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The Phone Call
(Chapter 1 ~ O Holy Night by Doctor Oz)

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 Eve journey.)

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 dog.

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 evening.

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.
 

 


 
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