Photography © Shannon O’Connor


Holiday Season, Massachusetts General Hospital, 2020

The hospital workers enter the gray door, in the back,
and line up expectantly
to receive their new mask,
like they’re at church, and it’s holy communion.
First, they sanitize their hands from an automatic machine,
then, take their new masks, and for a brief
moment, they are mask-less in the hospital, while they’re placing
the new one on their face.

They do this every day.

But in winter, it seems more painful.
The cold inside is as straining as it is outside.

One day, a woman security guard, who watches the door, says,
“Why did Santa’s helper need to go to a therapist?
Because he had low-elf esteem!”
Everybody laughs.
And for a brief moment, the hospital workers forget about the pandemic,
and the patients dying on their watch every day,
and the people who are suffering,
they laugh, because it feels right,
at eight o’clock in the morning on a Monday,
because laughter can heal their hearts,
giving hope that things will be better in the world
someday soon.
They don’t know when,
But they know it will end,
their jobs will become more normal,
and the holiday spirit will encompass everyone,
and Santa’s helpers will feel good about themselves,
making the hospital workers laugh,
through their tears they choke back,
ready to face another day.


Shannon O’Connor holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. She works in a hospital in Boston. In her spare time, when she is not writing, she takes pictures of trees, plays the tin whistle, and watches “Star Trek.”