Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Ho-Ho Plan

Squish, squish, squish. My red tennis shoes sounded on the linoleum floor of the hospital corridor. I tip-toed down the dimly lit hallway and poked my head around a corner then waved the all clear sign to my partner in crime behind me. I hissed, “Come on!”

My six foot companion, dressed in an elf costume with a red bag slung over one shoulder, fast-stepped toward me. The small bell attached to his left shoe jingled every other step. I blew out a breath in frustration, ruffling my Santa mustache.

I repositioned my beard and mustache and turned my head to look at him. “Way to stay under the radar, Gabe.”

When I swung my head back around, the tip of my Santa hat smacked me in the face. I jumped. We made quite a pair—a short, female Santa and a huge elf. But those were the only outfits the costume store had in stock the day before Christmas.

“Sorry, Angela. I know you’d rather be at the party.” My neighbor and friend, Gabe, shifted the bag to his other shoulder.

An antiseptic smell wafted by and tickled my nose. I stifled a sneeze. I really, really didn’t want to be here, but felt sorry for Gabe’s little sister and wanted to help him do something nice for her. Emily had been hit by a car and badly injured on the way to her elementary school just before Christmas vacation. The oblivious driver had been texting and didn’t see her in the crosswalk. To make matters worse, their father, who was a single parent in the military, was serving overseas. The unfairness of life.

Our plan—my plan—was to get in, spread cheer, get out…and go party. It was our senior year in high school and we were supposed to have fun. Also, I wanted to get away from my wicked stepmother. Gabe, however, was reluctant to sneak out to a party. His grandmother was in charge while his dad was gone and he didn’t want to make trouble. Our compromise was to decorate Emily’s hospital room then go to the party.

Hearing someone else’s squishy footsteps, we flattened ourselves against the wall although it was difficult for a big guy like Gabe to be unobtrusive. I hoped it wasn't Nurse Hacker. She had strongly suggested that Gabe and his grandmother leave earlier this evening because she said Emily needed her sleep. But it was Christmas Eve for Pete’s sake.

After the footsteps receded, we bent over and crept around the semi-circular nurses’ station where two nurses tapped on their computer keyboards.

The sounds stopped, and I heard one ask, “Did you hear a bell?”

“Maybe it was Santa and his reindeer.” Both chuckled and the click-clack noise resumed.

I glared at Gabe. He shrugged and grabbed his jingle bell to silence it, then crab walked until we cleared the nurses’ station. We stood up and bolted down a hallway to room 224.

Peering in the doorway, I saw Emily curled up under the bed covers.

Gabe placed the bag on the ground. It made a slight noise and his sister let out a sigh in her sleep. He paused, then carefully opened the sack and pulled out a small artificial tree decorated with lights and placed it on a table.

I reached in the bag and slid out a box. It made a crinkle noise as I tugged a tray of ornaments out from under the cellophane wrapping. I handed him a miniature angel followed by bells and snowflakes.

After we finished decorating the tree, Gabe began hanging paper stars and candy canes from the ceiling. I placed a two stuffed bears next to Emily. Dressed in a hospital gown with one arm in a cast, she looked like a bruised angel with a broken wing. The digital monitor silently measured her vital signs and displayed mysterious graphs and numbers.

Gabe walked over and set a package on the bedside table. He bumped it with his foot, the bell on his shoe jingled. I shook my head.

Emily opened her eyes. "Santa?"
“Um, yes." I cleared my throat and whispered in a deep voice, "Ho, ho, ho.”

“I knew you wouldn't forget me.” Emily’s tiny hand reached for mine. “Santa, get me out of here. I want to go home. I miss my daddy.”

Gabe and I exchanged glances.

I paused to give myself time to choose my words carefully. “The doctors want to make sure you’re healthy before you go home. But if you wish on a star really hard, something good will happen.” I half quoted a line from a Disney movie and hoped it would help.

Emily struggled to sit up in bed rubbing her eyes with her good hand. She craned her neck to look out the window. "Where’s a star? I don't see one."

I didn't see any stars either. The sky was obscured by the tall buildings that surrounded the medical center. I improvised and pointed to a neon star logo next to the name of a medical device company. “That star.”

“That's not a real star.” She frowned.

“The object isn’t important, it’s the meaning behind it.” I thought I sounded wise, but she didn’t look convinced. I tried again. “When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” When in doubt, use the full Disney quote.
Emily nodded her head and closed her eyes. “I wish I could go home for Christmas.” A tear slipped down her cheek. More tears. Then a torrent.
 “Uh, sleep and have sweet dreams. This elf dust will help.” I frantically waved my arm and blew pretend magic dust over her. I wanted to get out of here, go to a party, and have fun. This parenting stuff was tough. Perhaps I owed my stepmother an apology.

Nurse Hacker bustled into the room. My eyes focused on the sweater she wore over her top. A sleigh pulled by dachshunds wearing bejeweled antlers circled her upper half. Despite the hipster trendiness of ugly Christmas sweaters, it wasn’t a good look for her.

She pushed me to the side, pulled Emily close, and gently rocked her. The little girl calmed down and yawned. Relieved, I turned to Gabe and bobbed my head at him to leave.

“Don’t even think about it,” Nurse Hacker loudly whispered. She tucked the covers around Emily with one-hand. With her other hand she motioned for us to go outside the room.

When we were in the corridor, the Hacker attack began. She counted off our infractions on her fingers. “One: breaking the visiting hour rule. Two: you woke up Emily and she needs sleep to heal. Three: you upset her. What were you kids thinking? It’s very important that she stabilizes in order for her to get well and go home.”

Gabe blurted out, “It was my idea. I wanted Emily to have a nice Christmas. Don’t blame Angela.”

I tried to look apologetic and sincere. But if we left now we would still have plenty of time at the party.

With a tight smile, Nurse Hacker continued, “I understand. And, since you're dressed and obviously filled with the holiday spirit, I need your help to decorate and pass out presents in the children’s cancer ward.”

My heart sunk. Would we ever get to the party? Also, hospitals scared me. Especially at night. The machines glowed in the dark and made weird beeping noises. And then there were sick people. I crossed my arms in a self-hug to ward off the chills that crept down my spine. How did my brilliant plan go so wrong?

Before we began our Christmas chores, Nurse Hacker made us call home so our families wouldn’t worry. Gabe talked to his grandmother; I notified my witchy stepmother.

Then the three of us walked down the hall to the nearby cancer ward. Gabe began to assemble track for a toy train and arrange it around the large Christmas tree. I put wrapped toys in a bag and began rounds with Nurse Hacker. While she checked on the patients, I placed gifts next to the kids’ beds.

One bright eyed boy was wide awake. “Santa Claus. I've been waiting a billion hours for you.” I sat on his bed. He crawled in my lap and studied me. “You’re kind of short and small for Santa.”

“Good things come in small packages.” I handed him a present. “I hope you get what you wish for.”

He tipped his bald head. “My wish wouldn't come in a box.”

“I bet you want to be healthy and at home.”

“No, I wish my friend would get better and leave the hospital. I’m okay and my mom said I get to leave next week.” He tore off the wrapping paper and pulled out a toy fire truck. “Cool.”

I gave the little guy a quick hug and said goodbye.

While Nurse Hacker and I walked to the next room, my eyes filled with tears. He was so young but cared more about his friend than himself. I was selfish and wanted to have fun. My chin dropped; my body sagged.

She handed me a tissue. “These kids are brave. They face life's difficulties and somehow seem to thrive and inspire us. I get weepy sometimes too. Be strong; you’re doing a good thing.”

Hacker had a soft side? I guess there’s more to people than I imagined. I blew my nose and straightened. The rest of the night passed quickly. I talked with several kids who were too excited about Christmas to sleep and then helped Gabe with the decorations.

Toward daybreak, activity in the hospital increased. Tired, we finished our Santa duties and stopped to check on Emily before we left the hospital. We walked into her room and I was astonished to see Gabe and Emily’s father. He sat in a chair next to his daughter and held her hand.

“Dad!” Gabe ran to him and they embraced. His grandmother hovered nearby.

Gabe's dad said, “I got emergency leave and planned to surprise you last night, but then you called from the hospital.”

Emily piped up, “I probably get to go home in a few days.” She smiled. “I like my Christmas tree and my bears. Thanks, Santa and elf.”

That smart kiddo. She knew it was us last night.

My stepmother stood to one side of the happy group under a candy cane decoration. I slowly walked over to her. Hesitantly, she lightly hugged me. I tightly hugged her back. She said, “I’m proud of you.” Then teased me with, “Your beard and mustache make quite the fashion statement.”

Gabe leaned over to me. “Sorry, Angela. I know you wanted to go to the party.”

“What party?” I laughed. I had forgotten all about it. Sometimes you don’t get exactly what you wish for, but you get something more valuable. In a strange way, my plan worked.


A huge thank you to everyone who works in the medical profession for sacrificing time with family over the holidays to care for others.


  1. What a wonderful story! Thank you for this gift!
    Merry Christmas!

  2. Great story, Kara. The perfect way to celebrate. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

  3. I hope that you have a very Merry Christmas celebration, Paula!

  4. Lovely story, Kara. Thanks for writing it. There are so many people who are in difficult positions during the holidays without cheer.

  5. What a beautiful touching story, Kara. Perfect for the holidays reminding us of the people who are in hospitals or nursing homes at this time.

  6. E.B., I agree that the holiday season can be difficult for people who are dealing with tough situations. I try to remember that this time of year.

    Gloria, my mother-in-law crocheted blankets and donated them to a nursing home last week. I know that you volunteer and bring cheer to others too.

  7. Fun story! Christmas spirit lives in even in Nurse hacker's heart.

    I've worked a couple of holidays. Worst one was a shift tending a forehearth in a glass factory. We did manage to convince the foreman to let each of use work a 4 hour shift, instead of some of us working a full one.

  8. What a moving story, Kara. Good to remember those who are in need during the holidays - and how good it feels to help. Hope you had a merry holiday!

  9. What a great group of people you worked with, KM. I'm glad the foreman agreed to let each of you work a four hour shift. That must have been a wonderful present.

    Thank you, Shari. I hope you had a happy holiday, too!