Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Silent Night, Joyful Day

Seventeen years ago this Friday, I walked away from medical work to sit in my writing room every day. It's been a good stretch, nine books and counting, and the job has a bunch of nice little bennies - like the phone never rings after I've gone to bed for the night, or before I get up in the morning.

Then there's the matter of Christmas. I was the senior partner in my hospital-based practice, the only one with adult or near-adult kids, and the only non-Christian. So I routinely drew duty on December 24 and 25. Fair enough.

My wife and I developed our own tradition, though you might also call it a superstition. For three years running, Christmas Eve brought me a night-long progression of pregnant women with problems, especially tough because that was not at all what those poor people had been counting on for their holiday activities.

So on the fourth Christmas Eve, I put the Silent Night disc onto a music box, called in my wife, and we sang along with the music. And, mirabile dictu, the phone could've been under anesthesia. Every year after that, we repeated the ceremony, and it worked...most of the time.

Our family had always practiced Christmas according to St. Dickens, so we cast about for reasonable workarounds. It became clear early on that trying to bull straight ahead was not the way to go. If the phone didn't ring just as the first present was being opened, it went off at the moment my butt touched my chair at the dinner table. So over the years, we had Christmas on December 26, on New Year's Eve, and on New Year's Day. Not quite the same, but it worked.

After my career change, I passed several December 23s thinking I'd better get a good chunk of sleep that night. But over the years, I gradually relaxed into my new routine, sleeping late, enjoying a hearty, unhealthful breakfast, then still in my pajamas, opening presents with my family, and not looking sideways at the phone as we downed a sumptuous late-afternoon feast with dear longterm friends.

It gets better and better. This year was the first time my two-year-old grandson had a clue of what Christmas was about. That was one happy little boy. Santa brought him the blue football and blue bus he wanted (go figure), and he had a blast ripping paper off packages, and wishing the guests a Merry Christmas as they came in. All-adult Christmases were nice, but a Christmas with someone who really did believe in Santa Claus was even nicer.

Writing's a great job. I don't think I'll go back to medicine.

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