Sitting in the lab, I was far from the serious holiday business of the week. There could hardly have been a setting less infected by Christmas themes and colors. I took some reassurance from that life-as-usual atmosphere. Any presents I had left to wrap or rooms I had still to vacuum for a holiday guest would have to wait.
Until a decade ago I could not have envisioned a routine visit to any clinic the week of Christmas. I would have been planning to travel either to New Orleans to see my parents or to Pennsylvania to visit the family of my partner at the time. I would have been about the business of being a son or a brother-in-law. I would have been walking into homes where a television was almost always on; I would have eaten off plates and drunk from glassware that dated from the years of high school and college. Cotton snow on a mantelpiece, hard candy in a glass bowl – I knew that my Christmas would have to fit into the Christmas of people older than I, people with more of a right to the rooms in which I dropped my suitcases and hid my gifts.
In the clinic this past December 23, I was the man around whom younger professionals worked, entered data into online records, swabbed an arm and drew blood. Even if our age difference was only a decade with some of them, I was part of the population they were not surprised to see in a clinic the week of Christmas.
To get coffee and a little breakfast sooner rather than later, I took a chance that there was a café or a clinic dining room down one of the first-floor hallways. I was right and hovered inside the door to check where to order food and where to pay for coffee. In the half hour that I sat at one of the tables, I watched out of the corner of my eye as one customer with his arm in a sling ordered breakfast and another in a wheelchair waited for her husband to bring her food to the table.
What was the chance that either of them had expected to be in this clinic the week of Christmas? What would be different about this year’s celebration from those they remembered from just a few years back? Which patient did the man in a suit sitting near the counter expect to see first when he had made it up to his clinic office? What lab results would he have to report, what news deliver?
With only routine lab work behind me, I wanted to believe that I was a lucky one in the clinic at nine o’clock on December 23. I wanted the Christmas I had waiting before me. I wanted to believe that I had made the Christmases of parents and family happy in years past. I hoped I would have the courage to face a Christmas one day if it should ever be different from the one I had planned.