Mrs. Jones is one of my favorite patients. She lost her husband to COVID-19 early during the pandemic and found herself hospitalized with COVID-19 complications soon after her husband passed. The 60-year-old grandmother fought hard in the hospital, resulting in a successful discharge two months prior to Christmas last year. Although she won her fight against the coronavirus, she required an extended stay in the ICU with ventilation partially due to her many chronic medical conditions which include diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. My patient also suffered from depression and anxiety which were adversely affected from all the physical and psychological trauma she experienced.
During her follow-up appointment from her hospitalization six weeks before Christmas last year, I suggested she purchase a Christmas tree. This was due to the concern that I had based on her countenance. Eventually, through talking with my patient, I surmised that Mrs. Jones was very depressed. With tears in her eyes, she explained how she was going to miss her husband and shared thoughts of her own death. Initially, she shared that she had planned to avoid the holidays this year, and just wanted to hide in her home alone. I did establish that she had no immediate suicidal threat, but I asked if we could communicate every two to three days for a couple of weeks. We scheduled her with a therapist and adjusted her medications. I also told her that I was prescribing a Christmas tree and actually wrote a prescription spelling “One Christmas Tree” on a prescription pad which I handed to her. She agreed to purchase the tree, and agreed to text a picture of the tree in her home once it was decorated.
Two weeks later, I did not receive the requested texted picture, but I received a phone call from a surprisingly excited voice. Confused at such a different temperament, I asked my nurse that had communicated with her on a regular basis if our patient showed any of this enthusiasm on the daily telephone check-in visits. The nurse shared that her attitude had progressively improved since purchasing the tree. She reported that Mrs. Jones’ two children brought her grandchildren over daily to work on the tree and further decorate the home. I checked with the home health nurse that was assigned to Mrs. Jones and delightfully discovered that her blood glucose readings, blood pressure, and other medical findings had improved since purchasing the Christmas tree.
Research has overwhelmingly demonstrated that Christmas trees provide benefits that are helpful both physically and mentally. This has been a very stressful two years, and many of us have had drastic losses of loved ones, employment, educational opportunities, and many other forms of loss that can’t be replaced. Many of these losses lead to increased fear and uncertainty that results in added anxiety and depression. This leads to increased stress hormones, resulting in the potential for elevated blood pressure, increased blood glucose levels, and worsening depression and anxiety. These increased stress hormones can also result in increased appetite and decreased motivation to exercise which can lead to weight gain. Lastly, this process can result in decreased sleep. All of these negative effects can result in the worsening of medical conditions and psychological conditions. This can also contribute to healthy people developing a myriad of medical and psychological conditions.
Research has demonstrated that the combination of Christmas trees and the experience of having family around decorating and enjoying the festive environment of the Christmas season has a strong therapeutic effect. Our patient, Mrs. Jones, already had many of the medical conditions that improved from this decrease in stress, resulting in her experiencing improvement in all her conditions.
This year, I plan to write many prescriptions for Christmas trees. After my experience last year with Mrs. Jones’ success, I’m a believer!