The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present


Everybody (even French children) has read or heard about ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. I’ve read it at least a thousand times and I still do from time to time. I love the story, the three Spirits and Tiny Tim and Scrooge of course because in the end, he starts a new life. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is not really ‘dickensian’. But that’s ok. I love the story.

«‘I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future!’ Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. ‘The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me... Scrooge was better than his word... His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.’»

In our Judeo-Christian world, Christmas should be a time of rejoicing, a time of giving, a time of forgiving, a time filled with happiness.

Our lives should be bursting with joy and good will.

This is probably the reason why Christmas can also conjure up painful memories. Why else do we tend to suffer more from the unfairness of life and feel so deeply hurt by it when it is Christmas time?

We’ve had many very happy Christmases. But you tend to remember more how hurt you felt when things went awry at Christmas. I guess it seems terribly unfair. Christmas caroling which I love so much doesn’t fit worries and stressing times.

I’ll never forget Christmas ‘05. We went to some very good friends’ home to wish them a very Happy Christmas. There was a brand new beautiful granddaughter there and lots of happiness.

But we also had to let them know that cancer had struck back and that I needed to undergo surgery again as soon as we’d get back to Paris. Somehow the blinking lights of their Christmas tree didn’t seem very cheerful.

This year, we were getting very excited because we’d be spending Christmas with our son who had managed to get a few days off from Caltech, in our refurbished home in Brittany. We were delighted my cancer tests had come out more than perfect... We were talking about getting my sister over for a few days too.

But little did we know that Christmas would be this teary and sad.

On December 17th, at 8 a.m., my sister was getting ready to cross the road, right in front of the high school where she works. A car stopped to let her cross. But a second car going too fast didn’t stop and hit her so badly that she did a somersault, fell back on the windshield and hit the ground, a few centimeters away from the sidewalk.

By then she had lost consciousness and she was so badly hurt and bleeding so much that the main witnesses to the accident did not realize who she was even though they knew her quite well.

She spent 10 hours in a hall in the main hospital in Béziers, waiting for radios, scans and medical attention, waiting, waiting and waiting, all alone. She had no means to let us know about her plight. 10 hours. This is the way it goes in French public hospitals especially in a provincial town.

One of her sons who was in Paris at the time finally got a phone call very late at night but no explanations whatsoever about what had happened. By then we only knew that she had been very badly hurt.

He left Paris in the morning and called me as soon as he got to the hospital. (I couldn't go along with him because I still had appointments at the AmH.) She was suffering from a shattered pelvis and an open skull fracture (which required 30 stitches). And she couldn’t see at all. (Her vision came more or less back 4 days later.)

The following morning, I got to talk to her. She was conscious and not under sedatives because of the risk of coma. She told me not to come because she had many friends around. She was afraid too much stress could be bad for me.

So I stayed in Paris, waiting for my husband to come back from Bulgaria. I was very restless because she had started telling me about severe abdominal pain. I did everything I could to get in touch with her doctors  because I knew that such a trauma could induce internal bleeding.  Who hasn't heard about a ruptured spleen? I kept asking for a scan of her spleen, liver, etc. They did laugh at me, saying that she was just suffering from post-traumatic stress.

On the 23rd, we were in Brittany. I called my sister in the morning, something I’d been doing for the past 5 days (I called her several times a day). No answer. I called again. Still no answer. Then someone got on the phone: a nurse who said that they were taking care of my sister and ‘Please, call later.’ End of phone call. So I called the hospital later, again and again. Nobody knew anything about her. She had disappeared just like that.

By then, her son had left to spend Christmas with some friends 500 kms away. I was frantic with worry. I knew something was terribly wrong.

I finally managed to talk to the lady who was sharing her room. She told me to get in touch with the ICU. I really broke down right then.

She no longer was in the ICU. She was having some last chance surgery (which lasted over 4 hours). Ruptured spleen. Very bad internal bleeding. I was going out of my mind. The doctor I talked to had the nerve to tell me then and there: ‘We are very sorry. We only thought about bones.’

People, please wake up. I had been calling the hospital for the past 5 days, feeling that she couldn’t have suffered such an impact without any damage
 to her organs. And I am not a doctor.

She was extremely lucky to go into shock while the nurses were washing her and not during the night.

So Christmas wasn’t really Christmas, this year.

Swee'Pea had the hardest time to get to Brittany. He flew from LA to Paris through Chicago which wasn’t a very wise choice in wintertime. But he got here safely, 28 hours later.

Popeye and I, we had decorated our Christmas tree while we were waiting because we were feeling so down and lost that we needed to cling to happiest Christmases. And happiest Christmases included a Christmas tree with Christmas decorations dating back from Swee'Pea's childhood.

Meanwhile I was allowed to call ICU twice a day but only after they had made sure I was my sister’s sister! The exchanges were very short: ‘How had her night/day been?’ ‘Has her temperature gone down?’ ‘Please tell her I love her.’ And the line would go silent.

Her son came back yesterday only to discover that someone had burglarized the house. A few things were missing. Among them, the few jewels she ever possessed. She doesn’t know anything about it yet but I’m terribly afraid of her reaction. It almost feels good to know that she won’t be out of ICU before a few days still, protected from a cruel world.

When she still was in her room, we had a few ‘long’ talks, as ‘long’ as they could be. One of them was about surviving and not feeling the same ever, living a different life, actually a much better life.

I’ve had a few close calls myself during those past few years (and I’m not talking about cancer). I almost died from a DVT after surgery, etc. And I remember thinking: ‘This is the first day of your life. Try to make the best out of it.’

So now, my sister and I, we both are survivors... never the same again but bonding a lot more than before.

But I still wish all this hadn’t happened at Christmas time.

Next Christmas will be better... no doubt about it.

Remember old Scrooge: ‘His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.’

Happy Christmas to all of you, wherever you are.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

Oh Marie! I am so sorry to hear about Minouche! (Do you still call her that?) Yes, Christmas is such a sad/happy time--even when it is happy for us, somewhere it is tinged with sadness. Last year my friend's brother died on Christmas eve, and that made me feel very sober. Please extend my love to Minouche and her boys as well. You are all in our thoughts and prayers.