HowStuffWorks Stars Share Their Favorite Holiday Memories

What is your fondest holiday? Be sure to share with us!
What is your fondest holiday? Be sure to share with us!
DCL

It's holiday season, and we asked some of Discovery Fit & Health's celebrities -- like Kristina Wandzilak of the hit show Addicted and our doctors from Untold Stories of the E.R. -- to share their favorite holiday memories.

Check out these amazing anecdotes that they had to share! And don't forget to tell us your own!

Learning from a Student

Photo: Photo from Untold Stories of the ER set of Dr. Clem consulting a patient in the ER.
Photo: Photo from Untold Stories of the ER set of Dr. Clem consulting a patient in the ER.
DCL

A senior medical student interested in Emergency Medicine was assigned to me on Christmas Eve. The emergency department (ED) was a hubbub of activity. Adding to the chaos was a major trauma patient who arrived along with the trauma team. Generally students interested in emergency medicine want to be in the middle of the action. I looked around for my student, who – clearly just minutes before the trauma activation - was working to impress me with his interest in our specialty. But he wasn't anywhere nearby. Puzzled, I busied myself overseeing the resuscitation, stabilized the patient with a variety of procedures, and sent the patient and the trauma team off to the operating room (OR). Still, no student.

It was then that I noticed the charge nurse had tears in her eyes. Several of the clerks also appeared tearful. Had the trauma patient died on the way to the OR? One of them pointed to the crowded hallway, where my student was kneeling on the floor in front of a patient placed in one of our back hall beds.

The patient was homeless. Her complaint? “My feet hurt.” Her feet smelled so bad the nurses had put plastic bags over them to contain the stench.

On the way to the trauma bay, the patient had called out to my student. He responded. Her chart was labeled with a green dot – the hospital’s symbol for the lowest acuity. Medical students are permitted to see green dots and then present them to the attending. My student responded by obtaining a basin, filling it with soapy water, and washing her feet. The floor was littered with blackened towels. The student, oblivious to the audience of ED players, kept washing her feet and talking with the patient until the job was done. He then bought her a meal, cleaned up the mess, and waited to present his patient to me. When his turn came to present, he sincerely apologized for not being present for the trauma. He offered no excuses, but I could tell he was torn about missing the opportunity for procedures and to impress the Chair with his enthusiasm.

When I went to see the patient, she informed me that her feet didn't hurt anymore. She wished us all a Merry Christmas. She said her “doctor” had really helped her. There was no other recommendation I needed for this student – a future emergency physician!

-- Dr. Kathleen Clem of Untold Stories of the E.R.

Black Friday...the New Friday the 13th?

Photo: Dr. Andy Kahn on the set of Untold Stories of the ER operating on an infant found in a less than sanitary spot.
Photo: Dr. Andy Kahn on the set of Untold Stories of the ER operating on an infant found in a less than sanitary spot.
DCL

I worked Thanksgiving night last year. At 12 o'clock at night there were a number of patients who came to my emergency room (ER) because they were injured in a Black Friday sale where people rushed the store when it opened at midnight. There were instances of customer-on-customer violence and injuries from fighting over video game consoles and other items listed at discounted prices and in limited supplies for the sales event!

-- Dr. Andy Kahn, Untold Stories of the E.R.

Experiencing a New Kind of Holiday Clarity

Photo: Kristina Wandzilak, host of Discovery Fit & Health's hit show Addicted.
Photo: Kristina Wandzilak, host of Discovery Fit & Health's hit show Addicted.
DCL

I have been sober now a long time. I have had the privilege of having 19 sober holidays, filled with family, laughter and warmth.

It would be difficult to choose one of the 19 that has been better than the others. Each holiday has been a new experience, as I grow into a new person, sober and clean. With each passing year I am better able to enjoy my family and friends, as I become more secure with myself and at peace with my past addiction and life.

I had holidays away from my family while addicted. The holidays held a particular type of loneliness. It seemed that everything hurt a little more. The emptiness felt deeper, the cold stung longer and the days and nights felt endless. The streets were busy with shoppers and passersby, during the festive season, until the early morning of the actual holiday. The streets were empty and still, as if they bled out through the night, church bells would ring in the distance and the bittersweet sound seemed to vibrate through the freezing air, landing hard and shaking loose the lost memories of family holidays, when the days were better and the love between us was still sweet and painless. I would be left with a hopelessness that would fill to the back of my throat, that was so painful and dark, I felt as if I might suffocate, standing upright, in the middle of the sidewalk, on Christmas day.

It was then that I would desperately seek oblivion.

The holiday season holds a different meaning since surviving addiction. One of my favorite parts is gathering around the holiday table, where my family -- my sweet children and beloved nieces and nephews -- sit and eat. There is laughter, love and feelings of family that bind us deeply and hard together. The other favorite time is watching my clients enjoy their first holiday sober. My phone rings and my inbox fills with sentiments from the families I've had the privilege to work with through the year. The messages are of gratitude for saving the lives of the ones they love most. I am very clear I do not save lives, but I feel humbled and honored to be apart of and to bear witness to the awakening of the beautiful souls lost to addiction.

During this holiday, I look forward to another season filled with family, children, friends, clients and the knowing that my life has purpose, which has been the greatest gift of all my years and holidays sober.

Happy Holidays, my friends and supporters.

-- Kristina Wandzilak, host of Discovery Fit & Health's hit show Addicted.

Making the Best of a Hard Christmas

Photo: Dr. Cesar Aristeiguieta on the set of Untold Stories of the ER consulting a patient whose eye has just popped out of his socket.
Photo: Dr. Cesar Aristeiguieta on the set of Untold Stories of the ER consulting a patient whose eye has just popped out of his socket.
DCL

Most stories about the holidays tend to be a bit sad. Nobody likes to be in the hospital during the holidays.

One of my favorite memories was of a family whose grandmother was very ill and was going to pass away on Christmas day. I thought that this was a tragic way to celebrate the holidays, but this family was a little different. They had prepared for their grandmother's passing and were comfortable that this was another step in the circle of life.

The emergency room (E.R.) was a bit slow that day, so we made some room for the family and they all came to say their goodbyes. We all thought that this was going to be a very emotional moment, but this family decided to have one last Christmas with Grandma in the E.R. They brought food, the kids were playing in the room around the bed, and there was a festive mood. This all while Grandma was resting comfortably and passing away.

You could almost see a smile on her face. No tubes, no pain, no heroic measures. This woman was dying with more love than I had ever seen before. This was a celebration of her life and her place in the family.

-- Dr. Cesar Aristeiguieta, Untold Stories of the E.R.

Spreading Christmas Cheer

Photo: Dr. Andy Kahn on the set of Untold Stories of the ER operating on an infant found in a less than sanitary spot.
Photo: Dr. Andy Kahn on the set of Untold Stories of the ER operating on an infant found in a less than sanitary spot.
DCL

When I worked the night shift on Christmas Eve as a senior resident at a large county hospital Emergency Department, one of the night nurses I was working with had a wonderful Christmas surprise.

Her husband surprised her by coming to the emergency room (E.R.) dressed as Santa Claus. Several of his friends dressed up as elves. They brought bags of gifts (socks, shoes, clothes) because a large number of our patients were homeless or needy. They came singing Christmas carols and visited various patients in our E.R., which was busy, even on Christmas Eve. It was nice of him to support his wife and the poor who were there by buying gifts and spreading them to everyone that night.

-- Dr. Andy Kahn, Untold Stories of the E.R.