50: Dr. Christmas

50: Dr. Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Dr. Christmas

Miracles don’t just happen, people make them happen.

~Misato Katsuragi

“Angie, you have to understand,” my mother pleaded, tears in her eyes. She reached for my hand, which I promptly pulled away.

Oh, I understood all right. My very own mother was a murderer. I stared at her in disbelief as she tried to justify her reasons for killing my best friend. It was too much for my nine-year-old brain to comprehend.

“Angie, please don’t look at me like that,” she said softly, her voice breaking up, “Teeger was very sick. He had a bad bladder infection. The operation was too expensive and the veterinarian couldn’t guarantee that it would work anyway. I had no choice but to have him put to sleep. It’s better this way. He’s not in pain anymore.”

Teeger was a big, fat, roly-poly, orange cat who I loved like no other. And now he was gone. I wanted to close my eyes and make it all go away. This would be the worst Christmas ever.

“You didn’t even let me say goodbye,” I finally choked out.

Teeger had come into my life at a time when I really needed a friend. It was shortly after my dad had moved out for good. I was the only kid in my class whose parents weren’t together, so there was no one I could talk to who would really understand what I was going through. I had a hard time making friends as it was, since I was painfully shy. Moving once a year didn’t help. Being overweight also didn’t help. My mother saw how much I was struggling, but she didn’t know how to make it better. She did, however, know how to cheer me up. Enter Teeger.

Teeger and I had bonded instantly. He was a lot like me, actually. Shy... chubby... loved Cheezies. He had a playful side — but only when no one was looking. If you caught him chasing his tail, for example, he would stop and pretend that he was just cleaning himself or doing something equally sensible. What I loved most about Teeger, though, was how special he made me feel. He preferred me over everyone else he knew and he wasn’t afraid to show it. He made me feel like the most important person in the world.

As the years went on, my bond with Teeger grew even stronger. When I was home, he followed me wherever I went. He sat beside me on the piano bench as I practiced for my upcoming lesson, occasionally putting a paw on the piano keys to remind me that he was there. He slept at my feet every night. He licked away my tears when I told him about the kids at school who made fun of me or about how much I missed my dad. He was my best friend.

One fateful morning, I woke to find that Teeger was not beside me and I immediately knew that something was wrong. I jumped out of bed and ran from room to room, frantically calling his name. I checked every nook and cranny in our little farmhouse, but Teeger was nowhere to be found. For two more days I searched like this, refusing to accept the possibility that he might actually be gone. On the third day of searching I was in the basement, looking for the hundredth time, when I heard a faint “meow” coming from up above. I looked up and suddenly saw those familiar green eyes and orange fur. Teeger was in the furnace duct!

I called for my mom, who ran down the stairs as fast as she could, and I pointed out the unlikely hiding spot where Teeger had been this whole time. We instantly got to work. It took a while, but I finally got him down. And then panic set in. He didn’t look like the Teeger I knew. His fur was matted, his stomach bloated, and his eyes seemed quietly desperate.

“Angie,” Mom said quietly, “I think Teeger is very sick. Sometimes cats go off into hiding when they know they are going to die.”

I could not accept this. I had already decided long ago that Teeger was a miracle cat and he would live forever.

“He’s not going to die,” I said firmly. I held him close, comforting him as he had done for me so many times. “You’re going to be okay, buddy,” I told him over and over. “You’ll get better, I just know it. You can’t leave me yet.”

Mom looked at me sadly and promised to take him to the vet right away.

Looking back, I understand why my mother didn’t talk to me before making the decision to have Teeger put to sleep. How could she possibly have said no to a teary-eyed, inconsolable girl begging her to save her best friend? I likely would have told her to keep my allowance and to take back my Christmas presents so we could afford the operation. She might have taken a third job just to pay for it, even though she was exhausted working the two jobs she already had just to make ends meet. No, she really didn’t have much of a choice at all. I understand that now.

In the weeks that followed, my mother did her best to try to cheer me up. She sang. She baked. She decorated the house for Christmas, going “all out” like she always did. But this time there was no cheering me up. I didn’t want to get into the Christmas spirit. And besides, I wouldn’t get what I wanted for Christmas anyway… my best friend back. No one could give me that. Or so I thought.

And then I got a phone call that I would never forget.

“Angie, the phone’s for you,” my mom said, handing it over to me with a puzzled expression on her face. “It’s the veterinarian. He asked specifically for you.”

“The veterinarian?” I echoed, equally puzzled. I had never even met him before. Why would he ask for me? Hesitantly, I picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Angie,” a deep voice greeted me. “I... well... I wanted you to be the first to hear what I have to say. Your mom told me that Teeger was very special to you. So... in the spirit of Christmas... I gave Teeger the operation for free.”

Could it really be true? Was Teeger alive this whole time? It was a miracle! A Christmas miracle!

“I’m sorry that I didn’t call sooner,” the veterinarian continued, “but I wanted to make sure that Teeger was completely better and stabilized before I called you to let you know. He’s ready for you to pick him up now. I think he misses you.”

It seemed an eternity before I was able to blurt out the words, “Thank you! Thank you so much!” Tears of joy streamed down my face and I had my shoes on before I could even explain to my mother what was going on.

When we got to the animal clinic, the veterinarian was waiting for us. I immediately ran over and hugged him, thanking him over and over again. He looked over at my mother and blushed, unsure of how to handle my display of emotion. He brought out Teeger, who immediately began purring so loudly you’d swear that a car with a bad muffler had just driven through the office. My heart felt like it was about to burst with happiness.

Thanks to that wonderful man, I got to spend twelve more years with Teeger by my side. And I got to learn at an early age that the true spirit of Christmas has nothing to do with spending money or getting gifts; it’s about giving to others from the kindness of your heart with no expectation of getting anything in return. And I learned that sometimes... just sometimes... angels come disguised as veterinarians who make Christmas miracles happen and little girls’ wishes come true.

~Angela Rolleman

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