Thank God. Christmas is over. And the festive highlights of indigestion, Norovirus and new socks are just precious memories. But spare a thought for justifiably miserable in-patients, who due to staff training cuts, continue to exist in a nightmarish festive New Year; with nobody sufficiently qualified to pack away baubles, Christmas just limps depressingly onwards in hospital… a lot like the man in the dressing gown, who’s always in front of me at the cafeteria servery. Seriously, just how long does it take to choose between the scrambled eggs or omelette? They’re both grey, chewy and terrifyingly un-egg-like, just close your eyes and point randomly in their direction. It’s fun.
Christmas in hospital is an extra special time, when the general level of despair is as elevated as the giant plastic bells pinned inexplicably to the ceiling tiles. So what makes Christmas in hospital so terrible? Really, you’re asking that? For fuck’s sake, everything makes it terrible; the decorations, the food, the lighting, the attempt at festivities, the elevated chances of death, the being surrounded by sick people and the tinsel. It was for all the same reasons of course that Jesus’ parents chose a stable over Bethlehem General, a world-renowned Birthing Center. The hospital had even made provisions for the livestock and relaxed their ‘No Myrrh’ policy, after one wise man made a scene in the waiting room and gesticulated inappropriately at nurses. But as Joseph later stated ‘it’s the bloody tinsel, I hate it, all blue and spiky, and always dropping bits. And it sounds like ‘tonsil’. I had to have mine out as a kid and it bloody hurt I can tell you’.
Like Joseph, I also find the tinsel upsetting, particularly its attraction towards any available ledge, lip or light-fitting, seemingly just dropping there from some height.
I’m not suggesting of course that the NHS spend frivolously on new decorations but if they must have tinsel, perhaps they could stretch to a few new lengths with a full complement of bouncy bits. And to justify the cost, it could be shared with the blood room and used as a spiky, uncomfortable tourniquet. Blood tests would be like Christmas Day every day, just like Elvis dreamily imagined in between frequent bites of cheeseburger. Singing ‘Why can’t every day be like Christmas?’, little did he know that if he’d been lucky enough to live long enough to develop kidney failure, he could have discovered that The Day Room really is a place where it’s Christmas every day; thanks to the little plastic tree with twinkly lights – three of which still work – the festivities never end. There it remains on the corner table, propped up (one of the legs has snapped off) against the wall year ‘round.
There’s also the soft perpetual hum of the vending machine, which sounds remarkably like a never-ending first bar of Silent Night and sometimes a fat bloke slumped in a wheelchair who looks a bit like Father Christmas, if Father Christmas was a diabetic amputee.
There’ll be at least one forgotten card too, stuck jauntily to the glass with increasingly yellowing tape – ‘Merry Christmas and thank you Nurse, you brought dignity to the task of changing my giant man-nappy’ – and in the corner, a stacked pile of empty chocolate tubs. Patients are under the impression that Cadbury’s Heroes are still a thoughtful gift, predictably making reference to the name being ‘like what you have been to me, you know, a hero’ in the accompanying card. It’s all very moving, even if all nurses really want are Lambert & Butler, 2 liter bottles of cider and 20 minutes off to hide in the drug cupboard and consume both.
Merry Christmas. You choose which one.