I've been a veteran in-patient hospital patient for many holidays. It's awful being stuck in the hospital during this season, but with practice over the years I found some ways to make the season a little brighter from my hospital room.
I most recently was in the hospital during Christmas in 2017 and 2018. I wrote down one New Year’s resolution in 2019: to be home for Christmas. I was thrilled to accomplish that last year. No one knows what else 2020 will bring, but I'm rolling with it however it turns out this season.
I still remember my first hospital stay over Christmas when I was 18 or 19 years old. During the day it was fine.
But, in the evening and nighttime -- when everyone else went home to their families to snuggle and sip hot cocoa under a blanket and enjoy the gifts they opened that day -- I was left in my hospital room with a feeling of emptiness.
It was that first night when my CF doctor came through to visit the rooms on our floor with his guitar and played holiday songs. Tears filled my eyes -- I knew I wasn't at home with my family, but I was still surrounded by people who cared about me. The hospital staff and our CF care team became our family, too. They were in the hospital, just like me, away from their families and missing those moments too -- but we had one another. We had each other.
Since that first Christmas in the hospital, I tried to make the most of it. I'm not a huge room decorator when I stay in the hospital -- unless it's during the holidays. I string lights around my bed and decorate my walls with any Christmas cards I can get my hands on. I made this happen by requesting staff members bring in a copy of their family’s Christmas card to hang on my wall, if they were comfortable. I’ve posted my hospital room address on social media in previous years and asked friends to send me a card or even a drawing so that I can hang it up. As my time in the hospital went on, the love and joy in my room grew. I also enjoy bringing a small artificial pine tree or stocking to hang. Feeling the warmth and decorations of the holidays in your room truly will make a difference.
I received compliments on my fun room, which helped me feel important and validated -- sometimes hard things to feel when your body and lungs are sick. Having holiday music play in the background also created a festive ambiance that only music can provide.
COVID-19 has completely altered the in-patient hospital experience. But, I look back fondly on my most recent holiday hospital stay in 2018, when my son was 3 years old. He was just starting to understand the magic of the holidays and squealed with joy at everything in sight. I was deeply troubled and saddened to be missing the first Christmas he would understand. The heartbreak of not being there to watch him open gifts was crushing. Then, an idea came to my mind -- one that could only work with the help of others. I made a few phone calls pitching my idea and before long the plan was in motion: Mom will not be home for Christmas, but we can bring Christmas to Mom!
My husband, father, and mother rounded up all of our wrapped presents, packed up the large artificial Christmas tree from our living room and grabbed a rented Santa suit. Room 2014 became the Room of Christmas Cheer. We had a family sleepover on Christmas Eve and woke up Christmas morning surrounded by each other. My husband grabbed us all cocoa from the cafeteria and -- before we knew it -- there was a loud knock on my hospital door. "Ho-ho-ho," Santa cheered as he walked in with a gift to give to our toddler son.
It didn't matter that I was hooked up to IVs. It didn't matter that I was coughing a lot. Christmas joy filled the room bigger and brighter than we'd ever felt it.
Our son had an absolute blast; seeing excitement on a child's face will turn anyone's day around.
The staff sure got a kick out of seeing Santa walking the halls with a toddler chasing him. They were so patient with us and sat with smiles while my family brought Christmas to the mom in room 2014.
I hope you can find joy and happiness wherever you may be during this Christmas season. Especially this year, we're all in this together.
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