PVA from the Top

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News December 2015

The holiday spirit can be found in the darkest of hours

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Perry Como sang the truth: “There’s no place like home for the holidays.”
With decorations lovingly placed throughout the house, delicious smells drifting from the kitchen and, most importantly, friends and family gathered together, the home is full of joyous traditions and memories. It’s easy to feel the holiday spirit.
But the holidays take on a vastly different feel for a paralyzed veteran hospitalized in a spinal-cord injury (SCI) center or long-term care facility. The sterility and isolation of the hospital can breed a different kind of holiday mood.
The medical staff is barely more than a skeleton crew. The artificial Christmas tree, pulled out year after year, is starting to tilt. And, despite the best efforts of those wishing to bring holiday cheer to the bedside of a hospitalized veteran, it’s tempting to believe you’ve been forgotten as your family celebrates the holiday at home.
I’m too familiar with this lonely feeling.  Being a paralyzed veteran for the past 24 years, I’ve experienced many holidays as an inpatient at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. And, to be fair, we’re not forgotten. But this conclusion is almost unavoidable when lying in a hospital bed at 3 a.m. on Christmas morning. In these moments, the holiday spirit seems to be missing. But if you take a look around, you’ll see it’s still there, it’s just being missed.
The holiday spirit is generally thought of as feeling thankful and sharing that thankfulness by giving back and showing compassion, forgiveness and encouragement to others. The nurses and medical staff are unarguably doing all of these year-round, but have you noticed the Santa hats, penholders and holiday-themed scrubs they don in December? They gave up the opportunity to share the holiday with their families in order to care for you.
Or what about the volunteers and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) staff decorating the hospital with wreaths and garland, many of which were handmade by more people you haven’t met? Do you hear carolers in the hallways? Or maybe you’ve seen local scout troops, schoolchildren, motorcycle clubs and other groups bringing gift bags and Christmas cards to the bedsides of those who can’t ambulate.
I remember the guy who delivered food to me when I was newly injured. While the hospital’s “Grand Chef Du Jour” deserved an A+ in creativity, the holiday meal usually failed miserably in execution. But the guy who delivered it to my room always placed a Christmas card on the tray and, admittedly, it made me feel a lot better than the meal!
There are dozens of examples like these, of staff and strangers trying to bring a tiny shining sliver of happiness into an admittedly dismal situation. Be thankful for them. And be thankful for PVA. If it wasn’t for PVA, these SCI center and long-term care facilities wouldn’t exist and the quality of care and benefits would be lacking.
Lastly, don’t forget to give back. If you’re lucky enough to have family in town, you may have visitors delivering best wishes, But the vets who live long distances from the hospital may be celebrating the holiday alone. It’s easy to lose ourselves in our own minds, but try to remember that in the bed next to you, or in the next room, could be a vet facing the same challenges without a support system.
Making an effort to visit them could make all the difference. Or, if you’re lucky enough to be an out-patient this holiday, think about taking a day from your festivities to bring some of that homespun cheer to your nearest VA hospital.
The holiday spirit can be found in the darkest of hours. More than 100 years after the Christmas Truce, when British and German troops sang another Christmas favorite, O’ Holy Night, from the trenches as they united in an unsanctioned cease fire during World War I, we’re reminded that we just have to look for it and help others to find it.


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