Story by Laura Lagana
“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”Duane Hulse
It was the night before Christmas, and all through the evening I reminisced, fondly reliving past Christmases spent with my family. As a second year nursing student, just nineteen, this was to be the first time I wouldn’t be home on Christmas. Although I knew I would someday be working on Christmas, I never expected to feel this lonely.
Secluded in my room, I yearned for the mouth-watering aromas of mom’s freshly baked cookies, hot chocolate and love. The absence of the usual giggling, slamming doors and ringing telephones made the dormitory seem cold and empty. The unappetizing smell of disinfectant replaced my visions of cookies and cocoa.
Standing in front of the mirror, I conversed with my reflection. “You wanted to be a nurse didn’t you? Well, you’re almost a nurse. Now is your chance to find out what Christmas spirit really means.” Determined to make the best of it, I turned in early.
“I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me…” My faithful clock-radio announced reveille as I slowly dragged myself out of a toasty-warm bed. I trudged across the snow-filled street and grabbed a quick breakfast in the cafeteria before reporting for duty on the medical-surgical unit.
As I prepared to take vital signs on my first patient, I was startled by a robust voice that came from behind. “Merry Christmas to you. Want anything from the cafeteria? I’m headed that way Missy.” As I took the stethoscope out of my ears and turned around, from the dimly lit room I could see a gigantic, roly-poly elderly gentleman with long, curly hair, all decked out in a bright red, plaid shirt tucked haphazardly into baggy red trousers. The trousers appeared to be held up by only two, wide, fire-engine-red suspenders that had long since outlived their elasticity. This Santa Claus facsimile was standing in the doorway waiting patiently for an answer to his query. The only thing missing was the beard.
As I looked toward the bright hallway lights from the darkened room, I thought for a moment that I was dreaming. “No thanks,” I responded. “I just came on duty. I’ll grab something at lunch.”
Before disappearing down the hall he added, “Name’s George. Just let me know what I can do for you, Missy. I’ll be right back.”
As I cared for my patients, George was right alongside. I watched him spread holiday cheer as he became a guest to the patients who had no visitors that day. When trays arrived he knew who needed assistance and who needed to be fed. He read letters and cards to those whose eyes could no longer see the letters on a printed page. George’s powerful body and tender hands were always ready to help hold, turn, pull-up or lift a patient. He was a “gopher” who made countless trips to the supply room for the “needs of the moment.”
George also knew when to call for help. While reading a letter to Mr. Jenkins, George noticed that the patient suddenly started to “look funny” and instantly ran to the nurse’s station to summon aid. Thanks to George’s swift action, we managed to reverse the effects of an impending diabetic coma.
Jovial George clearly enjoyed helping others while he spread cheer and told jokes — the same jokes, over and over again, all day long, one patient at a time. We all enjoyed his presence that Christmas day.
When I finally took my lunch break, I was surprised to find the cafeteria elaborately decorated for the season. I sat down next to one of the staff nurses from the unit. During lunch with Andrea, I had the chance to ask a burning question. “Who is this George fellow? And why is he here on Christmas Day?”
“About ten years ago, George’s wife became seriously ill. He spent almost every waking moment by her side. Those two lovebirds were so devoted to one another. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for her.” Andrea stopped for a few moments, sipping her coffee in silence, before continuing.
“George started to visit other patients while his wife was sleeping or having treatments. He was here so much that he seemed to take naturally to helping out wherever he could.”
My natural curiosity made me ask, “Does he have any family?”
A serious look came over Andrea’s face as she continued. “They never had children, and as far as I know, there are no relatives. But you see, George watched his wife suffer for a very long time. He shared every second of her pain and anguish. On Christmas Eve night, after I prepared his wife for sleep, they prayed together. During the prayer, George promised his wife that if God would take away her misery that night, by taking her ‘home,’ he would spend the rest of his life as a Christmas volunteer.”
Andrea and I finished our lunch in silence.