I forget sometimes what hospitals and nursing homes feel like during the Christmas season. I forget that I am likely to enjoy the holidays again this year without a reason to pay daily visits to either one of those institutions. That freedom isn’t the good luck of everyone I know.
Almost two decades back my mother had emergency bypass surgery a few days before Christmas. Airline tickets purchased weeks earlier were going to get me and my partner to my hometown of New Orleans just in time to spend Christmas Eve with my elderly father in a guesthouse attached to Ochsner Foundation Hospital. As hospital staff dropped to a skeleton crew to permit as many employees as possible an observance of the holiday with their families, I walked with my father and my partner through increasingly quiet halls to the Intensive Care Unit for visiting hours.
The temperatures in the hospital corridors and patient rooms were eerily steady. No matter the time of day or night, a jacket or coat or sweater eventually got to be too much in that well-modulated environment.
Walking through glass doors into the parking lot at the end of a visit brought breathtaking relief. There was air moving around me again. There was unscheduled, chartless life waiting for me. I had gotten a second chance to do something with my life, I felt as my partner unlocked the doors of our rental car.
Choice is what fills your lungs and powers your legs when you are the one who can walk away from a loved one on a hospital bed who has a menu to complete every day every meal.
Sometimes it is just the choice to walk away from Christmas decorations that you would never want in your own home. You can be an adult again when the safe and antiseptic corridors with their cardboard garlands are behind you.
The chance we each of us want for our parents and our spouses can make a hospital or a nursing home the gift we can’t explain offering to someone who may himself, who may herself a few years earlier have walked out of a hospital into a parking lot, eager as well for life, eager as well for choice.