Beach Writer in the Rocky Mountains
ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS TIME
ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS TIME
by Alice M. Batzel
Once upon a Christmas time many years ago, Thomas Roberts was a young emergency room physician at a large hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. His wife, Emily, was expecting their first child and had been in labor for nearly three days.
"Several unexplainable events occurred on that December 25," said Tom. "When it appeared that surgery might be required to birth our child, the baby suddenly presented, and we had a healthy, dark-haired baby girl. Our Christmas present arrived. No two parents could have been more joyful, though completely exhausted."
At Emily's insistence, Tom agreed to leave her in the care of the nurses and go home to get some rest before his early morning shift. Just before entering the elevator to the parking garage, two nurses greeted him.
"Congratulations, Dr. Roberts! I hear you have a baby girl!" said one nurse.
"Just in time for Christmas! You have your very own Noel, Joy, or Hope! Those would be good names for a girl," said the second nurse.
"Thank you. We're thrilled, but we haven't decided on a name just yet. It's been a long day. Perhaps we'll have a name tomorrow, but those are great suggestions," Tom replied.
Once in the elevator, Tom breathed a sigh. His weariness was evident. Still, he offered a silent prayer.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the safe delivery of my daughter and the strength and protection you've given to my wife. Thank you for these blessings this day.
The elevator doors opened, and Tom stepped out. After taking just three steps, he realized he wasn't in the parking garage; instead, he was on the pediatric floor.
"Dr. Roberts," said a nurse walking toward him, "could you please be of assistance with a family?"
"I'm not on duty right now," said Tom. "I was on my way to the parking garage, and I didn't realize that the elevator had stopped on this floor."
"Our two pediatric staff physicians responded to a multiple trauma event in the ER, and we have a special situation that requires urgent help from a physician," said the nurse. "Would you be willing to assist with one of our little patients and his family?"
Though tired from working double shifts in the ER, and the events of his wife's long labor and delivery, Tom agreed.
"Yes. How can I help?"
The nurse explained, "The parents of a terminally ill four-year-old boy in room 306 called the nurses' station and said they believe their son has passed away. I initially responded to their call, and I couldn't find any breath or heartbeat as I checked Daniel. I told the parents that a doctor would be in their room shortly to make a further examination."
Tom knew such cases were often emotional and challenging to handle. But, for some reason, the elevator brought him to the pediatric floor that night. And the two staff physicians had been sent down to assist in the ER. No one could have predicted that, especially not tonight.
The nurse escorted Tom to the patient's room, and as they entered the room, the parents were tearful yet calm as they stood at their child's bedside. Tom hated to intrude on this private moment. But as a physician, his assistance was needed for both the little patient and his parents.
"Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, I'm Dr. Roberts. I'm an emergency room physician. I've been asked to come and see your son, Daniel. I understand that he's been very sick and that you've requested no intervention if the occasion should arise. Is that correct?"
"Yes. Dr. Roberts, Daniel has understood how sick he's been, and we've all anticipated that he could pass away at any time," said the father.
"We think he's stopped breathing, and his heart may have stopped beating. We're not sure. Can you…" the mother's voice trailed with her request.
"Yes, I would be happy to do that for you, and Daniel," said Tom as he approached the child's bedside more closely.
"Earlier this evening, Daniel had been talking with us, and just two hours ago, he became sleepy. He told us that he loved us and wished us a Merry Christmas. He said to not worry about him, that he would be in Heaven for Christmas," said the mother.
"We thought he was just tired and would awaken again in a few hours, but we noticed that he seemed to stop breathing," said the father.
"I see," said Tom as he began his gentle examination of the child's absent vital signs. The little boy had peacefully passed from this life, and though his mortal experience was only four years in duration, it certainly had not been without trial. Tom gently confirmed to the parents that their son had passed away and offered his sympathy. The nurse left Tom with the parents, and he sat with them for the next hour as they reminisced about their sweet boy. Tom was in awe of their courage and faith as they expressed their conviction that they would see their son again when God saw fit to reunite their family in Heaven. When Tom felt they were emotionally stable, he left them in the care of the nursing staff. Tom then resumed his direction to the parking garage.
Once again, Tom was alone in the elevator. The events of tonight and the past several days had left him feeling drained of emotion and energy. He breathed a sigh and, again, offered a silent prayer.
Dear God, Christmas has brought joy and grief this year. Please bless and comfort Daniel's parents in their time of need. And God, please receive that little boy this Christmas evening. My child was born this Christmas day, and another child's parents lost their only child.
The elevator opened to the parking garage, and Tom exited toward his car, with one thought on his mind. What a Christmas day.
On Tom's drive home, he saw an outdoor nativity adjacent to a church. He pulled his car over and walked toward the nativity, then sat on a nearby bench. Spending a few moments here would be his only Christmas observance this year; he felt he couldn't pass this by. A silent night surrounded him except for faint Christmas music coming from the building. Stars filled the clear night sky. Peace, beautiful peace. Oh, what a night.
Tom leaned forward, put his head in his hands, and rested his elbows upon his knees. His heart was full, and he fought tears in his eyes as his thoughts spoke in prayer.
Christmas! Oh, Christmas! Thank you, God, for Thy Son this Christmas night. Thank you, God, for my little daughter and wife. Thank you, God, that a sick little boy is no longer suffering and will have his Christmas wish to be in Heaven this night.
Tom heard movement in the nativity, and he looked up and saw a little child dressed in a white robe peek out from the side of a kneeling shepherd boy figure. She giggled and laughed as her halo dipped down over one of her eyes. The little girl pushed the halo up as it tangled in her curls. She jumped toward the baby Jesus lying in the manger, grabbed him up in her arms, then ran toward Tom.
"Hi, Mister. Merry Christmas! Don't be sad," said the little girl. She plopped the nativity figure in his lap as she said, "This is baby Jesus. It's His birthday today. He loves you! Just hold him tight and don't let him go. You'll see."
What a darling child. Tom wondered if she had escaped from the program underway in the church building. Surely someone would be coming for her as soon as they realized her absence.
"I saw you here, Mister. I could tell you needed me to visit you. I love Christmas! Jesus loves Christmas too! And more than that, He loves you! Like I said, hold him tight and don't let him go. You'll see. Well, I have to go. Bye, Mister. Merry Christmas!"
She ran back to the nativity and bent down to whisper to the shepherd boy. He stood and turned to face Tom, then smiled as he waved. The same little boy whose bedside Tom visited that very night. Arm in arm, the little Angel and shepherd boy walked three or four steps then disappeared.
Tom first thought that his exhaustion and emotions had gotten the better of him, and perhaps it was just a dream. Yes, surely it was just a dream. But in his lap was the baby Jesus from the nativity. He was overwhelmed and choked on his tears.
"Oh! What a Christmas! They sure don't teach you about such things in medical school!" said Tom aloud.
His phone rang in his pocket, and he saw that it was his wife calling. He answered quickly.
"Hi, honey. Is everything okay?" asked Tom.
"Yes, dear. Are you home yet?"
"Almost. I got delayed with a consult at the hospital, and then I made a stop on the way home. I'll be home in a few minutes. How is our little Christmas present?"
"Oh, she's beautiful," said Emily. "I love her! She's got your dark hair, and I love it! I was thinking about our little Christmas daughter and what name we should give her. Let's name her something special related to Christmas. What do you think?"
"I think that's a great idea. Do you have a name in mind?" asked Tom.
"Angel. I was thinking of naming her Angel. Is that okay with you?"
Tears welled again in Tom's eyes as he held the baby Jesus on his lap.
"Dear, are you there? Is the name Angel okay with you?" asked Emily.
"Yes, honey. I love the name. We have our very own little Christmas Angel. Kiss her for me, and I'll see you both in the morning before I begin my shift in the ER."
"Okay, Good night, dear. I love you. You're going to be a great daddy."
"Good night, honey, I love you too. You're going to be a great mother."
Many years have passed since that one very memorable December 25, and Tom will often reminisce.
"Each Christmas since that one Christmas, I give thanks for my wife and our daughter. I give thanks for the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, and for the visit from a special Christmas Angel telling me that Jesus loves me. I give thanks for the little boy who got his wish to be in Heaven for Christmas, and for his brave, loving parents who could see joyous eternity beyond their grief. I give thanks for the star-filled night that covered me like a canopy as I witnessed a little Angel take a little shepherd boy to Heaven. Oh, Christmas time! That little Angel was right. Jesus loves you! Just hold Him tight. Don't let Him go. You'll see."
(copyright December 3, 2019 – Alice M. Batzel – all rights reserved)