Christmas at Hell Hospital
(Disclaimer: this series of stories is completely fictional and none of the persons, places or institutions in these stories are real, but figments of my own imagination. Any similarity to any real person, place or institution is entirely coincidental.)
Christmas was the most cheerful day of the year at Hell Hospital; or so it seemed on the surface. The cheery smiles, however, often hid severe stresses and tensions which, though always present in the medical profession, were always worse at this time of year… along with the number and severity of road trauma cases. Even so, whatever trauma cases came into the hospital were all greeted with a cheery smile and a hearty, if ironic, “Merry Christmas!” from every staff-member who had anything to do with them; no matter how horrific their injuries.
For some patients, admitted in a semi-conscious, drug-and/or-pain-induced delirium, this was almost enough to put them in the psychiatric ward; all the more so when the staff members wore reindeer antlers, or conical little red hats trimmed with white ‘fur’, or long white wigs and obviously fake ‘Santa’ beards. But it was generally felt that not to make an effort to ‘keep the spirit of Christmas’ would be far too depressing and would lead to patients feeling left out or deprived; especially in the Children’s ward. Everyone, they felt, must make an effort to at least appear cheerful, and for their part, the patients appreciated the effort and responded in kind, by trying to maintain a cheerful front themselves.
In the children’s ward, however, the happiness and good cheer brought by fake ‘Santas’, elves and ‘reindeer’, as well as clowns and fairies (of the gossamer-winged variety) was real enough, in spite of the kiddies’ often heartbreaking illnesses or injuries. Paula, dressed in a red Santa suit, with a large pillow stuffed under it and wearing a full, fake white beard, was entertaining the kiddies on her electronic organ with all the Christmas songs in her repertoire.
“May your days be merryyyyy and briiiiiiiight… And may all your Chrisssst-masses be whiiiiiiiite!” she sang with great feeling, drawing her set to a close by wringing as much emotion as possible out of the final lines of the old Bing Crosby Christmas classic. As the song drew to a close a little girl about seven years of age, who had been listening, completely enthralled, to Paula’s beautiful contralto voice, sighed and with a wistful expression on her pretty, youthful face, and said, “I wish I could have a white Christmas! It would be so wonderful to see real snow!”
It was heartbreaking, thought Paula, who knew that this particular little girl was dying of leukemia; she had consistently failed to respond to chemo-therapy and the nurses all knew that this would be her last Christmas… Paula didn’t know what to say, but knew she had to say something; after all, she was Santa, wasn’t she? She walked over to the little girl’s bed and, gently stroking the blond curls back from her forehead, said, “Well now… that’s a tall order, Emily; no-one can control the weather you know… and this is Australia… But we’ll see what Santa can do, okay?”
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The staff cafeteria had been decorated with multicolored streamers of crepe paper and tinsel; and above the serving counter sheets of A4 paper, each individually lettered in red capitals, spelled out the words, “MERRY CHRISTMAS”. Strings of Christmas cards, given by various staff-members to each other and collected over the course of years for just this purpose, were strung around the walls. A nativity scene depicting the arrival of the Magi stood on a table in one corner while a small Christmas tree, laden with baubles, tinsel, fairy-lights and little candy-canes, stood on a table in another corner, completing the party atmosphere.
“Just what I need!” thought Paula, ironically “Another bloody Christmas party!”
Still dressed as Santa, she sauntered over to the serving counter, too preoccupied even to chat up Swannee; she merely ordered her lunch quietly and then drifted towards a table. Suddenly she saw a hospital maintenance man sitting at another table and swiftly changed her direction… “G’day, George… mind if I join you?” she said as the beginnings of an idea started to coalesce in the chaos that was her mind.
“All right, what do you want?” George asked, suspiciously; he knew she must want something; nurses just did not associate with maintenance men… they mostly aimed at doctors, though they sometimes settled for male nurses… but they never, ever showed any interest whatsoever in the maintenance staff.
Paula sat down opposite George and said, “George, how old is your granddaughter? About seven isn’t she?”
George’s granddaughter, Amanda was the sunshine of his life and he was so proud of her that he didn’t mind talking about her in the least, even though he still wondered what Paula was after… and what did his granddaughter have to do with it anyway?
Paula reached into her bag and pulled out a box wrapped in Christmas paper and held it up in front of George, “Malibu Barbie…” she said, “For your granddaughter…” Paula had bought the doll for her own niece a couple of weeks ago…
George swiftly inhaled a lungful of air through pursed lips, raising his eyebrows in surprise; he’d searched all the shops for Malibu Barbie for Amanda, but had been unable to find it in the shops; and had finally had to settle for the latest ‘Bratz’ doll. But he knew that all the little girls at Amanda’s school loved Barbies; and Malibu Barbie was the latest and most popular edition… which was why the shops had all been sold out. His eyes gleamed greedily as he instantly reached for the doll, but Paula suddenly snatched it away from him, and then, with a seductive smile, said, “George, there’s something I want you to do for me…”
“You got it!” George responded instantly, “Just give me the doll!”
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St Helvi’s air-conditioning system was notorious; patients who had been there a while often joked about the ‘four seasons in one day’ they sometimes experienced. When it was particularly temperamental the nurses would have to go round the patients covering them all with blankets, kept warm in a heated linen cupboard for that specific purpose… but no-one had ever seen it do anything quite like this before:
As soon as Paula felt the temperature begin to drop, she headed straight for the children’s ward to make sure Emily was covered with a nice warm blanket, knowing that George had put her plan into action… Then she sat on the side of Emily’s bed and put her arm around her to cuddle her while the temperature dropped very severely.
“Ooooh, it’s really cold in here, isn’t it Emily?” She said. Emily nodded, then Paula added, “Almost cold enough for snow…” Suddenly, from all the air conditioning vents in the ward, came first little flurries and then small blizzards of frozen white snowflakes. Little Emily’s face lit up and she beamed with a delirious happiness as she clapped her tiny hands and yelled, “It’s snowing! Santa, you made it snow…”
“Well,” Paula said modestly, “I had a little help from the guy upstairs… Merry Christmas sweetheart!”
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