A phone call at 3 a.m. is never a good thing.

T’was three days before Christmas and my mom was struck with the worst headache she ever had experienced. Thinking this was a terrible migrane, she headed to the hospital to get some relief. Drugged up and sent home, she thought that was that.

The next day I called her and she sounded…off. She wasn’t quite answering my questions coherently and told me she was still in a lot of pain. When I talked to my sister that evening, she told me my mom was heading back to the hospital. I asked her to call me — no matter what time — if there was something I needed to know.

Christmas Eve, 3 a.m. My phone rings. Already knowing that something was not right, I sat straight up in bed and gasped, “Oh no!”, startling Michael in the process.

My sister, crying into the phone, choked out the words. Meningitis.

Here’s a tip for you. Do not Google “meningitis” at 3 a.m. It will result in hysterics that last for a few hours.

By 7 a.m. I was drained, puffy-eyed and scared. You see, Christmas Eve has a tendency to be unkind to my family. It was on that very day that my mom was diagnosed with cancer many years ago. You can imagine the worst case scenarios that were running through my head.

As we drove to New York, we learned that it takes up to 72 hours to determine if it’s the viral meningitis — the easily treated one, or the bacterial meningitis. The kind that, um, kills people. Yeah.

Until they knew, my mom would be kept in isolation, visitors having to wear masks and gowns. Luckily my mom was in good spirits and they made the most of it.

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Still, my mom was in the hospital. When we arrived to see her the first time, the nurse told us she had gone in for an MRI. When she said the words “brain scan”, I almost lost it again in the hospital.

Later, finally able to see her, we were relieved to learn that she had viral meningitis, could go home in a few days and was not contagious. PHEW. But, she still wouldn’t make it home for Christmas. Not for gifts, not for the big family dinner with all of our relatives. That, she said, would be left to me and my sister. She refused to allow us to put Christmas day on hold. She wanted us to keep moving forward. Of course Christmas could never be Christmas without my mom.

Christmas morning, we packed up all of our gifts and stockings and marched through the hospital with bags and arms full. We took over that hospital room like it was our own living room and had a wonderful Christmas morning.

Who says you can’t laugh through the scary times?

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Afterwards we prepared Christmas dinner for 11 (a minor bump in the road left us with a completely frozen ham, so Chinese food plus all the traditional sides was our Christmas dinner!) and received the best gift we could have ever asked for when my mom was discharged from the hospital and home with us on Christmas evening, just in time for dessert. She received a round of applause when she walked in the room.

I am a first class overreactor, worrier and emotional roller coaster. I have to admit when I first received the phone call I was sure the cancer was back. I was sure my heart was going to break. I was terrified — absolutely terrified — of losing my mom. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have her home, mostly mended, and around for many, many more years.

Let’s hope next Christmas Eve is a quiet one!

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