
She tilted her head slightly. “Maxie.”
“Bad night, huh?”
She lapsed into silence so I tried again. “Are you hoping to be out in the morning?”
“I don’t really care.” Her eyes were dark shadows, devoid of hope and life.
“It can’t be that bad.”
She twisted her face into a snarl. “You have no idea.”
What now, Lord? I’ve no idea what to say next.
I prayed quietly for a couple of minutes before speaking again. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
To my surprise, she didn’t snap back, but began to talk in halting sentences, disjointed threads sewing a picture of neglect, fear, and abuse. “I drank half a bottle of rum and three beers ... I didn’t want another Christmas with no gifts or celebrations ... they pumped my stomach which was so gross.”
Go sit by her. A whisper rustled across my soul. I slipped out of bed and pulled a chair up next to her.
“And how do you feel now?”
“Ashamed, lonely ... and my mom’s mad as a hornet. Says I wrecked her Christmas Eve.”
I reached out a hand for hers and cradled it between mine. Her skin was the colour of fat-free milk, and I could feel delicate bones as I squeezed gently. The touch seemed to release something in her and pain seeped from her eyes in slow trickles. “No one ever touches me like that,” she whispered. “Mom slaps me around and I’m forever fighting her boyfriends off. I wanted to die, that’s why I was drinking ... but there must be more to life?”
The question hung between us and I knew what God wanted me to do next. “Do you think you could walk to the window? I want to show you something.” I pulled two chairs over and fastened the curtains back before helping her out of bed. Like an old woman, she shuffled along while I pulled her IV stand. Then I dragged a blanket from my bed and draped it across both of us.
“What do you see out there?” I said taking her hand again, the connection a seam of hope.
“It’s dark. And it’s cold and snowing.”
“And what about the street lamp?”
“It’s shining in the darkness.”
I nodded. “That’s what Christmas is all about. The world was lost in darkness but God sent a great light. That light was baby Jesus who was born in a stable on Christmas Day. The Bible says that God sent him as a gift to us, to save us from our sins.”
Words of hope and healing flowed as God inspired and by midnight we were both weeping. “I want the darkness to go,” Maxie whispered. “I want God to change my life.”
We prayed together and as I said amen, bells pealed down the street, a joyous medley as the town welcomed Christmas Day.
I turned to look at Maxie and marvelled at the change in her face. The dull pits of pain were gone and her eyes sparkled with new life. “Merry Christmas,” I said, embracing her.
“And you too, Gayle.” A smile lifted the corners of her mouth. “I’ve already had my gift ... and to think I nearly gave up on life.”
We sat in contented silence as I thanked God in my heart. I’m sorry for being a grump, Lord. And thank you for tonight.
I realised a moment later that my chest was completely clear. No wheezes. No tightness, no crackles. I smiled up at the heavens. Maybe I did do the right thing by dusting the cabin.
Read the previous story, "The Birthday Tree" by Seema Bagai.