The Christmas Eve Patient
“Hi, Gloria, Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Rogers.” Gloria, a travel nurse, was only in her second week of an assignment at North Shore Medical Center, near Miami. “I was expecting it to be warmer this time of year.”
“Yes, it is a bit chilly out there, but give it a day or two, the sun will warm things up, and call me Nadine, please!”
Nadine Rogers was the charge nurse and had been at North Shore for almost ten years. While she still found herself working most holidays, Nadine was happy to have her new travel nurse trained and covering for her regular staff.
“Gloria, has anyone told you how glad we are that you are here helping out this time of year,” she said with a big smile.
“Only every day,” Gloria laughed. “This is my first year taking a travel assignment over the holidays!”
“Well, you are like the cavalry. Usually, we are so tight staffed, our regulars don’t get a chance to take time off. So, if there is anything you need, just come holler at me.”
“Will do. So what is going on this fine Christmas Eve, it seems very quiet for seven in the evening?”
Nadine proceeded to give Gloria a brief rundown of the patients on the floor, and what might be expected based on current patients downstairs in the Emergency Room.
“And then there is Mr. S. He has a Dutch name, Mr. Sinter, Sinter-, Sinter-something. I can’t even pronounce it. But he is a delightful old man who is being released this evening at some point.”
“What was he here for,” Gloria asked.
“General exhaustion and dehydration,” Nadine explained. “He was working a lot of hours over at the mall, and he overdid it. Okay, unless there is anything else, I am going to go catch up on some paperwork. One of our regulars, Janice, should be clocking in by nine, so you are on your own for a bit.”
Gloria set about getting herself set up for her shift. She began checking in on her patients and eventually made her way into Mr. S’s room. As she examined the chart, she could understand why Nadine had so much trouble pronouncing the patient’s name.
“Good evening, Mr. Sinter, Mr. Sinter,” Nadine stuttered. “Oh, I’m sorry, can you help me pronounce your name?”
The patient let out a deep laugh, causing his cheeks to turn a bright red, “Why, it’s pronounced SinterKlaas. I am Nikolaus SinterKlaas.”
His voice was deep and rumbly, but gentle, and his eyes were a bright shade of blue. Gloria could hear the remnants of a Nordic accent and marveled at how much warmth he exuded.
“Well, can I just call you Mr. S, to make it easy?” She asked.
With another wave of laughter shaking the whole bed, he said, “My dear, just call me Nik! Besides, I am supposed to be going home soon so I can be out of your hair.”
“Alright then, Nik. Yes, according to your chart, you are supposed to be released soon, but until then you are in my care.”
“And, your care seems to be a very fine place to be, but if it is all the same to you, I really need to get going. There is lots to do and little time to do it!”
“Oh, I know how hectic the holidays can be,” Gloria responded, thinking about so many holidays from her past. “But, keep in mind, working too hard is what brought you to us in the first place.”
“Oh, Ho-Ho, I know, the Mrs. Is harping on me all the time to slow down!”
“Well, I will see where we are with your discharge,” Gloria said, looking down at her watch. “For now, just relax and let me know if you need anything.”
Gloria turned to leave the room but stopped as she cleared the end of the bed and turned back toward her friendly patient. “You know, you really have the kindest eyes,” she said quietly. “You remind me of my dad.”
With that, she turned back toward the door and quickly left the room.
An hour later, she found herself back in Nik’s room and was checking his vitals while her patient intently watched her.
“You know,” he started quietly. “Your Father was very proud of you.”
Gloria’s breath caught in her throat, “H-how would you know that. You don’t know me at all.”
“Oh, Gloria, of course, I don’t know you or your Dad in that sense,” he explained. “But, I know enough to say he was very proud of you.”
As thoughts of her father poured into her mind, Gloria sat down on the side of the bed.
“He’s been gone almost six months now,” she said, as a single tear rolled down her cheek. “This is my first Christmas without him. We lost Mom when I was young, so for most of my life it was just Dad and me.”
“So you are working away from home this year?” He asked.
“How did you…Yes, I’m originally from Saranac Lake, New York,” Gloria said. Memories of snow covered mountains, the small town decorated with shimmering lights and wreaths on every street pole washed over her. “I started travel nursing a few years ago, but this is the first time I have taken an assignment during Christmas. I came down south trying to escape all of the memories.”
“My sweet dear,” the old man said as he gently placed his hand on her back. “Good memories are never something to escape from. Instead, they are to be embraced and cherished.”
“Ha, ha, I know, I will try,” Gloria said with forced laughter. Another tear escaped her eye as she stood up from the bed. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to lay all of that on you, but thank you for listening.”
“I have been listening all of my life,” he said with a twinkle in my eye. “So tell me, what is a favorite memory from Saranac Lake?”
Gloria felt a chill and wrapped her arms around her as she looked out into the darkness beyond the window. “Oh, it has to be the Christmas Festival. The whole town would come out, and there would be carolers and ice sculpting contests, and the thickest, most chocolatey hot cocoa you can imagine. It was all so beautiful, with the fluffy snow. Dad and I went every year.”
“Well, that sounds like a fine memory to hang onto young lady, a fine memory indeed.”
The rest of the shift flew by as three patients were transferred up from the ER. Gloria and Janice handled everything with some help from Nadine, and before long, the sun began seeping into the large windows casting oblong reflections on the tile floor.
Gloria hadn’t stopped into Nik’s room since their chat because she and Janice had divided up the rooms with Gloria on the far end of the ward. As she was getting ready to leave, she decided to stop by the room and see if he was still there.
When she found the room empty, she felt a wave of regret wash over her as she wanted to thank him for being so kind and comforting her as she thought about her father.
“Oh well,” she said to the empty room. “Safe travels, Mr. S.”
On her way downstairs, Gloria stopped off at the cafeteria and bought herself a large hot chocolate for the walk back to her apartment. As she made her way across the expansive lobby, she couldn’t help but notice that everyone coming in was bundled up in sweaters, coats, and scarves.
“So much for Christmas in sunny Miami,” Gloria mumbled to herself as the double wide doors opened with a whoosh. Immediately, Gloria felt the air sucked from her lungs as the bitter cold air enveloped her. She slowly raised her steaming cup of cocoa to her lips and took a sip. The steam curled around her nose as the hot liquid warmed her mouth.
The warm cocoa and cold air brought her thoughts back to her conversation with the kind old man about her hometown and holidays spent with her dad. The crisp wind and the memories moistened her eyes once again. Standing in the middle of the walkway, Gloria was lost in thoughts of hearty Christmas carolers, the rich smell of chestnuts and kettle corn, and of walking side by side with her father down snow-covered streets.
She broke from her reverie to take another sip of hot cocoa and turned her face to the morning sky. Oblivious to the people who were passing by, Gloria stood frozen as the first fluffy flakes of Christmas snow began to fall from the sky.
“Yes, a fine memory indeed,” she whispered, recalling the sage wisdom from her patient. “Thank you, Nik and Merry Christmas to you and Mrs. S.”