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《A Christmas Story》__ Vincent Lee (65)

I don't have that many stories to show my Jesuit teaching, but this one sticks out in my mind - to this day, especially around Christmas time.  It happened more than 20 years ago.
 
In the early 1990s, exact year I can't remember (likely '93 or 94), there was a large influx of refugees from Yugoslavia into North America escaping their civil war.  I remember the period, because before around 2000, I used to keep my in-the-mall clinic open twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, to 8 PM to accommodate working class patients who could not get time off their day job, and I was always busy after 6 PM.
 
It was a very cold snowy evening about a week before Christmas.  This family of 5 (parents, 2 girls + 1 boy) just showed up at the clinic about an hour from closing time, with no prior appointment.  I was finishing up with my last patient of the evening.  They arrived Canada from Yugoslavia about 3 weeks ago; Social Services settled them in an apartment about two blocks from my clinic. 
 
Their oldest girl, 14 at the time, was hearing and speech handicapped, a result of childhood illness.  The mother spoke broken English, but I could understand.  The father, a chemical engineer back home, worked in a state-run oil refinery. "English is required in my job reading engineering manuals", he told me and he also spoke Russian.  (One of my young assistants then was Russian.)
 
The 14-year old girl had a badly swollen cheek, hurting, from a couple of advancely decayed and abscessed teeth. 
 
The father told me that he had no money to pay and heard that dental work was expensive in Canada.  All he had was a piece of crumbled paper issued by the Federal Social Services Department stating that the bearer was a refugee from a Yugoslav city, entitled to ONLY emergency treatment and nothing else.  He offered to pay me back everything when he got settled into Canadian life, with a job.... and so on.
 
My receptionist had already done the bulk of the day's paper work (not fully computerized then) and was ready to close shop after dealing with my last patient's billings.  She asked if I would take in this family.  I took one quick look out at the waiting room, turned and asked my chairside assistant, my receptionist and my hygienist if they would help me out to stay late for this family. They all said, "yes".
 
I told the father not to worry about money and said that my assistant and hygienist would take X-rays for the four of them to get their examination.  Cleaning started, while I attended to his 14-year old girl with the acute abscess.  To make the story short, I started 2 root canal treatments on her, and we examined to have treatment planned for the rest of the family. We even managed to give the boy a cleaning.  While the assistant was cleaning up the girl's case putting away instruments and the boy was receiving his cleaning from the hygienist, I had a moment free.  I went out to talk to the parents and asked, "Do you have an oven in your apartment?"  "Yes" was the answer.  "Do you know how to roast a bird, duck, chicken.....?", I asked.  Mom said she had learned how to roast a duck or goose from her mother living at a farm.
 
I looked at my watch. It was close to 9 PM when the Safeway store at the other end of my shopping mall would close.  I told them to wait for me.
 
I rushed into Safeway, grabbed a large frozen turkey, got some trimmings and stuff, a can of turkey gravy and was on my way to pay and get out.  Just then the manager who knew me well saw me.  I told him quickly what the turkey was for.  He mumbled something to the cashier, and I got 15% off from the marked price of the big bird.  Just as I was leaving the store, the manager chased after me, handed me a huge bag of seasoned stuffing and a cook book, saying, "Dr. Lee, if they are from Europe, they will need these......".  "No charge", he said.  I told him, "Dave, you and I are going to show this refugee family our Canadian hospitality at this Christmas time; God bless you!" and we both chuckled as I ran back to the clinic.
 
I gave the bird and the rest of the stuff to the mother, explaining to them that this was our Canadian tradition.  "Let this thaw overnight, and follow the cookbook from the Safeway store manager. I didn't have to pay for it and the stuffing".  I also gave them the few boxes of cookies and chocolates (probably not a good idea from a dentist! But then I was not thinking !) we had lying around on our staff room's table, mostly from other patients.
 
They were dumbfounded.  At that very moment, I remembered how Fr. Chan gave me my application form to get into WYK.  That, I suppose, would have been the WYK connection to this story.  I told them when they returned for their future appointments after Christmas, let me know the turkey turned out.
(I think Fr. Chan had just visited us in Edmonton not long ago then; and he soon passed away.)
When they returned for their follow-up treatment, they had big smiles, saying that was their best meal they had for a long time, and the turkey was excellent with lots of leftover.
 
About 6 months later, the entire family came back to visit me.  Dad handed me a heart warming thank-you card, and told me he was offered a job at a refinery in Fort MacMurray, about five and a half hours driving from Edmonton, and that the whole family would move up there with him to settle there.  But he emphasized loudly, "We will be back to see you; you are our doctor!"  I was most embarrassed as there were other patients waiting in the waiting room.
 
That relationship must have lasted about 10 to 12 years - the whole family would return for their regular check-ups and treatment like clockwork.  One day, that 14-year old girl, now 24 or 25, a beautiful blond, came in asking to see me without any appointment, followed by her parents and siblings, with a hand-written note/card saying that their father had been transferred by the oil company to Sarnia, Ontario to be the assistant chief engineer of a plant.  Two years later, the chief retired, and the dad became the top person in that refinery plant.  Whenever he passed through Edmonton on business, he always dropped by to say hello and we would have coffee, chatting about his kids and so on.  I remembered that one time, he was dressed in a suite now, came in and handed me a signed blank cheque with my name on it, saying, "This is for all the work you had done to me and my family that was not paid for by the government". 
 
Another WYK linkage came to my mind.  By this time, I had learned from classmate Bonbon the true meaning of "passing it forward".   So I told him, "There must be poor people and refugees in Sarnia.  One of my closest friends, also a dentist, taught me to 'pass it forward'.  Will you do it for me?"  He left with tears in his eyes.
 
The assistant of Russian heritage, raising two boys with her husband, is still happily with me.  She is worried that I would soon retire.......  And the Safeway manager and family, now transferred to another Safeway store, is still my patient.
 
In a "technique sensitive" teaching environment, I do not get many chances to talk to my students about my past, but I always proudly wear my WYK school tie at all formal school occasions.  Now I have a new one of the 60's, giving to me from Norman for our 50th Anniversary Graduation. 
 
Update:
The last time I saw the father was probably 3 summers ago.  He was leading a group of his colleagues touring the oil sands up north.
His youngest son though, who followed his dad's footsteps and became an electrical engineer, dropped by the dental school in the spring of 2014 to look for me. He called the office to find out I was teaching that afternoon, and he found me!  That was quite an unexpected and pleasant surprise for me.
I could hardly recognize him after over 10 years since they left Alberta - now a tall young man with a little whisker.  He was in town just for one day for a meeting at the Engineering Faculty.  All three "kids" are happily married now, living in Ontario; all doing well.  His oldest sister, the beautiful blond, gorgeous looking as ever (he showed me pictures of everyone in his cell phone), has had a "cochlear implant" in place to help her regain a large part of her hearing, can now do sign language, lip-read, and "speak" to near normal levels; amazing!  I was so happy to hear that.
(Some forms of hearing loss due to inner-ear infections can be "cured" this way.  I have a patient, a math teacher, who had this done and has been teaching for 25 years!) 
Now I have a standing invitation to visit them and stay with his parents if I ever pass through Sarnia and area.  Not likely, but who knows!  
So this is a story with a happy ending.  How should I put this:  "My turkey had done some good!"
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