The Taylors have Christmas holiday traditions just as most families do. The vast majority are fun. A few have evolved over the years. As we get older, our festivities become smaller, with far less alcohol involved.
For the most part it’s all great fun. We swap a lot of gag gifts along with the serious ones. Our time together is built for laughter. This year, for example, on Christmas Day everyone got a pack of Andy Griffith cards from 1991, which we then swapped the way kids do baseball cards. I found them at an antiques store the other day.
But there is one tradition we have tried to end in recent years with no success at all — visits to the emergency room. Sometimes, it seems, things are simply out of your hands. Over the past 30 years — and more frequently last 20, we’ve encountered more EMTs than peace at Christmas. We’ve smelled more rubbing alcohol than eggnog.
The first time happened at Christmas in the late 1980s. I remember the approximate time because it was during some period in American history when talk about banning the AK-47 assault rifle was the air, which could mean only one thing in our household: My dad must have one for Christmas. So my brother purchased him an AK-47 before any ban could occur. As we opened packages on Christmas Eve, our custom after my brother and I morphed from children to teenagers to young adults, my dad became sicker and sicker. He had a fever and severe pain in is lower right side. My dad loved Christmas and gamely tried to soldier on. He opened packages, including his prized rifle, which he then directed his clueless sons — neither of whom had ever fired a weapon of any kind — to assemble the rifle as he directed us through his obvious distress.. It was a disaster of course and shortly thereafter we rushed him to the emergency room where it was discovered his appendix had burst. He was in surgery Christmas Day and in the hospital for a week. He recovered. I have no idea what happened to the rifle.
Little did we know that a tradition was born.
A few years later mom — in her late 60s at the time — decided on Christmas Eve it would be a good idea to climb on a chair and stand in order to reach a high-hanging basket in the kitchen. At the same time there were only three able-bodied and relatively tall men doing absolutely nothing in the next room she could have summoned to reach up and grab the basket instead. As she tried to get down, of course, she fell from the chair and hit her had on a countertop corner. This, obviously, led to a trip to the emergency room for stitches
And who could forget the Christmas when my father-in-law suffered a heart attack while selling Christmas trees at his home in Swansboro on — you guessed it — Christmas Eve. He shuffled around his tree lot in a cold rain for an hour or two, trying to sell all the trees he could, before finally agreeing to go to — where else — the emergency room. He was stabilized at Carteret General Hospital in Morehead City and later taken to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville where he had bypass surgery at around the time of the Y2K scare in 2000.
A few Christmases after that my mom fainted at around 6 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 25. My dad called 911, which meant the town of Danbury blared its fire and emergency services siren and everyone within two miles came and camped in the yard until my mom was taken by ambulance to Winston-Salem and the emergency room. After two days and a battery of tests she was sent home. Sometimes, we learned, the heart just goes a little irregular. File this information away for later.
So from this point we tried to take over as much of the Christmas food and other duties as possible from my mom in order to keep her from working herself to a frazzle. But she insists on remaining involved despite the work my spouse Roselee is doing and the objections of her two sons. She never, ever listens to her sons, by the way.
So in 2014, despite our best efforts, she remained on her feet too long working at the sink and counter chopping potatoes — refusing to yield or sit. So as Christmas Day dinner ended her back was in spasms. So we took her to, where else, the emergency room, for a steroid shot and muscle relaxers.
In 2016 on Christmas Day Roselee herself decided to go to the emergency room at the small hospital in Danbury but for a minor irritation largely because she wanted a prescription in hand to battle the infection first thing the day after Christmas. A week later my mother wound up in the emergency room at the same hospital and was admitted to deal with a severe cough and cold that became flu and pneumonia — brought on by visitors at Christmas and her own run-down condition brought on by too much holiday stress and labor.
This brings us to the Christmas of 2017. As most might guess, avoiding the emergency room is huge topic of discussion as we plan our holiday celebration. A lot of good it does. Mom still worries, she still tries to do way too much for someone age 86. She doesn’t really know when to stop.
This year my brother called me on Christmas Eve as we were about to drive from Burlington to Danbury. “Mom’s in he hospital,” he said. The previous night around 9 p.m. she was awakened because her heart was beating irregularly — too fast. She called 911 and was taken to the hospital in Danbury. By early Christmas Eve morning they transferred her to Forsyth Hospital in Winston-Salem for more testing on her heart. She definitely had a fibrillation problem possibly brought on my anxiety and who knows what else, the doctors weren’t sure. By midday the cardiologist felt she was in good shape to come home with some new prescriptions and instructions to follow up with doctors after the new year. Mom’s OK. She’s 86. Things happen, especially when she pushes herself too hard.
She returned home by about 3:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve and we proceeded with our holiday plans as normal, but with stronger instructions for her to take a break — which she failed to follow very well on Christmas Day.
My cousin Nat came by on Christmas Day for dinner and Roselee worked around my mom’s insistent need to be in the kitchen. Nat and I were tasked with keeping mom occupied. We batted about .500. Fortunately, we got through the day without further incident and Nat swindled us out of several of the best Andy Griffith cards. Mom was exhausted at the end of the day and went to bed early. A small victory, but one I’m sure won’t last very long.
So on our way home Tuesday morning Roselee and I again talked about how we could avoid trips to the emergency room next Christmas. That’s also our tradition.