Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Sunday, December 22, 2002
    This Sunday afternoon has been a busy one, as they always are right before Christmas. After church this morning (fourth Sunday of Advent!), we spent an hour in the ice-cold sanctuary rehearsing the procession for the midnight Mass of Christmas Eve. If you're not Episcopalian, you may not realize the intricate etiquette of this process. All participation in church services requires training, especially a big feast like Christmas Eve; the only bigger one is Easter Sunday. My church is fairly high (a "high" church would be closer to the Catholic end of the specturm, a "low" church more Protestant), and we like observing the formalities. I was not raised in this tradition but it's congenial to me, and I enjoy being in the procession. I am to hold the banner, a heavy and awkward thing, and follow the priests, with half a dozen lay eucharistic ministers (aka "chalice bearers") behind me. The church is going to be packed.

    I usually stay and help decorate the church for Christmas, but this year I had to leave early as I had to go to a nursing home, visit the office to get some work done (I am taking a week off) and then go home, pack, and drive to my folks'. So off I went to the nursing home, to visit a patient of mine who had a stroke after having surgery for colon cancer. The facility was brightly decorated, as it always is for Christmas - lots of tinsel garlands and plastic poinsettias. As I was sitting at the nurses' station writing my note, I suddenly realized that in the common room one of the aides was leading the patients in Christmas carols:

    Oh come, let us adore him
    Oh come, let us adore him
    Oh come, let us adore him,
    Christ the Lord.

    I spent some time discussing my new orders on the patient with the nursing staff and then got up to leave. I walked to the entrance of the dayroom to observe the proceedings: one of the wheelchair-bound patients was wearing a Santa hat. The aide was still bravely leading them in carols:

    Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
    Born is the King of Israel.

    I didn't find this sad or pathetic. As I looked at these people, I saw hope: no matter how old or sick we may get, we'll always be able to take pleasure in Christmas.

    I hope your holiday season is a good one.



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