My Christmas bell

December 23, 2002

A special patient gave this doctor more than a small crystal remembrance.


My Christmas bell

A special patient gave this doctor more than a small crystal remembrance.

By Leandra Lynch, MD
Emergency Physician/Crested Butte, CO

Fresh out of residency, I moved to Woodland Hills, CA, to take a job in a small community hospital's emergency department. As the newest member of the group, I got last dibs on shifts. Of course, no one wanted to work Christmas Eve, so the shift became mine. I kissed my family goodbye and went off to spend the night in the hospital.

At 9 p.m., the ambulance brought in a little old man who was having an MI and was in cardiogenic shock. In the early '80s, thrombolytics weren't generally available. My patient was unstable, but he managed to hang in there. Eventually he was transferred to the ICU where he'd be cared for by a cardiologist.

Before I left in the morning, I stopped by to see how he was doing. It was touch and go but he survived the night. I went home to spend Christmas with my family and heard no more about the man's condition.

The following year, still the newest member of the group, I got Christmas Eve duty again. I kissed my family goodbye and went off to work. At 9 p.m. sharp, the ward clerk told me there was an elderly couple in the lobby who wanted to speak with me.

When I approached them, the man introduced himself as Mr. Lee and said, "You probably don't remember me, but last Christmas Eve you saved my life. I want to thank you for the year you gave me." He and his wife hugged me, gave me a small gift, and left.

The following year a new doctor had joined the group, and my family was delighted that he would probably be stuck working Christmas Eve. But I had another idea. I wanted to see if Mr. and Mrs. Lee would return. I volunteered for the shift.

I kept an eye on the door. Once again, at exactly 9 p.m., the Lees appeared, carrying a snugly wrapped bundle. It was their new grandchild. We all hugged, kissed, and cried. Mr. Lee said he'd come see me every Christmas Eve, and that if he didn't come, well, I would know that it just wasn't his year.

I worked the ED for the next 10 Christmas Eves, and every year at exactly 9 p.m. he would appear. Twice he came with new grandchildren. One year he showed up with a great-grandchild. The last year I saw him, he brought me a small crystal bell, simply engraved with the word "Friendship."

Mr. Lee, his family, and I spent 13 Christmas Eves together. He died the year I moved to Crested Butte, CO. Now, my family, friends, and I ring that bell every Christmas Eve at exactly 9 p.m. and offer a toast to a gentleman whose gift of friendship helped make my personal and professional life truly rich.


Leandra Lynch. My Christmas bell. Medical Economics 2002;24:29.