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I’m concerned that my second childhood may be dawning. When I was nine or ten as soon as December was announced I began searching wardrobes and cupboards for evidence of Christmas preparations.
As the month progressed the contingency plans became clearer. The decorations box was brought from the attic into a spare bedroom which seemed now to be locked (the key hidden in a cocoa tin in the kitchen). Wrapped boxes found under the spare bedclothes and towels in the hot-press, vanished into secondary storage once discovered.
Shopping trips featuring individual family members rather than us all began to be scheduled with complex choreography involving regular rendezvous in the town square so that different combinations of parents, children and shops were achieved. (My mother who was in charge had been a ward sister and kept lists, rotas and plans to the fore long after retirement.)
Soon, the ever-popular letters to a higher being were written and then re-written when a better idea came along following feedback from a mysterious elf about availability or suitability. The tension and excitement built steadily until the countdown to Christmas Eve reached a climax.
For us as adults much of the excitement of Christmas preparations centre around children and fade with their growth and dispersal. Many people dread the festive season, often for good reason: Loneliness, isolation, poverty, disappointment, fractured relationships, bereavement, alcohol and Brussels sprouts all combining to do their worst.
Working in emergency medicine means that one is well used to fractured relationships, bereavement and alcohol, not to mention recurrent futile contingency planning and unanswered shopping lists to a higher being, along with the inevitable disappointment when the plans don’t materialise but the additional patient workload does, along with the between-the-lines response from senior management that it won’t be that bad and I should lighten up.
A visit from the chief executive wearing a reindeer sweater and fixed smile does little to brighten the mood made foul in expectation of lost sleep on Christmas Eve night waiting for a paramedic to bring another customer to resus, very unlike the lost sleep of childhood waiting for Santa to bring a new bicycle. And telling a distraught parent that their son or daughter is freshly dead in the room next door isn’t the ideal way to begin Christmas morning nor for the grief-stricken family to ever celebrate the festive season again.
However, this year is going to be different: Perhaps it’s because the joy of watching festive grandchildren re-ignites the sparkle that care-worn adults had forgotten or perhaps taking them to see The Grinch had something to do with it. One can’t hope to change the entire world over one holiday week nor to convert us Grinches to cheerfulness overnight, but it might be worth a try.
My wife suggested letting some Christmas magic through the triage doors in order to make us all a little happier and for once I’ve decided to take her advice.
Charles Lamb is a consultant in emergency medicine. He writes under a pseudonym