Raise a glass, or a paper cup, to those heroes who are our greatest Christmas gift

For all the rain 2020 has delivered, there has also been plenty to be thankful for, such as these 12 gifts of Christmas, writes Madonna King

Dec 24, 2020, updated Dec 24, 2020
The state government has moved to support women with endometriosis. (File image - Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal)

The state government has moved to support women with endometriosis. (File image - Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal)

I don’t know her name, but each morning she’s at my local coffee shop early. She’s in a nurse’s uniform, either gearing up for a busy day ahead, or celebrating the end of a long shift with caffeine.

A few times I’ve offered to pay for her coffee, but so far I’ve been beaten by someone else, who has also learnt this year how we might have undervalued our frontline workers. Not just this 20-something nurse at a Brisbane hospital, but nurses and doctors and teachers and paramedics and police officers the nation over.

Just as we all have a story, it seems, of heartache this year, there’s just as many of stories where this pandemic has delivered a new tolerance or understanding or even a dose of magic.

One mother, on Facebook, described the battle her adult son, who has Down’s Syndrome, is navigating inside the ICU at Gold Coast hospital. “The staff work 12-hour shifts, one on one, with my son and me. They work their butts off to care for critical care patients and have little time to rest before coming back for another shift,’’ she said.

Last night after a 12-hour shift, one nurse went home and baked treats for this mother, after hearing she had a chocolate craving. “She took the time to bake for me in her short 12-hour break before coming back to work.’’

One nurse, in one hospital, delivering a piece of magic to a family who needs it this Christmas.

Tomorrow, on Christmas day, that nurse will be back at work and she, and her peers, will be caring for the young and the old, the really sick and the nearly better, those with futures and those knowing this might be their last Christmas.

Patients will be delivered to those hospitals by paramedics, who spend their shifts breathing life into others. Gentle men and women who go home from work each day, hoping they did enough to give someone else extra time.

Our police officers will be attending traffic accidents and serious assaults, putting themselves in the shoes of those who answer their knock on a door to be told a child will never be coming home.

Others will sit around a makeshift Christmas tree remembering someone who is no longer here. Or grapple with a day where so much joy for others is a reminder of the loneliness they now endure.

But in all the rain 2020 has delivered, rainbows keep popping up – and perhaps it’s worth recording 12 Gifts of Christmas this year. These are mine.

Time, with those we like. We used to have to make it; this year delivered it.

An appreciation of health. With COVID-19 deaths like numbers on a poker machine in some countries, the relative isolation and the way it has been controlled in Australia needs to be celebrated. 2020 is a reminder that we shouldn’t wait until we’re sick, before we discover the value of good health.

Introspection. I’d schedule that in, on New Year’s Eve, writing a list of what might be better next year. This year has taught me not to wait. Introspection is a gift, on any day.

Friendships. No one means to, but how often do you take a good friendship for granted? 2020 is a lesson in not doing that. Checking in is good for everyone.

Education. Whether it was at home or in a classroom, the importance of the role of our teachers should be a legacy of 2020. Paid far too little to do far too much, they have worked with families so that our children see 2020 as a year of new opportunities, not missed ones.

Science. Another poorly funded discipline where the best minds in the world showed how fast they could work to deliver a vaccine. Clever. Humble. Passionate. Hardworking. We all owe them a debt of gratitude as they lead the world back to good health.

Butterflies. Has anyone else noticed the kaleidoscope (yes, that’s the correct term) of butterflies in our backyards? Perhaps we’ve all just been too busy to see them previously.

Social media. Dare I? For all its faults, and there are many, it has allowed us to communicate with loved ones locked in nursing homes or other states. It’s allowed our teens to stay in touch with friends, for parents to check in with their children, and for all of us to understand what is happening across the globe.

Innovation. Drive-by birthday parties, and wine chats on zoom, Friday nights on Skype, Netflix parties and even semi-formals online. Imagination, it seems, is the only hurdle to innovation.

Neighbourhood. On Anzac Day, our street filled before dawn with respect and silence and recognition of those who fought for our freedoms. The pandemic delivered a new sense of community that spanned beers across balconies and doing the neighbour’s shopping.

Nature. 2020 is a reminder that nature created this virus, and should never be underestimated. Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s provided anti-vaxxers with a lesson too.

Frontline workers. To the nurse at my coffee shop, and her peers across Australia, to our paramedics and doctors and police officers and care workers and all those who don’t stop on Christmas Day, thank you. You are the gift we should all recognise this Christmas Day.

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