What’s Christmas day without Christmas dinner?
The radio suddenly blared, its tone rudely summoning our minds back into work mode. From reflex, I moved to press pause on the remote control beside me then grunted. This was the television and not a video so I was going to have to farewell Bing Crosby mid song.
A glance at the clock as I rose from my recliner confirmed the worst. It was lunch time, Christmas day. My partner was already by the refrigerator unpacking plastic covered plates for just that. Hastily he now swept a selection of items into a cool pack. He raised an eyebrow toward the cold prawns. My single return nod with upturned frown saw a few crustaceans swept in with the rest. Ever the optimists, there must come a moment where these few morsels would not be denied us. A box of pretzels was added even as we were on our way.
Scrolling through the information on the car computer, the call seemed routine enough. An elderly man was having trouble breathing. With luck this might not take too long and we might even be back for the rest of our platter and whatever afternoon movie was scheduled. Christmas day television!
The door to the man’s house was wide open. Responding to a sharp call for us to enter, we followed the oxygen tubing from an empty bedroom, down the hallway and to the lounge. The house was darkened with the curtains drawn. Bob was sitting on his couch, leaning slightly forward. A worn singlet betrayed his emaciated, barrel chested body. His breathing was clearly audible through his pursed lips. A small fox terrier stood by his feet, curiosity evident and tail wagging.
I sat beside Bob and introduced us as I briefly patted the dog. A few questions he could nod answers to followed. Yes he had emphysema. No his breathing was about normal for him. No he had no pain. So how can we help?
His oxygen cylinder had run out and he couldn’t change over to a new one. This was long before home oxygen concentrators common now. For an hour he had been battling with the offending cylinder and had finally given up.
My partner duly attended to that problem whilst I went through a quick assessment. Stethoscope, blood pressure, a few more questions.
He didn’t want to go to hospital. Stubbornly he shook his head. He’d had a lifetime fill of that. Was there someone we could call for him? This time his head lowered and he hesitated. The stubbornness left him as he whispered. “No.”
It was my turn to hesitate. “What are you doing for lunch?” The questions had been routine and easy until now. I suspected I already knew his answer.
“I’ll open a can of something when I’m hungry.” His pride had returned. Even now his breathing was steadying as the trickle of ‘good gas’ flowed into his nose.
I nodded, stood up and walked out into his kitchen. It was cluttered but not filthy. The refrigerator had little in it, the cupboards not much more. There was more dog food than human. Confidence came back to my voice.
“Have you heard of meals on wheels Bob?”
“Yeh but I don’t get that.” Sharp retort.
“Maybe you do.” Telling him we would be back in a moment I gestured for my partner to follow. Out by the ambulance the plan was laid out. Colleagues had dressed the cabin of our ambulance with tinsel and baubles a few days earlier. We tore those free. My partner leant between the seats and grabbed his cold pack.
Back inside again, we laid out his small kitchen table. We didn’t have much to work with but did our best as we laid out the prawns, meats, nuts and pretzels. Some cheese cubes and a few little onions sat in the middle of the plate. Around it the tinsel gave the house its only trace of Christmas.
The three of us spent an hour at our Christmas feast. We laughed as we dunked prawns in vinegar and how my mouth burned at the taste of Bob’s very hot mustard on our ham. Or rather he laughed. The hand scrawled label on the jar bore no warning of that. A cup of tea rounded things out until, reluctantly, the time came to shake his hand good bye.
Driving away from the house, my partner said it first.
“I’ll never complain about working Christmas day again.”