Ask Ron Kolody why he gives up part of his Christmas Day to volunteer at Burnaby Hospital each year and he’ll give you 500 reasons.
That’s about the number of patients and staff he visits each Dec. 25 as the hospital’s Santa Claus.
“I get to give each patient, nurse or doctor 30 seconds of joy and something different. And I get thanked profusely by every one of them for doing that,” said Kolody.
“That’s the drawing card for me. That’s what brings us back every year.”
Kolody brings along his daughter, who dresses as an elf, and has the assistance of retired Burnaby Hospital nurse Pauline Joyce, also an elf. The three spread cheer, candy canes and other treats throughout the hallways, labs and patient wards.
Now in his third year as the hospital’s Santa, Kolody takes time to listen to everyone he greets. He knows how important lending an ear is to people missing their homes and families on Christmas Day.
“As Santa, you get the two extremes—happy ones and the very sad stories,” he said.
A few stand out more than others.
Last year while spreading cheer, Kolody met an older male patient who said to him, “I don’t know why I’m here.”
Caught off guard, Kolody responded, “I guess you need help.”
“You don’t understand,” said the gentleman, “I’m a doctor.”
“Then it’s your turn to get help,” Kolody reassured the patient.
Later he reflected on the conversation.
“He had been a doctor his entire life, taking care of others. Now somebody else needed to take care of him,” said Kolony. “It was humbling and a wake-up call—we’re all going to get there eventually.”
Then, on another visit to a hospital room, a man stopped Kolody to tell him, “You’re a great Santa.”
He thanked him for the compliment, talked some more to the older man and learned the patient knew a thing or two about being Santa.
The man had spent years playing Santa in shopping malls and other venues. So the two chatted and joked for some time about the intricacies of portraying St. Nick.
“That was great. It was one Santa visiting another Santa.”