Teresa’s note: I realize this topic is a bit unseasonal, but sometimes strange things happen to my family and I simply can’t wait 12 months to share them. Thank you for bearing with me, and please enjoy.
Everyone is called upon to save Christmas at least once in their lives. Sometimes this entails snagging the impossible-to-find toy of the season, salvaging a burnt turkey, or squeezing in a trip home to visit relatives you haven’t seen in years.
And sometimes, it involves performing CPR on a hamster.
This Christmas was our first without Cleo, our beloved family feline who, as I mentioned in a previous column, passed away over the summer at the ripe old age of 22. It was also our first Christmas with Jinx, the hamster 15-year-old Younger Sister convinced Mom and Dad to acquire to help ease our heartbreak. I’m sure Cleo would be less than amused to know that our current pet is, from her perspective, an appetizer, but I digress.
As a Christmas gift, Jinx received a large seed treat molded into the shape of a bell. She nibbled on it for a moment and then lost interest, so Younger Sister put her into her hamster ball to get some exercise. The majority of the family gathered around the kitchen table for a card game while Jinx scooted around the first floor, occasionally bumping into feet and furniture.
It was late and the card game was running long, so Younger Sister (who claimed fatigue but was also bringing up the rear in terms of points) decided to drop out and play with Jinx in the family room. She took the hamster out of her ball and reclined on the couch.
A few minutes later, we heard a terrified scream: “Mom! She’s not breathing!”
Mom bolted up from the kitchen table and Dad pelted down the stairs, converging on a sobbing Younger Sister and an unresponsive ham-ham. The rest of us remained around the kitchen table, frozen in near silence.
None of us wanted to verbalize the thought that was on all of our minds: If Younger Sister’s hamster – the “replacement pet” for our dearly departed feline – dies today, this will officially be our Worst Christmas Ever and Younger Sister is going to need counseling.
In true wifely fashion, Sister-in-law turned to Oldest Younger Brother and asked him if there was anything he could do. Oldest Younger Brother, who works in computer software, did the only thing he could under the circumstances and Googled instructions for how to revive a hamster. I simply sat and prayed that we wouldn’t be taking yet another family pet to the animal crematorium.
Joyful sobs suddenly erupted from the family room, and we all realized that we, too, had stopped breathing. Mom hurried in to the kitchen to share the details of the successful resuscitative efforts.
Mom had gently taken Jinx from Younger Sister and was cupping the insensible hamster in her hands when Dad, who we had thought was upstairs resting, raced into the family room and started barking orders at Mom like an army drill sergeant walking a new recruit through rodent resuscitation.
As though he had been in this odd situation numerous times before, Dad confidently instructed Mom to press on Jinx’s chest with her fingers and blow in the hamster’s face in a scaled-down version of CPR. Mom did so, adding a mini Heimlich maneuver by allowing Jinx to dangle slightly in case anything was stuck. Suddenly, Jinx started breathing again and, after a moment, impatiently indicated her desire to get back in her ball.
Upon entering the ball, Jinx ran a short distance and then stopped. Mom, Dad, and Younger Sister had exchanged a terrified look, thinking the CPR had been unsuccessful after all, and then realized that Jinx had paused to vengefully devour the rogue seed from her Christmas gift that had been dislodged during the resuscitative process.
How lovely. So had Jinx expired, it would have been because she choked to death on her Christmas present. What a wonderful holiday memory Younger Sister would have had to share with her own children – and a therapist.
The seed bell went into the garbage to avoid any future near-death experiences, and Jinx continued to roam around her ball, enjoying her second chance at life. We returned to our card game, shaken and emotionally drained but exceedingly grateful for our Christmas miracle.
Saving Christmas is not about creating a holiday celebration that puts Norman Rockwell to shame, with picture-perfect food, gifts, and family interactions. It’s about going the extra mile to show our family and friends how much we love them, just as God showed how much He loves us by giving us the gift of His Son, Jesus.
Sometimes love is driving to a dozen different toy stores to find the only gift your child asked for for Christmas. Sometimes it’s scraping the burnt skin off a turkey and eating it with lots of gravy to show appreciation for the first-time cook who prepared the holiday meal. Sometimes it’s putting up with the stress of taking time off work and traveling just to see your relatives smile.
And sometimes, love is putting your heads together and doing everything you can to save a small, furry life. Love does what needs to be done, no matter how hopeless – or ludicrous – the situation may seem.
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published Feb. 5, 2015.