The Phone Call
(Chapter 1 ~
O Holy Night
It was just before five o’clock on Christmas Eve, 2005. I was
nearly finished examining and treating what I had hoped was my last patient of
the afternoon, when I heard the phone ring up the hallway in my private office.
It was the special phone.
The day’s small animal office hours had been nonstop busy since my wife,
Theresa, and I walked in the door earlier that morning. Really, really busy!
Almost inhumanly busy! There had been an endless stream of coughing cats,
vomiting dogs, and every other sickness imaginable, and we were both worn out. I
remember thinking to myself in the middle of all that chaos that it seemed as if
I was the only veterinarian in all of New York State who was seeing patients
that day. It never stopped! Our sincerest hope before we had opened for business
that morning was that it would be quiet and slow so that we might be able to
close a few hours early in honor of the sacred holiday. But it was not to be.
My first response to the completely unexpected phone call was a combination of
surprise and disbelief. This was because, in all of the years since I had
attended the special two-week-long, top-secret course shortly after my
graduation from vet school, the plain and unassuming dark green telephone had
just sat there quietly on the far corner of my physician’s desk. Oh, I had used
it over the years to call mission control in order to update the various status
reports and schedule changes that were endlessly needed to help the organization
accomplish its primary goal, but this was the first time the phone actually
rang. And it rang while the annual mission was in progress.
With the realization swirling around and around in my mind as to what the phone
call might ultimately mean for us, I found myself becoming a little bit uneasy,
maybe even a little bit scared. I remember thinking to myself, This can’t be
happening; maybe I’m just imagining the whole thing.
But the phone just kept on ringing.
Not quite sure what I was going to do, I excused myself for a couple of minutes
to the owner of the dog I’d been doctoring, walked out of the exam room and up
the hallway to my office and, once in the room, still not knowing for sure if I
was dreaming or not, just stood there looking at the phone. My wife had been out
in the kennel feeding the hospitalized pets who were in the kennel room during
the holiday when she, too, had heard the telephone ring. She had stopped what
she was doing, and she was now standing there beside me. Her presence brought me
back to the reality of the situation. I looked at her, and she looked at me, and
after a second or so of silence, she said, “Richard, you’d better answer it.”
Still a little apprehensive about the whole situation, I paused for a few
seconds longer. Then I silently nodded my head in agreement with her. I gritted
my teeth, took a couple of deep breaths, and slowly picked up the receiver. Not
knowing what else to say, I simply said, “Hello?”
It was the Big Guy on the other end of the line, and he was worried. Very
worried! (The Big Guy was Santa’s codename when he was airborne on his Christmas
Our conversation was short, probably no more than a couple of minutes. He filled
me in on what had happened and what his quick assessment of the injury was. I,
in turn, with a professional calmness that surprises me even to this day, asked
him several crucial questions. I wanted to know the extent of the injury, when
it had happened, how he was treating it, how much pain the reindeer was in, and,
most importantly, if the animal was well enough to stay airborne in order to
make it to an emergency hospital if it would be necessary.
He answered my questions as best as he could. I then told him we’d head out to
the planned rendezvous location and stand by just in case we were needed. And
without taking the precious time to say good-bye, we hung up. Pausing for a
second before speaking to Theresa, I looked out the window toward the clinic’s
parking lot and noticed that several inches of fresh, new snow had fallen upon
it over the course of the afternoon, and that it was still coming down. I
remember for a brief moment thinking to myself how beautiful — how stunningly
beautiful — it all was. But the practical side of my nature didn’t allow me to
dawdle too long.
Turning back to Theresa, I quietly filled her in on what was going on.
“Rudolph has been badly injured over Newfoundland. We’re one of the emergency
teams along the projected flight path, and it’s very possible we may have to go
out and take care of him. Santa wants us standing by. Just in case. We should
leave as soon as possible.”
I needed to say no more. Immediately she got back to work finishing her job of
tending to the hospitalized patients, making sure they had plenty of food and
water just in case we couldn’t get back till morning. I went back to the exam
room where I finished my examination and treatment of the patiently waiting sick
When we both were done, we grabbed the special hidden bags of emergency reindeer
medicine and supplies, took one more look at the animals in the ward room,
closed down the hospital, turned the Open sign that hung on the front door
around to the Closed side, and walked out into the peaceful, snowy, now-dark
Before starting up our old four-wheel drive American Motors Eagle station wagon,
I turned toward Theresa and said, “Well, I guess this is it; this is what we
trained all these years for.” A little worried about the whole situation, I
quickly added, “Gosh, who in the world ever thought we’d be called upon to
actually do it? I sure hope we can pull this off.”
Theresa looked back at me and smiled her special reassuring smile. “Don’t worry
about it,” she said. “You’ll do just fine.” Always the practical one, she then
said, in no uncertain terms, that we should get going. And so we pulled out of
our parking lot onto the dark highway and to our date with destiny. We were
going to meet Santa Claus again. We were going out to do our best to help save a
wounded, world-famous reindeer. We were, ultimately, perhaps even going to help
save Christmas for the children of the whole of the Western Hemisphere.
Before heading out into the boonies, we stopped at our local grocery store and
bought two boxes of peanut butter cookies and a quart of eggnog.
Copyright 2007 by Richard Orzeck, DVM.