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On Call for Christmas


It was Christmas Eve, and I had drawn the short straw; now I was the “on-call doctor” for our dental group.

“Hey, don’t worry,” advised my colleague as he handed me the pager. “Everyone is so busy with their own Christmas plans, no one will ever call.” I hoped he was right. As I drove home, my car radio played “I’ll be home for Christmas,” and I began to sing along: “I’m on-call for Christmas, you can count on me.”

When I walked through our front door, there was a whirlwind of activity as my wife finished preparations for the special family dinner with our visiting relatives. Finally, we sat down to the first course of baked acorn squash soup. No sooner had the bowls been removed and the main course served than the beep of the pager jolted me.

“Who could be calling on Christmas Eve?” I wondered with more than a little irritation. I quickly cleaned my plate but really didn’t taste another bite. Excusing myself, I reluctantly dialed the number on my pager. Between sobs, he woman who answered the phone said she had started dialing every dentist in the phone book and that I was the only one to call her back. She told me she had broken a tooth a few weeks earlier and was now in excruciating pain.

“It sounds like you probably need a root canal,” I explained. “I’ll meet you at my office in 45 minutes. Knowing it would ruin Christmas Eve with my family, I kicked myself for agreeing to make such a special accommodation for someone who wasn’t even a patient of mine. With 30 minutes to drive to the office, perhaps an hour or more with the patient, and another 30 mintues to drive home, it would be after 10 o’clock before I returned to my family.

“What is it?” asked my wife.

“Some idiot who has had a problem for weeks now, and just decided on Christmas Eve that it needs to be fixed!” I hollered over my shoulder as I stormed out of the house.

On the drive to the office, I heard that song on the car radio again and joined in: “I’m on-call for Christmas, you can count on me. . .”  I furiously pounded the steering wheel as I sang.

When I arrived at the office and began to unlock the front door, I heard someone approaching. I turned and saw a very pregnant woman walking slowly toward me.

“Are you Mary?” I asked.

“Yes, Doctor, thank you for coming out to help me,” she began. “When are you due?” I inquired. “Any minute now,” she explained.

My anger quickly vanished and I felt ashamed for being so upset by this emergency.

“Well, come on in. At least we’ll get your tooth fixed up,” I told her. Her broken tooth was badly decayed and would clearly need root canal treatment. I explained that I would start the procedure that evening and finish after her baby was delivered. And so, Mary, the unborn babe, and I spent Christmas Eve together treating a bad tooth.

As I worked I thought of another time, another Mary, and the unborn Jesus. They would have had a very bad night that first Christmas Eve had it not been for the kindness of a stranger—a caring innkeeper who took pity on them and let them use his stable.

“Okay, Tylenol should take care of any pain from the procedure. I think you’ll do just fine. Give me a call in a few weeks and we’ll finish the root canal.” I told Mary.

“Thank you very much for helping me,” she replied. “I’m sorry I ruined your Christmas.”

Ruined? Well, the evening had not turned out like I expected, but I felt as though I had been called on to play the modern role of the kindly innkeeper – to help Mary in her hour of need. Ruined? No, my Christmas Even had been enriched. In some ways it was almost like being part of the first Christmas.


Baked Acorn Squash Soup

4 large acorn squash
4 cups vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
1/4 cup oil
3 slices bread (crusts trimmed) cut into 1/4″ cubes
1/4 pound Gruyere cheese, grated

1. Preheat over to 400 degrees
2. Cut off ends of squash. Scoop out pulp, leaving 1/2″ of shell.
Set aside lids and shells.
3. Combine squash pulp and stock in large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduced to 2 cups; about 30 minutes.
4. Puree in blender. Add cream. Season with salt and other seasonings.
5. Fry bread cubs in oil. Drain on paper towels.
6. Divide half of cheese among squash. Top with half of the croutons. Ladel in soup. Sprinkle with the rest of the croutons and cheese. Cover with lids.
7. Bake about 1 hour.

Thomas Dwyer practices endodontics in Roseville, California. He is married to Spectrum editor Bonnie Dwyer. This story appeared in Chicken Soup for the Dental Soul in 2000.

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