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  • Valerie Brooke, MD

A New Holiday Story

Yesterday at work, on Christmas Day, one of my patient’s care givers said to me, “Why are you here on Christmas? Did you get the short stick?” I immediately laughed and said yes, I had, and that people still get ill on holidays. I had already said similar things to staff members, that I was the last of my colleagues to pick a holiday to work for the year, and unfortunately, I got Christmas. No one wants to work on Christmas or during the winter holidays.


But here’s the thing. I really didn’t mind going to work on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and don’t mind that I will go into work today, the day after Christmas. I showed up to do my work with a smile on my face (under my mask of course), joy in my ability to care for patients, and I was not faking my positive attitude. So why did I agree with that family member’s statement about drawing the short stick?


The holidays are hard for many, which I don’t want to minimize. My past is littered with sad events, family member deaths, broken families, all occurring around the holidays. Prior to this year, I always dreaded Christmas time, and just wanted it to pass with as little discomfort as possible. This year however, I realized that I am ready to let go of my sad holiday story. Yes, I wish I was physically closer to my family, that I could come home to a fabulously cooked meal and sit around a large dining room table with all of my loved ones, and that no one in my family would feel lonely or estranged or forgotten. And yet, I can still enjoy, and even love, Christmas time without all those things. All it takes is changing the story I tell myself about the holidays.


I recently shared this with a group of friends: how I changed my relationship to running up hills when I competed in cross country in college. No one particularly likes running up hills, pushing your body so hard against the force of gravity. On the first day of hill training in my sophomore year, I heard all the grumbles around me of my teammates as we jogged over to the large hill we would do an unknown number of sprints up. On the way I made a decision. I decided I would learn to love hills. I told myself internally and my teammates out loud that I loved running up hills. I pushed myself and struggled up that hill, over and over, with a fake smile on my face on the slow jogs back down to the bottom. I said it to myself over and over, that day and every day afterwards: I love running hills.


Little by little, week by week, and month by month, I really learned to love running up hills. I loved the challenge of the resistance, loved the sense of satisfaction when I got to the top, and even more so, loved the relief of the downhill on the other side. Many years later I would compete in the Hood-To-Coast relay race in Oregon, a 200-mile race that starts at the top of Mt. Hood and then goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Each of the 12 team members runs 3 different legs in a 24-hr period. There was one leg particularly infamous for its many hills through the mountains. Of course, I volunteered for that leg. I will never forget the rush of running up those hills, and especially the very last one prior to my handing off the “baton” to the next runner. As I was running down the backside toward the transition area, I released an exuberant whoop of triumph. A new story had been forged into my brain. I loved hills.


So, this year I decided I would do the same with the holidays. I decided to focus on all the things I truly love about them: the sparkling lights, the cards in the mail, the falling snow, hot chocolate around the fireplace, the steam rising from the hot tub, the hand-blown glass ornaments on the tree, the multiple candles I’ve been waiting all year to light, and the phone calls with family. There is so much to be thankful for during the holidays, including going to work and caring for patients. I love Christmas; I really do.

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