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Christmas past, present, and future

A seasonal consultation for the strange times we live in

Esther looked sad as she settled herself at her kitchen table. “You caught me with my baking apron on, doctor,” she said. Behind her, a red enamel kettle stood atop the range. It looked like one that could whistle as it boiled. Fairy lights winked and sparkled on the decorated branches of her Christmas tree.

I imagined a spicy, cinnamon scent even though she said that she had just put a brown cake in the oven. “Your tree looks nice,” I said, making a mental note to order one for myself when I got home.

I sat back in my seat, feeling relaxed and engaged. Consulting with Esther was easy. She was, what I would consider, a reasonable person. I liked rational people, the same way I appreciated a mug of hot chocolate on a wet and windy afternoon. Predictably comforting. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the nonsensical. But only occasionally, like a small nip of brandy, small doses, infrequently.

“So,” I began. “You wanted to talk to me.”

Esther told me that she had been feeling a bit low and was worried that her depression might be coming back. She knew the signs and was aware she needed to act. I listened without interrupting while she spoke freely and easily. I had helped Esther through a few episodes of depression during the 20 years that I had cared for her.

As I recorded her consultation in the file, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much had changed for both of us in the past 12 months

Yet, each time her story varied slightly and voicing her feelings was an essential part of the therapy. I advised Esther to start medication and noticed that she also needed a repeat prescription. “I meant to ask you for that, doctor,” she said, “but I keep forgetting things lately.”

“No problem, Esther, I have a list of your tablets. We can go through them now and make sure we get them right.”

“Hold on a minute,” Esther interrupted, rising heavily from her seat. “I have all my tablets here. I used to keep them in the high cupboard, but I can’t reach up there anymore.

In any case, I don’t get any visits from the grandchildren these days, so it’s safe enough to leave them on the counter.”

Esther sat back down, placing a Tupperware container stuffed with tablets on the table in front of her. She took the boxes out one by one, calling out the names, spelling the ones she could not pronounce and asking me to remind her why she was taking some of them. The whole process took a bit of time, but it was worth it to reassure myself that Esther was managing her medications.

“That prescription is gone straight to the pharmacy now. Just give them a call before you collect it,” I said when we had finished.

“William will get it for me,” she replied. “I don’t go out very much, not at all really, if I can help it, but William calls in every day. Do you think things will ever get back to normal, doctor?” I felt a responsibility to be positive, so I replied that I was sure they would. There was, after all, news of vaccines, and if it was as promising as they said, it would help us all get back to more normal living.

I heard a door open as Esther looked away. “It’s William,” she said, “and Archie.” She bent down and picked up a white ball of fluff, hugging it to her breast as its little head darted all about, trying to lick her face, its tail wagging fiercely. “Say hello to the doctor, Archie,” she said, but Archie only had eyes for Esther.

“I didn’t know you had a dog,” I said. “Oh, Archie is almost as old as I am. I’d be lost without him. I think we will both go out together, won’t we Archie?”

“I don’t think there is any fear of either of you going anywhere for a while,” I said. “Ye both look the picture of health and you are certainly not old, whatever about Archie.”

She laughed.

“Well, I better go, I said. “I hope you are feeling better soon, Esther and don’t forget that you are due to have blood tests done next month, so I will see you in the surgery then to check on how things are going.”

“Hopefully, I will be better by then,” she said. “Goodbye, doctor. A happy Christmas to you and your family. It was good to see you and talk to you.”

Many happy returns, Esther, you know where I am if you need me.”

I clicked the “end call” button on my laptop and emerged from Esther’s kitchen into my consulting room. As I recorded her consultation in the file, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much had changed for both of us in the past 12 months.

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