Saturday, December 23, 2006

Unnecessary Disparities

On holidays, I always seem to think about my patients, especially those without family who spend those special days alone. This year is no exception. It's not my intent to throw a wet blanket on holidays and family time, but it is so easy to simply forget those who sit alone when millions of people feast and frolic with family. Several of my patients of whom I am exceedingly fond are certainly going to be alone on Christmas, and my personal challenge is resisting any guilt I feel while celebrating with my family, as well as resisting the urge to rent a van, pick them all up, and go out for a big Christmas dinner.

When my son was fourteen or so, I was a visiting nurse and had to work on Christmas Day by necessity. So, when I went on my rounds that day, Mary and Rene accompanied me, waiting in the car during some visits, and coming in to spread holiday cheer on others. It was a learning experience for my son when we visited an elderly gentleman who literally lived in a shack in someone's back yard. With bilateral amputations from poorly controlled diabetes, he struggled to survive, going to dialysis three times a week and trying to avoid falling through the holes in the bathroom floor as he rolled in his filthy wheelchair. Sitting on his equally filthy bed, we presented him with several simple gifts and my son got an eyeful of how so many people live around the world, even here in the ersatz Land of Plenty.

I feel like I could spend one of these upcoming holidays in the streets, handing out gloves and hats and snacks, redistributing even a little wealth among those who have less than they need and deserve. Come to think of it, working with the poor day in and day out, I don't feel an overwhelming urge to join the well-meaning thousands who pack the country's soup kitchens on Thanksgiving and Christmas as their annual pilgrimage of community service. As many soup kitchens and food pantries will tell you, holiday time---when people are more apt to be generous---is usually the flush time of the year. It's the other eleven months when we all need to awaken from our collective stupor and think of others without the reminders of ubiquitous Salvation Army bell-ringers in front of our local grocery store.

Are these reminders wet blankets? I hope not, but it is the time of year when we naturally give thanks for what we have, observe those who are not so blessed, and possibly resolve to do more
to assuage that overwhelming and unnecessary disparity.
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