There is nothing better than starting the day with Anya’s chocolate chip pancakes smothered in maple syrup. Sitting in my desk chair, I patted my now satisfied stomach and began going through my messages as I do each morning. The first two messages were about improvements Bernard and I had discussed for the workshops. When I read the third one, an alarm sounded in my head. I got up and headed straight to Highstep’s office in the reindeer barn. Arriving out of breath, I tried to tell him about the message.
“Whoa Santa. Take a minute to catch your breath,” Highstep said as he turned away from Reiney, one of the reindeer herders in his office.
Placing my hands on my hips, I exhaled slowly and said, “I just read a message from Hanna, one of the elves on vacation in Lapland, Finland, about the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) spreading through herds of elk, moose, and reindeer in the Korvatunturi Mountains”
Nodding his head, Highstep looked at Reiney and said, “Get the reindeer herders together and bring our herd inside as quickly as possible like we discussed.”
“I’m on it,” the elf responded as he left the room.
Highstep then sat on the edge of his desk and pointed to a chair for me. “Hanna copied me and Vetter, our veterinarian, on the message. I wanted to get started right away to protect our reindeer.”
“I understand your desire to get things going quickly,” I said leaning forward. “This sounds pretty serious. How bad is it?”
“The CWD virus is a contagious virus affecting reindeer, elk and moose in Scandinavia, Canada, and Russia. It results in abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and in some cases, death. The worst part is that no one knows exactly how it spreads,” Highstep explained. “I’m sure Vetter will know more. I was going to find you as soon as I got the herders moving.”
Standing and turning towards the door, I insisted, “Well then let’s see what Vetter knows about this virus.”
When we arrived at Vetter’s office, her receptionist, Pyrder, didn’t say a word and just pointed to the lab. Not taking the time to look up from her work, Vetter said, “Santa, Highstep I’m glad you are here. I’ve been working on the problem since I got the message this morning, and have talked with several veterinarians from around the world who are working on it as well.”
Looking over Vetter’s shoulder to see what she was doing, Highstep asked, “Do we know how it spreads yet?”
“Unfortunately, that’s the worst part. No one knows exactly how it spreads, but researchers studying the deer family, seem to think it spreads from animal to animal and not from something they may come in contact with.”
Feeling relieved I said, “Then our herd should be safe since no other deer come to the North Pole.”
“Not so fast Santa!” Vetter exclaimed. “We may not have deer visit here, but each time the mail elves pick up mail, they are in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and could come in contact with other deer. You also have elves taking reindeer sleighs to visit their homeland, and those reindeer definitely are with other reindeer.”
“How are we going to ensure that our reindeer do not get it?” I questioned knowing how tragic the virus would be to our work at the North Pole.
“For right now, Santa, we need to keep you, your Mail Elves, and any Scout Elves here at the North Pole.”
“The Scout Elves won’t be an issue since they do not leave until late November or early December. I will inform Carter to suspend any mail collection until further notice and have Faer cancel all my appointments with J.A.T.S. (Jolly Assistants to Santa) Corp members,” I responded.
“We should separate the herd into small groups. That will limit the number of other reindeer being exposed to the virus if one of them is infected,” Vetter informed us.
Highstep was quick to tell Vetter, “We are already moving our reindeer inside the village and separating them into their pens.”
“That’s a good first step,” Vetter responded. “I am working on a test that should be ready by the end of the day. It will allow us to know if any of the reindeer are infected. Once we identify those infected, we will have to quarantine them for two weeks and monitor them.”
“How bad is it if they are infected?” Highstep wanted to know.
“It’s hard to say. About three percent get really sick and die from the virus, while others show no effects at all,” Vetter informed us as she continued working.
Getting concerned with the situation, Highstep asked, “Is there something we can give them to make them better if they are infected.”
“At this point there is no cure. And before you ask, there is not a vaccine either,” Vetter reported. “If there is any good news, it’s that some veterinarians think they may be close to both a cure and a vaccine. That might be tomorrow, next week, or several months from now.”
“That’s horrible!” I exclaimed. Not liking what I was hearing I asked, “What are the signs that a reindeer is infected?”
Rising from her stool Vetter explained, “You will notice changes in their behavior. This could include decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, a blank facial expression, and repetitive walking in set patterns.”
Placing both his hands on his head as if he had a headache, Highstep asked, “So what can we do?”
“Until I have the test ready, just observe the reindeer for symptoms. If you notice any of them showing any of the signs, then you need to quarantine them.”
Gently grabbing Highstep’s arm to lead him towards the door, I said, “We need to let Vetter get to work on the test. Let’s go tell the herders what to watch for in the reindeer.”
“Santa, there is one more thing you should know,” Vetter said with concern in her voice. “Viruses like this are known to jump from the animals to people and elves. I don’t know if this one will, but you need to take precautions.”
“Thanks for the heads up. We have our work cut out for us Highstep.”
Once the door to the lab shut behind us, I immediately looked at Highstep and said, “Go back to the reindeer barn and tell the herders what to look for. As a precaution give all the elves a mask we use in the wood shop. Tell them they must wear it while working with the reindeer.”
With urgency in his voice, Highstep responded, “That’s a good idea. Until this is under control, I’m going to have all the herders stay away from the rest of the elves, as an additional precaution.”
“Great! I’m going to see Bernard. I’ll let him know what’s going on, and we will instruct all the other elves to stay away from the east side of the village where the reindeer are.” As we walked out of the office I added, “Good luck!” and headed to Bernard’s office.
* * * * * *
Leaning back in my office chair, I listened to Vetter who was sitting on the other side of my desk. She was giving me an update about the CWD virus that had threatened our reindeer herd just two months earlier.
Reading from her notepad, Vetter announced, “We had 21 reindeer infected. Four became seriously ill, but none of them died thanks to the cure we got from Finland. Two weeks ago, doctors in the United States began testing a vaccine. It should be ready in June or July, and as soon as it’s available we will give it to all our reindeer. Once we have them vaccinated you and the elves can begin traveling again”
“I cannot thank you enough for what you did for the reindeer!” Standing to shake Vetter’s hand, I continued, “You and all your fellow veterinarians around the world came together to find a cure and develop the vaccine to save the reindeer, moose, and elk. If it was not for the efforts of you and your colleagues, the infection may have spread to more animals than it did.”
“Just doing our job Santa,” Vetter said as she closed her notebook and walked out of the office. I stood there for a few minutes gathering my thoughts when I remembered that Ms. Claus, Bernard, and Highstep were waiting for me in the small conference room just off of my office.
Walking into the room, I found them seated at the table and talking with each other. Ms. Claus was the first to notice the big smile on my face and asked, “So is it truly over? Are the reindeer out of danger?”
“It is. Vetter just gave me her final report, and we are returning to normal. The reindeer are safe and sound once again.”
Excited by the news, Highstep said, “The herders will be glad to know they no longer have to stay away from the other elves anymore.”
“That is a relief, and brings me to the next point. Santa while the three of us waited, we talked about the virus,” Anya said.
“What if this happens again,” Bernard chimed in. “The next time it could be a virus that affects people and elves. And we have 20 times as many elves as we do reindeer.”
“We might not be as lucky to find a cure or vaccine as fast as we did for the CWD,” Highstep added.
“Santa, I think we should come up with rules and procedures we can put in place if anything like this happens again,” Anya stated.
With both Highstep and Bernard nodding in agreement, I responded, “This was unexpected and scary for quite some time. Since the Mail Elves, Scout Elves, and I travel all over the world, there is nothing to say it won’t happen again with the reindeer or the elves. We need to be prepared.”
“This is the slow time of the year for me. I can start working on a plan of action for anything that could interrupt our operations. After all, we cannot disappoint the children,” Anya offered.
“Highstep will want to keep an extra eye on the reindeer after what has happened, and Bernard and I have work to do getting the workshops ready for next Christmas, so if you are sure you don’t mind doing it . . .”
“I’d be happy to. My assistant Sophia can help. I will want to get Vetter as well as Dior, our physician, involved as well,” Anya responded.
Feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, I said, “Then it’s settled. Ms. Claus will get started on the plan so that we are prepared for whatever might happen in the future. We will all need to be more vigilant. After all, nothing should stand in the way of the Christmas season.”
Notes From Santa
To read more about Highstep, Reiney, and the reindeer please check out: “How Rudolph Got His Red Nose”, which was posted on September 2, 2019; and “Dasher Becomes Part of Santa’s Team”, which was posted on October 28, 2019; and “Reiney Meets Cupid”, which was posted on February 10, 2020;
To read more about Faer, and the J.A.T.S. Corp please check out: “Santa’s Summer Explorations”, which was posted on August 5, 2019; “Santa’s Christmas Visits”, which was posted on October 21, 2019; and “J.A.T.S. Training”, which was posted on March 3, 2020;
I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I will post another one next Monday. If you have any comments or if there is something you would like me to tell you about, please feel free to leave me a comment. Until next week . . .