The (Dreaded) Christmas Effect

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I’m scared…

Christmas is almost here and Mom will be exactly 92.5 years old on her birthday, June 25th. These two seemingly random facts are actually intertwined in an alarming way.

Sunday, Mom came over to watch the Patriots/Dolphins game and eat chili. It was a highly anticipated game (which the Patriots definitely should have won), and an excellent opportunity for Mom to wear her authentic Patriots jersey. Besides, she loves my chili and always looks forward to seeing our Christmas decorations.

Over at her apartment, I found Mom predictably performing her pre-game prep; securing the essentials (purse, water bottle, tissues and cane), turning lights off, hanging up the phone, locking the door, and peeing one more time. Satisfied that all was locked down, we moved slowly and intentionally to my back door, 50 feet away. Mom stalled at the bottom of the stairs, clearly concerned she’d be unable to climb the six steps leading into my kitchen. With her right hand on the railing, and me on her left, we ascended one by one with little rests in between until we reached the platform. Another brief rest, and we proceeded to the living room.  

Despite missing the kickoff, Mom got settled and was feeling better after her Tylenol and pain patch kicked in. Wrapped in her fuzzy blanket, watching Brady-the-GOAT do his thing against Miami (on a huge new TV screen), whilst eating chili and chips, she was content and all was right with the world.

Three and  a half hours later, and with Mom’s audible disappointment at the dismal outcome, it was time to take her home - what goes up, must come down. Exiting the house, Mom stopped on the top platform and cautiously eyed the task ahead. Normally anxious to impress me with her bi-step, alternating feet on every other step, she was clearly concerned about landing her first move this time.

Six minutes (one for each step) and 50 feet later, Mom was visibly relieved to enter her (very warm) apartment where she was greeted by a veritable holiday extravaganza, courtesy of Corey, her friend and health aid.

Grateful to have Mom re-seated on her own couch, something was off…. everything seemed a little less, normal… like there was a shroud around the afternoon. I self-queried, how exactly would I get her into my house again for the Christmas festivities? Will she be able to climb those stairs?   

Mom has a second “kidney procedure” scheduled in a few days. Despite its designation as “outpatient”, I’m skeptical; the first one ended with Mom going septic and spending 15 days in a nursing home. Any blip this time, and I’m afraid she may wind up in the hospital over Christmas. With my  propensity for portending problems not yet present, I morosely imagined Mom at the morgue on December 25th. Quickly casting my vision of catastrophe to the wind, I resumed my joyous holiday fa-la-la-ing, but dark thoughts lingered.

More people die around the holidays than any other time of year. A statement I’d heard/read a thousand times in my 60 years, I still wasn’t sure if it was fact or fiction. So I Googled…

OMG! I had no idea how factual this fact actually is. Asking the Google “are there more deaths around the holidays” brought up a barrage of articles and posts, all of which answered with a resounding YES- THEY DO!  Researching away, I learned that despite it being an absolute fact that there is a huge spike in deaths around the holidays, there’s ample evidence that this phenomena, very specifically labeled “The Christmas Effect”, is not because of the usual suspects: cold weather, illness, overeating, stress, substance abuse, loneliness or suicide.

So what does cause this phenomena? Well, that’s the kicker… there’s no totally verifiable answer. The two most popular theories point to reduced holiday staffing in emergency rooms, and patients delaying medical procedures until “after the holidays”.

According to Mom’s doctor, she could hold off on her procedure until – wait, here it comes - after the holidays.  Certainly the easiest option for all involved, I see no reason to tempt fate by bowing to The  Christmas Effect. No, we’ll have one now please, while the hospital staff is still present and accounted for. Things I don’t look forward to over the next few weeks include excessive decorating, crowds, repetitive playing of seasonal songs, stress, overeating, and general insanity. The last thing I need to add to this laundry list is maudlin memories of Mom.  

God willing (and with pre-procedure antibiotics, inordinate fluid intake, and a little beefing up), Mom will do just fine this time, and my fear will be unfounded. Perhaps this will be the time, that her “outpatient procedure” will actually have her leaving the surgicenter that day… maybe even in better condition than when she came in. I’ll take her back to her festively festooned apartment, crank up the Christmas carols, fill her with figgy pudding, and then let her adore her shimmering tree. All will be as it should.

By my account, this would leave about ten days for me to build a ramp from Mom’s house to mine.

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Emily GaffneyComment