Christmas In Triage

It was Christmas time again, Cliff was alone as usual. That’s not to say that he was lonely, he had a big family, and they always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. That’s because Cliff wanted all the people who worked with him to have Christmas.

Cliff was a Security Guard for the largest hospital in the city , and someone had to work on Christmas. For the last fifteen years, Cliff had volunteered. He had seen some peaceful nights, and some crazy ones. He never really knew what to suspect.

This one had been quiet, so far. Then about nine, they wheeled Jim into the ER. He had been hit on the head, and was a little woozy. It was nothing serious. There was no mystery as to how it had happened, his wife Ellie had hit him.

No, she wasn’t mad at him, she just thought he had been a burglar. For some reason, he wasn’t in his recliner when she came down to wake him to go to bed. That’s because he was in the kitchen eating the cake his diabetic doctor said he couldn’t have.

Ellie thought she had heard someone sneaking around. She just didn’t know it was Jim. When he crept out of the kitchen with the lights off, she clobbered him. Then she saw Jim, panicked, and insisted they go to check and see if the candlestick was as deadly as she had always heard it was.

Jim wasn’t too argumentative, he was just trying to hide the smell of chocolate on his breath. The problem started because Jim and Ellie were klutzes, and always had been. She fell on the ice in the parking lot and sprained her ankle.

Cliff saw all this when making his rounds and offered to help Jim get her inside. The nurses got them into triage, but all the doctors were busy. Cliff had made his rounds, so he didn’t have anything to do for at least an hour.

So he decided to keep the couple company. He asked them about their Christmas. “Oh it was good. We talked to John and Cindy on the iPad, that’s our son and his wife. They couldn’t make it this year. Alvin our youngest is away at college.”Jim explained.

Ellie elaborated. “He was coming home, but his car broke down in Phoenix. Jim told him to just stay till he could get it fixed, and come in for New Years. It was a quiet Christmas this year, but it was peaceful.”

Cliff did his best to act like he believed them, but he knew better. He didn’t believe remembering seeing any two people wish they had some holiday hustle and bustle to complain about. He thought about how often his brother Mike fussed at putting up the Christmas lights, until Harriet bought that LED projector thing for the house.

Mike was miserable not having something to get ready for Christmas. So miserable, Cliff still believed his running over it out of the garage was no accident. The next year, Mike never complained. He never did ask Harriet if that was her plan all along.

Cliff excused himself, and tried to think of someway to salvage the old couple’s Christmas. This wasn’t a tv special, he couldn’t get John, Cindy, or Alvin a plane ticket. What could he do? Then, he thought of Mike, and of his rounds.”

Cliff remembered the kids in the pediatric ward, and Mr Anderson in traction. Then there was Marie at the nurses station. She hated the overnight shift. It dawned on him that Jim and Ellie weren’t the only ones miserable at Christmas.

Cliff had a crazy idea. He wasn’t sure if it would work, but there was only a few hours of Christmas left, so what could he lose. He made his way back to Jim and Ellie. Then he went into his story.

“Look, I know this is asking a lot, but there are a lot of miserable, lonely people in this hospital. Everyone is too busy to do anything about it, and I’ve got a little time on my hands, but I can’t do it by myself.”

“Now I sing a little, if we could just entertain them, even a few minutes, it would give them a better Christmas. Now what do you say? The doctors are swamped, you may be waiting hours, why not spend it spreading a little Christmas.”

Jim looked at Ellie. “We’d love too, but what about her foot?” Cliff pointed to a wheelchair. “We’ve got the Christmas express right here.” Ellie smiled, and that was all it took.

Jim asked. “Can you get me some paper cups and cotton? Maybe some tongue depressors?” Cliff didn’t ask why, he just did. That started a beautiful, special, multi hour journey.

Jim put on a makeshift magic show up and down the halls. Cliff and Ellie did duets, and took turns soloing a list of Christmas songs. Jim played the harmonica Alvin had mailed ahead in the Christmas presents.

Then he told jokes that even made Marie and Mr. Anderson stop arguing with each other for a while. The tongue depressors made great juggling utensils, Jim was pretty talented. Cliff told a Christmas story his Dad used to tell him, and Ellie read Luke Two as the finale of each performance, as softly and as beautifully as Cliff had ever heard.

What was supposed to last until triage gave away to an exam, went on til about one am, an hour passed the end of Cliff’s shift. He text Rosita he’d be late. An after the last group had found the Christmas they had given up on this year, he returned Jim and Ellie to the ER.

The doctors patched them up quickly, as Jim and Ellie sat quietly, happily exhausted. They had went from a quiet, miserable night, to a hectic, wonderful, and complicated Christmas. It wasn’t lost on Cliff that Mary and Joseph must have felt the same way after Jesus was born on another unexpectedly eventful night. After all, that was supposed to be tax day, not Christmas.

Cliff saw them to their car, and then got in his truck. He passed not only the white, green, and red lights of Christmas, but several blue ones too. He remembered thinking, ‘What had happened, and how he hoped no one was hurt.’

Rosita barely let him get through the door before she hugged him, tears streaming down her face. “Rosita honey, what’s wrong? I text you I’d be late. Are you okay?”

“I’m better. Cliff honey, I don’t know what kept you at the hospital, but it had to be a miracle. There was an accident down the street, a bad one. Thankfully they said everyone’s going to be okay, but it was about the time you normally would be getting home. Mike called from the precinct to make sure you were okay. He said the way it had happened, you would have probably been hit head on. You could have died.”

Cliff just held her. All he thought he was doing was making an old couple happy on Christmas. He didn’t know in helping them, he’d live to see another year. Then he wondered, ‘Ellie thought she had heard a burglar. Jim had thought she had heard him. Now Cliff wondered if she had heard one of God’s Angels to take care of all three of them?’

He was glad they’d insisted on giving him their number. It was too late tonight, but he’d call them in the morning. The three of them thought they were bringing gifts to lonely people. Now they knew, like the wisemen before them, they received so much more than what what they had offered.

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