Christmas Surprises

by Yvonne deSousa

Oh, how Christmas is filled with surprises. Even as an adult, I never tire of the magic of the season and wonderful surprises always seem inevitable.

During December 2009, there were weird things going on in my body but I refused to accept them until after the precious holiday. I thought I would deal with my fatigue, spaciness and the numbness and tingling of my legs later, in 2010. But my doctors had other ideas.

That month I was shopping with a drunken-like gait, amid various appointments that included getting prodded with a fork, electrocuted by a gorgeous male doctor from Czechoslovakia, and undergoing MRIs.

I did okay with the first set of MRIs, but on the second set the evil technician locked my head in a vise and all I could think about was what would happen if the world ended and I survived in the metal tube only to have my head forever locked in place in this miserable tunnel… I tried to sing carols under my breath but that only made me worry whether the tech would forget me about during her holiday preparations.

I stumbled out of the hospital insisting that it was all over, no more medical prep until the New Year.

My doctor disagreed. The next morning she called with the lousiest surprise ever. I had Multiple Sclerosis and I had to get myself to a Boston hospital immediately, likely to be admitted. I didn't hear anything about MS, the illness my sister Laurie had suffered with for almost ten years. I heard the "hospital for Christmas" part – this just couldn't be!

I tracked down my brother and off we went to what turned out to be a Catholic hospital named for Saint Elizabeth, who played such an important role in the Nativity story. "This must be a sign," I thought.

I handed Chris a Bible opened to Luke and asked him to follow up on the story while he waited for me. Sign or not, when I came out he was asleep in the waiting room and it looked like he hadn't touched the Bible. Later, I learned that St. Elizabeth Hospital was named for a different Elizabeth, but I was looking for holiday surprises, after all. I would take what I could get.

The bad news: I had relapsing/remitting Multiple Sclerosis.

The good news: I didn't have to stay in the hospital.

I could go home and, while the next week would be filled with even more medical appointments and a whole new list of things to do, I wouldn't be locked up during the most wondrous time of the year.

Somehow I managed to work, bake and wrap while going to the hospital everyday for hour-long steroid infusions, during a snow storm, without once thinking about MS.

Okay, maybe I thought about it a little while I glanced at Christmas cards taped to the admin desk while a nurse sent one of many new drugs shooting through my arm. But it was Christmas – Fa-la-la and Noel and Ho-Ho-Ho. I wouldn't dwell on this illness. I had a lovely holiday to prepare.

I managed get through those days and woke up on December 24th renewed. The holiday was here, I wasn't in the hospital and I was pretty caught up.

Illustration by Sebastian Francis-Burnell
Illustration by Sebastian Francis-Burnell

I only had some treats to prepare for visits I would make later, and a couple of presents to wrap. I was ready.

But as I stepped out of the shower, the phone began to ring. A UPS computer was calling. They had a package for me but couldn't find me. "Another Christmas surprise? A good one this time maybe?" I thought. "Maybe it was a gift from my long lost love or a secret admirer."

I helped the computer figure out how to get to my house and realized the package was actually from yet another new drug company. It wasn't even drugs, it was just information about the drugs.

When I got over that disappointment, I insisted on stepping back into the holiday spirit. But I had forgotten to call the drug company to set up an account and if I didn't do it today, I wouldn't be able to until after the weekend. It was okay, I had time. I was caught up and not in the hospital. It would only take a second.

Clad only in my soft, baby blue fuzzy bathrobe, the one that was so comfy even if it did make me look like a giant blue bunny, I called the drug company to get this part of the nasty medical business over. But, as it turned out, the nurse for the company needed to ask me hundreds of questions before she could send me the actual drugs. "I've come this far," I said, humming Rudolph as she booted up her computer.

She proceeded to ask me every medical question under the sun for not only my issues, but those of my siblings, parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, etc. It was then that I saw a car pull up. It was Serena with her ten-year-old twins stopping by to wish me a Merry Christmas.

Serena didn't know about the diagnosis yet and I never got to see her girls. It was obvious I was home and I didn't want the kids to think I was ignoring them. But I couldn't lose this call after we had come this far.

Without thinking, I answered the door in the fuzzy bathrobe, with the nurse still on the line asking me questions, to extreme hoots of laughter from not just Serena but also from her boyfriend Bootsie and hugs and kisses from her daughters.

The whole time the nurse was still asking, "Do you lie out in the sun? Have you ever lied out in the sun? Does anyone you know lie out in the sun? Have you ever been to Africa?

Has anyone you know ever been to Africa? Do you even like Africa?"

And in the bathrobe that was now no longer so comforting I tried to get the nurse to pause for a breath, explain to the girls why I couldn't invite them in and where I dropped off their presents and shut up Serena and Bootsie without flipping them off as that wouldn't be appropriate for the season or the kids.

And like that, it was Christmas. And time for visiting and the beautiful mass and family and new holiday memories.

Like how my mom who NEVER drinks got tipsy on one glass of wine and my nephew Drew and I sprang to the parking lot to get the car to get her home, leaving her swaying dramatically with only Laurie and her cane to try to keep her from falling.

Or, how, while chatting with them and making dinner on Christmas day I decided to spray my entire kitchen floor, instead of just the roasting pan, with Pam, making my kitchen a makeshift ice rink. Drew and I had fun dangerously gliding around and serving while my mother watched nervously waiting for the plate crashing display that never actually came. Silly memories all, but memories to chuckle over for years….

So maybe this Christmas the surprises weren't that great. Maybe, the surprise was that the memories and the business of the season can help you get through anything. At least until December 26.

Yvonne deSousa has lived on Cape Cod for most of her life, being raised in Provincetown.

Her nonfiction has appeared in the Portuguese Festival Booklet of the Provincetown Banner four years in a row. Her play, The Best Birthday Ever, was performed by children at CAM International Mission Las Aldeas in Guatemala on Christmas Eve 2010. The play is available on the website

Yvonne was recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and is currently working on a book that uses humor to promote healing. Check out her new website

Yvonne can be reached at