December 25, 2000

I awaken in a heap at the foot of your bed after a couple of hours of disrupted sleep. It is Christmas morning at Boston Children’s Hospital. I look up at Santa Claus who is looking down at me. He is dressed as a doctor. A doctor dressed as an Indian. He stands behind me, holding a clipboard. In my sleep deprived stupor, I momentarily forget where we are. I suppose the impostor wished to not to disturb my sleep, so he waited for me to naturally awaken. My subconscious mind registered his presence, or he subtly cleared his throat. No matter. I am not use to this type compassion. Professional, gentle, soft spoken, he introduces himself, says he is a resident, your doctor for the day. “Merry Christmas,” I say.
Christmas Eve started off horrendously. You, receiving a pelting by another ambush of Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome. This one, worse than the others, striking you fast and hard earlier that day. By evening Dad and I knew we could not wait any longer for you to rally.
I drive as always. Dad meets us there. At the E.R. Dr. Tim Drury takes one look at you, and says, “He needs to go to Boston. He needs to go now and by ambulance. He’s too sick to be driven.”
You have been ill in various degrees on and off for over a year, we in continuous hope for your full recovery. Little had been done to help you.
All three of us exhausted, you too ill to move. Dad upon hearing Dr. Drury’s words, loses it completely. He adamantly refuses to allow you to go to another hospital, saying, “No! No more hospitals!” loudly enough for the entire emergency room staff to hear. His words shock me. I have never seen Dad so indignant. I am seriously confused. I do not know what to do. Your father is refusing your recommended medical care. I stare at him in disbelief, but I share his feelings. I want more than anything for you to be home, feeling great, celebrating Christmas, never to suffer this cruelty again.
Dr. Drury speaks again. “Mr. O’Brien, your son is extremely ill. It is not at all wise for him to go home. The best place for him is in Boston Children’s Hospital. The doctors there are the best in the world.” “No.” Dad reiterates. The room hushes. It vacates except for you, Dad and me. Dad hugs you, his eyes tearing as he says, “Goodbye. I love you Jeff see you soon.” He turns and leaves the emergency room, says he is going home.
At the stroke of midnight, we are tearing our way north in a hurtling red van. Blue strobe atop ushers us through the ghastly walls of the Big Dig. You lay sideways on the gurney continually vomiting shredded intestinal content into pink kidney shaped plastic. I hold your needled hand silently begging God to keep you with me.
This Christmas morning, my son, you rouse to pain, bile heaves, intravenous alarms, the sight of Santa Claus aka Dr. Bhakta and me. Dr. Bhakta poking, tapping, listening, whispering considerate, broken words, “I’ll see you tomorrow, maybe. Nice to meet you, Jeff. As well you, Mrs. O’Brien.”
‘Merry Christmas’ I say.
‘Merry Fucking Christmas’ I think.
You reach. My hand grips yours, soft, warm, and enigmatically alive.

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