We're celebrating Christmas like real Canadians, says my patient, an Iraqi father of two. I even took my kids to see that white guy in the red suit.
* * * * *
It's the season's first big snowfall in Vancouver, the week before Christmas. It's only a few inches, but everything's transformed, soft and homogeneous, glowing. I take public transit in - the SeaBus, SkyTrain, a few blocks by foot in snow boots.
In every other clinic I've ever worked, patient show was influenced by the weather. Patients stayed away if it was too sunny, too wet, too slippery, too hot. Not so at the refugee clinic. Refugees have overcome such massive obstacles that inclement weather is a negligible deterrent, I guess. Sure enough, every patient booked that morning shows up. I'm the one who arrives late.
Mid-morning I see an Iranian couple that I've followed closely since their arrival a year ago. They've driven in from Coquitlam in their Toyota Echo. I can't believe they braved the slick roads. "But we couldn't rebook to come in the New Year," he explains, "because we had to see you before Christmas to give you this." His wife pulls a small wrapped gift from her purse. It's a necklace, with a gorgeous, simple pendant, exactly my style. I'm really moved, and not just because they risked their necks delivering it.
Between patients, the interpreter tells me about her first snowfall after arriving from Somalia. How unbelievable it was, how beautiful. She has her hand over her chest, trying to convey her amazement. "Everyone who comes to Canada and sees snow for the first time, they never forget that," she tells me in her soft voice. "Never."
* * * * *
The patient is an Ethiopian grandmother who arrived in Canada this fall. She lives in Surrey and walks her grandchildren to school every day. Do you celebrate Christmas? I ask as I wrap the blood pressure cuff around her arm.
Not in the past, she says through the interpreter. But now that we're in Canada, we celebrate what Canadians celebrate. So we will have Christmas this year.
I'm excited for her. Will you have a Christmas tree? I ask.