The Christmas Santa passed me by

I wrote in my last blog about a friend’s daughter going to hospital for an operation just before Christmas. It reminded me of the one and only time I remember spending Christmas there myself.

I’m not sure how old I was, but I’m guessing it was in Dr Steevens Hospital in Dublin rather than the South Infirmary in Cork. This would have been around the late 1950s because I can recall the decorations brightening up my ward. There wasn’t much ‘Ho, ho, ho’ from me, unfortunately, because I had an operation coming up and I had to fast.

Most of the kids around me were pretty mobile, so they were enjoying the Christmas festivities. Some of them would be released in time to wait for Santa at home. The rest of us hung on hoping Santa would pay us a visit and make up for our disappointment at being in the company of strangers rather than our own families.

Meantime, Tom was fasting, something I have always found difficult at the best of times. I look around with envy as breakfast was served. Normally, I loathed porridge, but this one morning it seemed like the best meal ever – especially as I wasn’t allowed touch it. No cup of tea either. Just looking at the others tucking in made my mouth dry and my tummy rumble.

Every day seems longer when you’re little. They felt like 36 hours rather than 24, but this particular one felt even worse. The clock ticked by s.l.o.w.l.y. and me being the impatient young fella started moaning. A thoughtful nurse dabbed my parched lips with a sponge but that was my limit. I watched the clock tick away, crawling past 9 am (oh God, is that all?), 10 am (ah for crying out loud – only 10 o’clock?). It’s hard to concentrate when you’re fasting, even harder when you’re afraid of the operation. By 11 am I was gnawing the pillow (no substitute for the real thing – food) in frustration, but the agony went on. And on and on.

By dinner time I weighed a stone (in my famished mind). I looked with a growing sense of frustration and hunger at everyone being fed what looked like delicious food (in truth, it was usually ordinary enough) while the trolleys passed me by. I couldn’t understand why I was still waiting for my operation, so I asked a nurse for help. She told me the operating theatre was busy but if they didn’t come for me by 3 pm then they might cancel the surgery. Fortunately, I didn’t know any swear words then or I might have exhausted my repertoire.

I looked at the tinsel with a growing sense of helplessness. It seemed the Christmas spirit and joy was gone out of me. By 3.30 pm I was half dead and parched beyond words.

And then I got the news I was dreading – the operation was cancelled. I could eat and drink, but the starvation diet would start all over again in the morning. This time I would have the operation.

And no, I can’t remember Christmas that year. I’m sure Santa called while I was under the surgeon’s scalpel. In fairness, he’s been calling every year since!

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