Tales From the Front, an ongoing series of stories started four
years ago, offers a means to explore aspects of human nature
which often go unnoticed in the rush and throng of modern
society. In this, the first of four Christmas Tales From the
Front for 1992, we meet a modern-day nurse who, upon losing her
place in the book of life, finds that she still has the means to
discover the meaning of Christmas.
TALES FROM THE FRONT
The Christmas Bear
Copyright 1992 Dave Laird
The wet snow fell earlier than usual that year. The number of
auto wrecks added a particularly heavy load on the hospital
emergency room, so Sue was glad when it drew close to time to go
home. No more battered bodies, children shrilly screaming in
pain, no more crying out in pain. She glanced overhead at the
clock. Only fifteen more minutes to go, yet as soon as the
thought crossed her mind, she heard the ambulance radio come to
life, and in the distance she could hear the sound of a siren
beginning to wail.
Code Blue. Car accident. A child and her mother. She checked the
carts in both of the unused emergency rooms once more, finished
restocking just as the ambulance backed up to the entrance in the
deep slushy snow outside.
“Ohmigod.” someone cried out softly, choking, as the first of the
two stretchers were pushed into the emergency room, for on the
first stretcher the broken, shattered remains of a young woman
was terribly mangled. Most of her face was badly lacerated, and
where her right breast had been was badly dented inward, with
pieces of fractured bone sticking out between the shards of what
remained of her blouse. Her eyes were closed, almost as if to
ward off the inevitable pain. Vital signs were not good, but with
luck, she would live.
The second stretcher bore a small girl, perhaps 10 or 12 years
old. She appeared conscious, but unmoving.
“Put the mother in Room 2 and the daughter in Room 5,” Sue
crisply said, directing the attendants from the ambulance crew.
“I'll take the mom.” Lou Ann, the other Registered Nurse in the
E.R. whispered briskly, striding off behind the first stretcher.
The procedure was deeply imbedded into her consciousness.
Establish blood pressure and respiratory rate. Check for visible
trauma. Pulse checked in thready, breathing shallow. Shock, like
an unwanted visitor, lingered close at hand. A bruise at the base
of the girl's neck, extended around the rear only to emerge on
the other side. The girl continued to lay still, a stolid look on
her face, her deep brown eyes staring soundlessly back at her.
“What's your name?” Silence.
“Do you know who I am? I'm the nurse that's going to help your
mommy get better.” Stillness dripped, like an ugly viscous fluid,
into seconds, then minutes.
“Don't you want your mommy to get better?” She leaned over the
stretcher, examining more closely. Little girls on the verge of
shock were never quiet.
“If you can hear my voice, blink your eyes for me.” At last, the
long lashes closed briefly over the deep dark eyes, only to
She reached over and hit the intercom button.
“Dr. Lindley, could you come in here as soon as possible? I have
a little girl who is paralyzed.”
Minutes later, when the doctor arrived, he confirmed her worst
fears. Injury at the base of the head, possibly nerve damage.
Loss of all psychomotor activity, hence the silent, forbearing
look on her face. Otherwise she would have, in typical little
girl fashion, been screaming her lungs out.
Before the ward nurse came to take the little girl away for X-
rays, Sue held up a button-nosed teddy bear where the little girl
could see it. The teddy bears, donated by the Hospital Auxiliary
for such occasions, seemed to soothe little boys and girls who
were frequently terrorized by the unknown.
The eyes blinked once more at her, until as the stretcher was
moved down the hall, the twin swinging doors closed, as the
little face swathed in white sheets with a teddy bear sitting up
next to her on the stretcher, disappeared from view.
She checked in on the little girl about a half hour later, after
once more cleaning and sterilizing the emergency room. She kept
her voice even, happy, not daring to tell the girl that she no
longer had a mother. Under the watchful gaze of the pair of
sombre eyes on the stretcher, the best that she could do for the
littlest patient and her newfound friend, the bear, was to hold
her lifeless hand, and before she left, tuck the teddy bear in
beside her on the stretcher.
It was six in the morning on Christmas Eve, and as she left the
hospital nearly an hour late, it was beginning to snow once more.
She had done much of her Christmas shopping during the flurry of
sales just after Thanksgiving, yet she still needed to buy
something undefined and special for her dad, not to mention buy
groceries for the big feast that was slated to take place at her
house on Christmas Day. Her folks would be there, along with her
daughter, Melanie, and Larry.
Her heart warmed at the thought of Larry, her good-looking,
boyfriend, for since he had entered her life nearly six months
ago, he had increasingly become the center of her life. At first,
it had been tranquil dinners up at the ski lodge. Then there were
passionate weekends spent up at a friend's lake cabin. Their
relationship had continued to spiral inward until they were
seeing each other exclusively, nearly every night of the week.
She had already begun to admit to herself that even after her
bitter divorce two years ago, she was falling in love, and this
time it felt different. Trust in men was beginning to return to
On an impulse, instead of driving down the hill toward home, and
some sleep, she turned instead toward Larry's apartment.
Opening the door with the key he had given her, she had an
indefinate notion of perhaps fixing his breakfast while he slept
in. She tiptoed into his bedroom, trying not to squeak the door.
Yet, when the door squeaked loudly, a figure moved in the gray
half-light that lay on the bed.
Instead of Larry's deep bass voice, a woman's voice all full of
sleep and slurry with unanticipated awakenings, floated across
Indignation, betrayal, pain. Somewhere inside her, a voice
started crying out. Only after several seconds did she realize
that she was screaming, at the woman, at Larry. She started
crying, and turned to leave.
Larry grabbed at her shoulder, missed. She slapped his face hard
once, twice, then with the anguish of the scorned, tried to
scratch his face.
Although off-balance from the slaps to his face, he struck back,
his marine training finally discovering a macabre fulfillment. A
savate kick to the midsection. Sue stooped over, the breath
already leaving her midsection. He snapped his arm over his head
in the classic karate chop, and dropped her neatly unconscious to
the carpet with a blow to the back of her neck.
Today, nearly two years later, Sue remembers that morning, seldom
dotes upon it, but never mentions it to anyone, save trusted, few
friends. Although she can talk, she no longer works as an R.N. at
the hospital where she was treated, for she, like the little girl
who was her last patient, is now a quadraplegic. She spends her
days, frantically attempting to continue living life
independently, save for the bevy of nurses, nurses aides and home
care professionals who sustain her new life.
Larry has already completed his jail term, and is once more a
free man, once more the predatory animal he was when she first
met him. He has a new apartment, a new job, a new girlfriend to
whom he is engaged to be married. He filed bankruptcy. He is a
Her hands, her legs, are lifeless and limp. Yet, sitting upright
in her bed, she can gaze out her front window, where it is
beginning to snow once more, and as the twilight fades into
evening, here and there, across the city, she can see the
Christmas lights coming on. Carolers from the church up the
street come by, stand beneath the street light and sing a few
desultory carols before wandering off in the snow.
She is nearly asleep. The sound of her bedroom door opening
gently rouses her.
“Huh? Who is it?” she asked, thinking it probably was the nurse's
A faded old elf of man, all dressed up in a filthy dirty red and
white suit limps in the door, dragging some sort of a bag over
“Okay, who's idea of a joke is this?”
“It's no joke, Sue. Come with me.”
“What? You know I'm paralyzed, for Christ's sake. I can't move,
can't feel anything from the neck down. Besides, I don't even
know who you are.”
“Yes, you know who I am. Reach out and take my hand.”
She did, and somehow was not surprised that she could move her
legs once more, stand up and walk with the old man toward her
bedroom door. There, standing just outside the open door, was the
little girl she had treated in the emergency room nearly two
years before. Just before they crossed the threshold, he handed
her a button-nosed, teddy bear, and together, the three of them
walked forth into the sunlight and the haze outside.
Sue and Rebecca, once mutually associated with a house of pain on
a hill in Spokane, Washington, now have gone onto a better place
with an old man dressed up in a red suit. He came bearing gifts
for each of them, special Christmas bears which were made
especially for this occasion.
The Talemaster turns yet another page, and speaks once more.
“Turn the page, child. I'll tell you another tale when you are