A Christmas story

2011-02-04 00:00

IT is Christmas Eve and I am the only person on this planet not in holiday mode. The practice is quiet, in stark contrast to the hectic build-up over the past couple of days.

It is 2.30 pm and one of the staff members brings out a bottle of Champagne; as toasts are drunk the phone goes. A grey gelding needs to be put to sleep. He has cancer of the eye that has spread into the surrounding facial bones and after weeks of agonising over the decision, the family have decided that the time has arrived. And although I acknowledge that it is my professional responsibility to relieve pain and euthanasia is one of the tools that I must use, I find the procedure emotionally draining, particularly when it is a favourite member of the family and the humans in his life are visibly affected.

I return home in a sombre mood, ready for a quiet evening. The sun is collapsing over the hills of Hilton as I pull into the driveway of my home. A shrill ring from my cellphone disturbs my reverie. A cat has been hit by a motor vehicle. From out of town. I suggest they bring the cat in. Some discussion in the background after which they decide that they will phone me back. At 11.10 pm, a phone call drags me out of bed. They are ready to bring the cat in — five hours later. I meet them at the hospital just before midnight. Shortly thereafter, I put the cat to sleep. He had a broken back. Return home, but am too wound up to sleep.

Christmas Day and calls start early. These include a bull with heartwater on a farm near Thornville and a woman in a large silver SUV, who proudly confesses that the only reason she is bringing her ailing toy pom to me is because the SPCA is closed. She is appalled to be charged a call-out fee and is critical of every vet she has ever heard of, from James Herriot to St Francis of Assisi.

The last straw is an urgent request to see a dog hit by a car. I rush to the hospital and wait. In fact, I am still waiting.

Eventually return home as lunch time approaches and family start arriving at our home for the Christmas celebration. I am not in the mood.

Another call-out. Dog with a badly swollen mouth — possibly bitten by a snake. They will have to organise transport. Will meet me at the practice in one hour. Don’t hold my breath. By this stage, I have a seriously negative perception of all two-legged creatures and an escalating self-pity.

Exactly one hour later, a yellow taxi arrives in our hospital car park. Two frail figures emerge, one of whom is clutching a couple of grubby bank notes in one hand and carrying a scruffy but much-loved cross-bred Alsatian pup in the other, its happy countenance distorted by a grossly swollen tongue protruding from its mouth. The examination suggests that the swelling is probably caused by a sting and the recovery is likely to be rapid.

Of importance, though, is the aura of love and concern and grace that emanates from their little triad, elements that are often camouflaged by the trappings of materialism. They embody the true spirit of Christmas and gradually my negativity dissolves in their presence.

By the time I am done, their pup has been treated, vaccinated, dewormed and deflea’d and they leave, clutching a hamper of food and accompaniments, still with some notes in their fists and smiles on their faces. And I am positively beaming.

That’s all it takes.

Postscript: so happy am I that I collect my young nephew from home and together we spend the better part of the afternoon stitching the crop of a dove fledgling that has been the unwilling sparring partner of a cat. Free, gratis, for the love of the game.

Also, I assume everyone received their Christmas gifts timeously, as I never attended to any reindeer over this period.

• The writer is a practising vet with a passion for his profession and a giggle in his heart.

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