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A Long Christmas Night

By Grant Walker

Katey watched the snow melt on the window. Beyond, it whirled in the blackness and glittered in the rays of the street light. She hugged herself.

Her family was undoubtedly watching Christmas videos and stuffing themselves with goodies right now. Her niece and two nephews were probably bouncing off the walls from an overdose of Santa Claus suspense. She sighed. This was such a strange Christmas Eve.

She walked to the nurses station. Tijiak was there reading one of her mystery novels and eating star cookies. "You check on Mr. Tinsel?" she asked. Tijiak nodded, not looking up from the book. "Any change?" Tijiak nodded no. Katey drummed her fingers on the counter.

Tijiak put down her book, eyed Katey with a smile, and said, "You're jumpy as a turkey on Thanksgiving."

"I know," Katey sighed, "It's just that I can't stop thinking about it. She just sits there with him, all alone. She hasn't slept in forty-eight hours." "Christmas Eve doesn't mean nobody gets sick," Tijiak said.

"I know, but this is different, it's..." Katey trailed off. Her thoughts returned to the room down the hall where Mrs. Tinsel kept vigil on her husband. He was only thirty, in good health, but here he was, in ICU after suffering a stroke two days before Christmas.

"He's got to be OK," Mrs. Tinsel had told her, "We just moved here, we ain't got no friends, no kids, no family around here. He's all I got." Tijiak gently placed a hand on Katey's still drumming fingers. "Why don't you go down there?" she asked.

"OK."

Mrs. Tinsel was perched on the edge of chair by the bed, her hands folded in her lap. The lights were out and her soft, round face was dimly lit from the hall. Mr. Tinsel was breathing evenly, but still not responsive. He was a big man, strong, and, according to Mrs. Tinsel, a wild mustang with a heart of gold. He seemed so out of place in this quiet room filled with hums and clicks from monitors. Mrs. Tinsel looked up as Katey entered.

"I keep talking to him," she said, pulling her long, auburn bangs from her face, "He don't say anything, but I saw his eyelids move some. I think he squeezed my hand once too."

Katey came to the bed, inspected the IV. "You need to rest, Mrs. Tinsel" she said, not knowing what else to say.   "I'm fine," Mrs. Tinsel answered. "Besides, I couldn't sleep no way." She paused. Then, she looked up, her gray eyes shining in the shadowed room. "You think he'll come back? I mean, not everybody goes away for good, right?"

"No."

"The doctor, he said he might be like this a long time. And then, he might not be right even if he does get better. But I don't care, I just want him back. My folks died when I was young, and there weren't nobody that really wanted to take care of me. I was shuffled like deck o' cards. I was lonely, nobody to give my heart to. Then I met Brian," she placed a slender hand on her husband's shoulder. "I can't take bein' lonely some more."

"Cookie?" It was Tijiak, with a plate of stars. Mrs. Tinsel brightened, happy for an interruption to her reverie. They munched thoughtfully.

"I remember one Christmas," Katey said, "There was a man on our block, a widower, and he was a carpenter. He had no kids, but he always made presents for everyone in the neighborhood. Wooden ones: toy cars, trucks, doll house furniture, even yo-yo's. They were beautiful. Well, one year his house burned just before Christmas and all the toys were destroyed. But he didn't care about the house, just the toys. He was so upset. We all prayed for him. Then my dad and my uncle, and a bunch of other people all got together and bought him some new tools. They set up in a neighbor's garage and made toys non-stop for days. All us kids, we went there and watched after school. It was like Santa's workshop. The men were even wearing red hats. I remember my mom saying that was the miracle of Christmas."

Katey suddenly felt foolish. She didn't know why she had told the story. Mrs. Tinsel looked at her, she tried a smile, but she looked so tired. "That's a good story," she said. "I ain't never had no miracle, but I could use one right now."

"You never know what will happen," Tijiak said, putting down her cookie. "There was one time, at another hospital, I was in ICU and an amazing thing happened. I was working the midnight shift, we recieved a patient following an emergency surgery. He and his wife were not from this area, they lived in southern Missouri and were here visiting. The surgery actually went very well, however, immediately following, the gentlemen developed some very serious complications and lapsed into a coma. We received him into ICU in a comatose state. He developed more complications as the days and the weeks moved on. He became extremely septic and developed infections that could not easily be fought with medications. Finally, at the end of several months, it was determined by the medical staff that he would not return from his coma. There were several dilemmas to be faced. One of the most important ones was that his wife had never had the responsibility of writing checks, paying bills, and managing a home. They were quite affluent. She knew nothing of legal affairs and, in truth, had been carried all of her adult life on a pillow by this husband who loved her very much. They had no immediate relatives and no children. She was totally helpless and at a complete loss. During the time we had him in ICU, the nurses, technicians and others taught her how to write checks, deal with hotels, arrange transportation, find a competent attornery, and so on. When preparing his bath one morning, the nurse was speaking to him, as they are always trained to do. Even a patient in a deep coma may respond. In approaching the gentleman the nurse said, 'Good morning, it's time for your bath. How are you doing?' His eyes opened and, even though he said, 'About as well as can be expected. How are you?' And he focused his eyes on her. The shocked nurse called all of us to his bedside and said, 'Talk to this gentleman.' Of course we thought she was crazy, but we did as she asked. He opened his eyes again and answered our questions. The doctors on the case were summoned as well as respiratory therapy, and of course, his wife. On this day this gentleman, who had been gone for so long, spoke to his wife, told her how to handle their affairs, what to do with their homes, what to do with their boats, with their assets, stocks, and bonds, and he talked non-stop for about twenty-four hours. Following that, his work done, he told his wife what a good marriage they had, and how much he loved her. Then he closed his eyes and went back to wherever he had been."

The story over, Tijiak turned to the bed, "There was no medical explanation, but it happened. It was a miracle, a Christmas miracle."

"You think Brian can hear us?" Mrs. Tinsel asked hopefully.

"He's here," Tijiak said, "I believe that."

"Yeah," Mrs. Tinsel said, and smiled. She looked down at her husband. "You come back, you hear?" Then she took a deep breath. "I think maybe I should get some sleep."

Katey took her hand. "We'll keep an eye on him," she said.

Mrs. Tinsel gripped her hand and stood up. "I don't go much for praying," she said, "but I think maybe I should right now. Will you pray with me?"

"Yes," Katey said.

And they did, all through the long Christmas night.


-- End

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