All I Want For Christmas Is You

Today, along with millions of other Americans, I made a last minute dash to the mall.  Since Hanukah fell most improbably on Thanksgiving this year, and since I was too busy burning the turkey and side dishes to burn candles, we decided to celebrate Christmas instead.  It will be a small celebration—my daughter is on call during her internship in Boston, and my older son works for the State Department in Washington, DC.  Apparently world crises do not stop for Christmas, or any other holidays for that matter. So it will be a small crowd around the table—just my youngest son, my 88 year old father, and my husband and me.  Who was it that said, “As we grow older, our Christmas list gets smaller as we realize the things we really want can’t be bought”?

I had already taken care of gifts for the rest of the family, but the motivation that drove me to the mall today was the question of what to get for Dad.  He’s been very generous with me lately, helping shoulder the bill for the massive relandscaping project, and helping my daughter pay off her medical school loans.  What does one give a (mostly) retired plastic surgeon who has already traveled to the far corners of the earth, who has driven fast cars (and instilled a love of them in me, his daughter), and who has spent the last year trying to pare DOWN his earthly possessions from the contents of two residences in Snowmass, CO and Houston, TX.   What he wants, I can’t give him—the ability to play tennis and golf and to ski again, the ability to live at altitude without oxygen, the ability to regain his hearing, lost after a car accident, and a loving companion to keep him company as the years wear on.  Unfortunately magic is not in my repertoire.

In the end, I spent a rather aimless two hours wandering through the maze of stores, rejecting fancy cufflinks, smelly colognes, silk ties, comfy slippers and expensive watches.  I hesitated at Brookstone—there was a mini projector and a tripod which would enable PowerPoint presentations and the exhibition of literally thousands of slides, now converted to digital, of patients whose physical imperfections had been corrected long ago but whose emotional scars might linger on. In the end, I rejected the set up as too complicated—another technology to learn and forget.  I bought a few small things, and got back in the car.  As I neared home, I stopped in the local liquor store and bought him a nice bottle of Tanqueray and a perfect lime—his favorites.  What do we all really want for Christmas? We want the health and happiness of our loved ones, and also, for me, my patients.

All I really want for Christmas is you—all of you.  I hope you all have a wonderful day.

Just Call Me The Grinch

I don’t get it.  Today as I was getting off the freeway, I passed a local farm stand that had just put up a big sign:  “Get Your Christmas Trees Here!”   And there they were, lined up like little soldiers, the beautiful Scotch pines, and Douglas firs, and balsams. How will they even last the five weeks until Christmas?  We haven’t yet had the food orgy we call Thanksgiving, but television ads for “Black Friday” already abound.  Does anyone else besides me want their holidays one at a time?  I’m still basking in a sugar coated candy corn stupor from Halloween.  Please let me enjoy my family, all gathered for Thanksgiving, before I have to think about braving the malls for glad tidings and gift buying.

The root of my problem– my crabbiness– (and after all, this IS the Crab Diaries) here is not Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or the shopping days in between.  It is my patients.  As the holiday season approaches, the pain and suffering of my patients seems to increase. This is a phenomenon that I have observed year after year.  At a time of year when a radiation therapy department, or an oncology chemotherapy infusion center would be—ideally—empty, we are bursting at the seams.  Why?  Because only the sickest of the sick will forego the holidays with their families and come in to the emergency room, the surgery center, the radiation therapy department or the infusion center for treatment.  The rest, the less acutely ill, will put off their biopsies, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation until “after the holidays”.  As well they should.  Very little in cancer management is actually an emergency.

Those who know me will hopefully attest to the fact that I am not the “preachy” type.  But when I see the holiday excesses already beginning, in the form of a big sign advertising Christmas trees before the turkey is stuffed and the gravy is set on the table, I have to step up for those who will not be sitting at the table, or around the Christmas tree this holiday season.  If you know someone who has battled cancer this year, send extra thoughts, prayers and cards their way. Visit them, call them, text them—just let them know that you care.  And if you and your family are in good health, give extra thanks and may it always be so.

My birthday is in December.  I hate it—having a birthday five days before Christmas.  Those of you with December birthdays know exactly what I am talking about.  But every year since 1984, the year my daughter was born, I do see those candles on my cake as an opportunity, the magical opportunity for a birthday wish as I blow out the candles on December twentieth.  Every year, I wish for the same thing—I wish for the good health of the people I love.  I hope you all wish for the same thing for Christmas this year—truly, there is no greater gift.