Christmas Eve Miracle
She remembered the morning, two weeks before, when she had walked into the oncologist’s office. The children and Daniel had been outside, waiting; a solid bulwark of love. But she’d wanted to hear this news on her own.
“I’m sorry, Glorianna,” he’d said. “It’s not good. It’s spread to your lungs and liver very fast.” She wasn’t surprised, and had said so. Her breathing hadn’t felt right for a while now, and even the kids had noticed the yellow eyes. She’d joked about eating too much custard, but they weren’t stupid. Not her kids. Then he’d dropped the bombshell of hope.
“There is a new treatment. It’s very experimental—from Canada. We don’t know if it will work. But it’s your only chance. It would mean being in Bart’s over Christmas though….”
Hope is a funny thing, she thought. Without it, you have no choices, everything is grey, and you just have to get through to the inevitable end as best you can. But with it—with even a tiny drop of it—the world of possibility wakes in full colour, and you can start to dream again in a way that makes your heart beat faster with maybes. She’d discussed it briefly with Daniel and the kids, not wanting to spoil what they all knew was probably the last Christmas they’d ever have together. But Daniel had been adamant.
“Any chance is better than nothing, love. You’ve got to go for it. We’ll just bring our Christmas to the hospital, that’s all.”
The door opened softly, and closed behind the person who had come in. She couldn’t see him properly. The room was lit only by the light from outside, and the green glow of the monitors. But it appeared to be a man, dressed in white scrubs. His name badge hung down from the breast pocket, obscured.
“Hello, Glorianna,” he said. “I thought you might like some company.” His voice was very soft, gentle, accented slightly. Middle East somewhere, she thought. He came over to the bed and sat down on the end, careful not to joggle her battered, tender body. He had longish brown hair, tied tidily into a ponytail under his theatre hat, and a short, neat beard.
“Haven’t seen you before,” she croaked. Her bloody voice was going too, then. She cleared her throat, impatient with it suddenly. “You just on for the Christmas shift?”
“Yes, just for Christmas,” he said. “I like the peace on the wards. Is there anything I can do for you while I’m here?”
“What, apart from a Christmas miracle cure?” she asked. “That would be good.” She was proud of keeping her sense of humour. She found it helped other people feel better about what was happening to her.
He laughed. It was a nice laugh, made her feel more cheerful all of a sudden.
“Take me over there,” she said. “Let me look properly. Please.” Manners were important, even if you were dying, she thought. He got up and fetched the wheelchair from the corner. Gently, he helped her sit up, swing her legs over the edge, moved the drip so she could drop into the chair without getting tangled up. “Ooh,” she said as his hands swam past her blurry vision. “What have you done to yourself?” The backs and fronts of both were covered in square, white gauze dressings.
“Just a little accident with some nails,” he said. “Doesn’t hurt anymore, just a bit messy to look at.”
He wheeled her over to the long window. It was a first floor room with a little balcony outside. They’d let her have a room to herself—it was a lonely luxury. The snow was falling faster now, and the ground below was already nearly covered with a white rug She looked and looked. It was beautiful.
“Did you know that each flake is different?” she asked him. “God must be pretty amazing to have thought that one up, don’t you think.”
“I do,” he said. “And He is.”
Now it was the cats’ turn. Slinking and squirming, they lined up in rows, unblinking slanted eyes trained on the man behind her. Grey ones, tabby ones, tattered ears, scars, stripes, orange, white, black, and everything in between.
“Please,” she prayed fiercely. “Oh God, please.” It was a formless entreaty, made many times before, but this time, with those hands on her shoulders, she knew she was being listened to. She offered up her great love for every bit of her life on this wonderful, flawed, generous earth. The long journey from Jamaica with Mam and Pop. The first cold winter, school, her marriage to Daniel, the births of Jasmyn, Dillan and Joel. She offered her cancer, her anger, her fear. She offered everything and hoped it would be enough. Because now it was Christmas Day, and she’d already seen two miracles. Surely a third wasn’t too much to ask.
When she opened her eyes again, it was nearly daylight, she was back in bed, and her friend of the night had gone. A new nurse was standing there, replacing the drip bag.
I was asked to write this story for Cancer Research, and it was first published in the concert programme for their 2008 fundraising carol service at St Paul's Cathedral. It is dedicated to the memory of my sister, Gloria, who died of cancer in December 2001.