Christmas…the most wonderful time of the year?
I admit to being a Christmas addict. The Christmas adverts, the glutinous but cosy roast dinners at home, being at home where travelling family and friends return for that one special time during the year, the atmosphere at the cold winter markets with warming mulled wine in hand, board games and general merriment; it is just a magical magical time.
Yet would I still feel this way about Christmas if my parents were no longer here with me to share it? Would I still feel this way about Christmas if I were not with my loving partner? Would I still feel this way about Christmas if I could not afford to buy the gifts expected of me if I had children? Would I still feel this way about Christmas if I was suffering from a terminal illness and facing the prospect that this would, in fact, be my last Christmas?
Christmas can be the very best or the very worst time of the year. Whilst some are enjoying the inner fulfillment and warmth offered by Christmas carols and time with family or friends, for others, it is a harsh reminder of what they are missing in their lives and what challenges they may be currently facing.
Admission rates in to the emergency department soar on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. From experience, I met many walk in patients comprising elderly men and women, feigning illness in an attempt to escape the loneliness of a Christmas by themselves. It was often a challenge to know how best to manage these patients. The NHS does not offer the capacity to let them rest the night with no medical necessity, yet it was so hard to discharge them knowing the inner emptiness they were experiencing.
Then there were the patients who HAD to stay in the hospital because of medical need. They missed their extended families and friends and despite the attempts of hospital staff, it just wasn’t the same as being at home. This, accompanied with their medical concerns looming, it often made for a miserable, not particularly ‘christmassy’ experience.
One Christmas, when I was working in Australia, I was introduced to a gentleman suffering from severe hypoglycaemia. He was a type 1 diabetic and relied on insulin and diet to control his blood sugars. Sadly, he had recently lost his job and was finding it difficult to support his family financially.
Television adverts entertained his children over the festive period, modelling the new toys, bikes and activities available to them as Christmas gifts. Their hunger grew for material possessions as his hunger grew for food. My patient, unwilling to disappoint his family, sacrificed food for himself to save the money he needed to provide his family with the gifts they desired. Sadly his diabetes could not cope with the period of fasting and he fell in to a diabetic coma and required urgent medical treatment.
Illness does not stand still on Christmas day either, as much as we would like it to and often think that it does. People still discover they have cancer, still develop seizures and still, sadly, die on Christmas day. Hospitals tick as actively on this day as any other of the 364 days of the year.
Without wanting to appear solemn and dreary whilst reiterating that I do adore Christmas myself, I think it is just important to remember that at Christmas, our health is quite possibly the greatest gift of all. And for every photograph we upload on to facebook wearing our Christmas jumpers and drinking with glee, we should remember those that will be viewing them with envy. Not everyone is so lucky at this time of year.