Christmas is over and I look back with mixed feelings. Happy memories of time with family and friends, anxiety because there is a possibility it could be my last Christmas and slight disquiet as immediately after Christmas I am booked for a scan to see if the alien is responding to treatment. At times I felt really constrained by the need to protect myself against infection because of the immunosuppression from the chemo. When you try avoiding crowds and people with infection you find you have become a social outcast. Everyone seems to have either a cold or upset stomach.

As a child I loved Christmas. The morning started with stockings…lots of small treasures stuffed in an old army sock. We still have the army socks and my husband and I still exchange stockings. But the contents of the stocking have changed. Not wanting to accumulate more ‘stuff’ we give each other things we need. So, this year my stocking treasures included paracetomol, Chilli paste and moth balls. Don’t get me wrong there were treasures as well. 

Dad was a village GP so one of the regular memories of Christmas Day was going to the local cottage hospital to carve the turkey. My brother and I would tag along and help hand out food to the elderly and disabled who couldn’t manage at home. In those days ‘elderly’ meant anyone over 75. In the days before Christmas Dad would visit all his elderly patients and give them a present. Almost all were ladies and they got a box of tea, a pot of honey or some biscuits. One year a man joined the ranks of ‘the elderly’. Dad decided to treat him to a half bottle of whisky….the patient was delighted. But on Christmas evening Dad got an emergency call. His elderly chap had fallen down the stairs….having drunk all the whisky in one go. He only had cuts and bruises but Dad was very upset at this ‘iatrogenic’ accident.

Dad in his turn also received Christmas presents. Suspicious looking bottles labelled ‘homemade parsnip wine’ or pickled vegetables. One of our friends was a local vet. He had the same experience of receiving ‘rustic’ gifts and one year he sent a specimen of one of these dubious wines to the lab. He received a report back that said ‘this horse has diabetes and is unfit for work’. My Granny was also a doctor and a patient gave her a urine specimen in a whisky bottle which she put in the back of her car to take to the lab. Someone broke into her car and stole it. I like to think of the faces of their friends when they generously handed round glassfuls of their booty.

Once the cottage hospital turkey was carved we went back home for lunch, presents and a dog walk. Christmas dinner was in the evening and all day the smell of food would be accumulating in the house. Just as we were about to sit down to eat the phone would go. It seemed to happen every year. ‘Doctor, she’s in labour, please can you come?’ And that was the last we would see of Dad for a few hours. Our village seemed to have a lot of Christmas babies and Dad attended all the home births. Years after he retired he was delighted to get a card with a baby photo. Inside it said, ‘dear doctor, I thought you would like to see one of your baby’s babies’. It was a photo of a first born from a woman who Dad had delivered.

Winter could be very difficult for a village GP. When flu swept through the village Dad sent out leaflets with the post to advise people what to do and when to call him. One year the pharmaceutical company ran out of cough medicine so we ordered the ingredients and Mum made it in the kitchen and my brother and I helped bottle it. The worst winter was 1962/3. Deep snow and prolonged frost brought everything to a standstill. But as a doctor you can’t stand still. Dad got chains for his car….but they were either wrong or he put them on wrong. Two punctures left him stranded miles from home thankfully rescued by a local garage. The next option was walking. Dad set off with essential case notes and equipment and walked through the deep snow to see his patients. And when they weren’t too far away my brother and I and the dog and a sledge traipsed along behind him.

As a doctor myself I have some interesting memories of Christmas:

     Trying to listen to a patient’s heart when the salvation Army band was playing carols in the ward

     Having to microwave slices of turkey as the kitchen had sent the ward a half-cooked one

     Having a fancy-dress Christmas party where the junior doctors were dressed as clowns. Which was fine until the cardiac arrest bleep went off. The patient came round to discover a clown giving him an injection.

My husband is Scottish and a piper and so New Year’s Eve has become more important to me. For the first time this year we went to bed before midnight and the pipes remained silent until the following day. One of our best New Year’s Eve holidays was when we were living in Australia. Friends invited us to their new house down by the coast. We knew we would arrive before they did and had been given a key. We let ourselves in and were impressed by the shiny floor. As soon as we stepped onto it we realised why it was so shiny. It was wet varnish. The workmen had found time between Christmas and New Year to varnish the floor and hadn’t told our friends. Now, 30 years later our foot steps are still visible if you lift up the door mat. We rang our friends, found somewhere else to stay for a few days and the party regrouped once the varnish was dry. One of the house rules was that in the house everyone (male and female) had to paint their toenails bright scarlet. Memory of their lovely house is very poignant at the moment as it is on the coastal region right in the middle of where the bushfires are raging.

 Now it is time to pack away the decorations (and throw away the lights that failed two days after they had been put on the tree). And having been out to friends for Christmas dinner the fridge is free of left-over turkey.

Next step is getting the CT scan result. Fingers crossed for 2010.

Happy New Year.