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My Thanksgiving Story

December 4, 2010

On the day before Thanksgiving Day Wednesday November 26, 1980 roughly 29 years ago I awoke after an uncomfortable night with a terrible toothache. I had no classes that day but I was scheduled to be at the school library to fulfill my work study commitments.  I got ready and left for school by the time I reached school my left jaw had swollen noticeably because everyone I came across reminded me of it. I reported for work and somehow managed to get through till I got off at I pm. By this time the school library was almost empty and ready to close. At 1:15, I left for my apartment the pain kept increasing by the minute. Half way through my walk the pain just became unbearable as if my tooth had just exploded. Holding my jaw I kept walking and somehow managed to reach my apartment a little before 2 PM.  

I entered the dark dismal apartment that I shared with four other students hoping that any one of my room mates would be in who could help me to either get some medication or better drive me to a dentist.  However, the apartment was empty and no sign of my room mates. I immediately reached for the sofa and sat down to catch a breather and think of my options.  My tooth was rapidly deteriorating causing me almost hemorrhaging, pulsating and mind numbing pain.  

I was a foreign student who had then been in the U.S., only since January of 1980.   As a foreign student who was barely supporting himself through a work study program at school and a part time job at a local restaurant needless to say I was always low on funds and at this particular moment in my life my bank account was a measly seventy five dollars.  Now that I think about it I wonder why I even had a bank account, the pillow or the mattress may have sufficed for safeguarding my unenviable wealth.

So there I sat holding my left jaw and wondering what would happen to me? The paralyzing pain served as a deterrent to clear headed thinking and searching for options. Options, I quickly realized I had few to none. All my room mates were out for any number of reasons that I was not aware of and had no way of getting in touch with anyone. I had no family around the San Diego area, except for some distant relatives in Los Angeles who never came up as an option. I had no insurance of any kind and pathetically low on funds, I did not own a car to be able to at the least drive to a nearby pharmacy for some over the counter remedy.  I was a living like a nomad ready to be thrown out at a moment’s notice.

It was now almost 3:30 in the afternoon and the winter sun was fast disappearing over the horizon, and since my apartment faced east, for all practical purposes the living room of my apartment was getting darker by the minute. Depression was setting in and as I sat there motionless and in pain I felt completely helpless and without real options.  A feeling of hopelessness started overcoming me, I even thought I might just die from this and no one would know.

Then, suddenly the silence was broken with a shrieking sound of the telephone ringer.  I collected myself got up from the dilapidated sofa I was sinking into and reached for the phone. I did not have the strength or the courage to open my jaw to say hello.  Yet, before I could say anything a voice on the other end exclaimed “hey how are you doing? I recognized the voice and knew it was a college friend who I will only refer to as “Bill”. Bill and I were classmates and in a relatively short period that we had known each other we had developed a friendship. Many a times he came over and we would sit outside my apartment and chat about everything under the sun most of the time though I was laughing my head off at his jokes he had a great sense of humor and an equally great delivery.

Back to that after noon and Bill’s inquiry I first replied in a soft voice the customary reply of I am good how are you doing? Then, no sooner had I said that I mentioned that in fact I was not doing well and suffered from a debilitating tooth ache. Bill expressed his regrets in a customary fashion saying “oh man I feel bad for you”, and then added the obvious that it was thanksgiving eve and most of the dentist would by now be closed. He however, suggested that I get some “orajel” from a nearby pharmacy which may help deaden the pain. I acknowledged and thanked him for the suggestion knowing full well I had no means of getting to a pharmacy except to walk or take a taxi for which I literally had no cash on hand. My entire wealth of seventy five dollars was safely tucked away in a bank.  We concluded the conversation with Bill’s reiterating his concern. I thanked and hung up. I returned to the same sofa and resumed the position I was in before the phone rang.

I was beginning to now develop a full blown headache to accompany the toothache. Motionless and clueless I sat and by now a little delirious from the pain. Time ceased and my other faculties were beginning to deteriorate.  Then, while sinking further into delirium and almost half unconscious I heard the same phone ring again. The jarring sound immediately brought all my faculties to fore and the phone ringer felt like a sledge hammer on my brain. I reached for the lights because it was completely dark and looked at the wrist watch I was wearing and realized it was almost 5:45 in the evening. I picked up the phone and again barely managed to say hello. It was again Bill at the other end and the words he uttered left me in complete disbelief what sounded like screaming he said” hang in there we are trying to get hold of a dentist for you and I will call you soon” with those words he hung up I could not believe my ears and the fact that someone would care enough to go to that distance for me.  I had almost given up and for lack of energy or drive or perhaps the sheer pain but now a feeling of an almost instant relief had over taken me and I felt thirst because my throat felt prickly because of lack of moisture.  I wanted to take a drink of water and reached out and poured some in a glass from the kitchen faucet. I barely managed to drink a sip before the cold water hit my tooth and reality brought me back to the dilemma I faced.

I am not sure what time it was and the phone rang again with Bill instructing me to be ready because they had found a dentist and he was on his way to pick me up. I could not believe that this was happening that someone cared enough for me like he was my family and go to the extent. Bill at that time was at his parent’s house which was a good 40 to 45 minutes drive from my apartment. By now it was completely dark and my eyes were fixated towards the parking lot searching and waiting for Bill to arrive.  Arrive he did and I hopped into the car and off we went.  During the drive Bill disclosed to me the details of how this all came about.

Since Bill was home with his parent for thanksgiving when he initially called me he shared the concern with his parents. Now as I mentioned his parents were not just highly educated, decent folks his father who has since passed away was a very well connected individual due to his station in life. Upon hearing my story and on Bill’s urging I suppose his dad called his own dentist and asked if he could help this foreign student from Pakistan that evening. His dentist for obvious reason was actually on his way out of town for thanksgiving. However, he could not turn Bill’s Father down and gave him the name of a student of his a young Jewish dentist who had recently started his practice in the area.  His dad accordingly called this guy and upon hearing the referral of his dentist immediately volunteered to help. In essence, this young Jewish dentist would leave his home drive down to his clinic open the doors prep everything himself without any help from the nurse to then help a poor foreign student from Pakistan suffering from a tooth ache and all on Thanksgiving eve the biggest most celebrated time of the year for all to be with their families.  As Bill finished recounting the events I remained dumbfounded and could not believe that this was actually happening. Why would anyone do this? I asked myself; go to such extent of time and trouble I wondered and a feeling of utter humility overcame me unable to reconcile with the developments.

We reached the dentist after about an hour may be hour and fifteen minutes drive. Billy parked the car and we walked towards his office which was it seemed in the dark an old house converted to a dental office.  As we entered we were both greeted by this very young man who apologized for the setup because his staff was not there to assist in the setup. Here is a man who left his family on Thanksgiving eve to help a no body foreign student from Pakistan and he was apologizing because everything was not in order.  I was speechless and holding back my tears almost choking.

The dentist helped me into the chair and assured me that he would rid me of this pain in no time. He then worked on my tooth while Bill sat patiently in his waiting room. When he was done sure enough my pain was gone and I started to cry. In almost a fearful stutter I asked him how much I owed him for this most generous kindness. His astounding reply was not a thing. He did not want any money. It’s thanksgiving he said I am happy to help. I insisted and wrote him a check for seventy five dollars emptying my bank account. He prescribed antibiotics which he insisted that I immediately start taking.

Bill and I both thanked the dentist and departed. Bill drove me to the only open pharmacy at a hospital and bought and paid for the medicine because I had no more money left to keep me awake at night. The blessings I was getting were boundless. I simply had no words to express my gratitude to Bill. We drove back to my apartment as I got off the car I tried to thank Bill for all that he had done, but words failed me; Bill looked at me and said look happy to help just glad you are free of pain. He wished me a happy thanksgiving and drove off. I took my first dose of medicine and went back to the same sofa and sat down to recount what had transpired.

That day I realized how wonderful this country is and how generous its people are. To this day I remain indebted to Bill, his family and that young Jewish dentist. This past Thursday was Thanksgiving and while I had plenty to be thankful for about my family especially my daughters. However, like every Thanksgiving I was thankful for the events of the night of Wednesday November 26, 1980.



  1. Aruna permalink

    Such a heartfelt story. People with heart exist everywhere in world and we are lucky to come across them. I hope you are still in touch with the wonderful Bill and his parents. Well written and touching story.

    • WHR permalink

      Thanks for the nice comments. Yes indeed I am very much in touch with Bill. Unfortunately, his parents have since passed away. His parents were both very accomplished people and there is a lot I could not disclose in the post to respect Bill and his parents privacy. Thanks again!

  2. Mia permalink

    Abba, what a beautiful story. I strongly feel that the best kind of kindness is that which is not obligatory or expected. I am honored to get the special mention at the end! Also, I’m thankful to have had you in my life because I know that you have gone to great lengths to make sure that I never felt abandoned or hopeless like you did that day. Words cannot express my gratitude.

  3. Rupa permalink

    Bill thanks for all you did. You truly are a good human being and a great example for all people.

  4. KP from work permalink

    Mr. Bolkalia:

    Truly a fine Thanksgiving story. Thanks for sharing it.

    KP from work

  5. Margaret-Ellen permalink

    Abba, this is truly a nice story of a wonderful friendship. I am glad that you have met this Bill. It really speaks to the kindness of others in this world.

  6. I remember that evening as clearly and immediately as if all happened last week. There was the author of this memoir, a Pakistani foreign student thousands of miles from home, no car, no money, attending a graduate school of business administration without a student health service or even an emergency number to call, in absolute agony. I was certain he had an erupted molar. And he and I were brothers under the skin, always. So the evening was devoted to finding a dentist who would come out on a national holiday, ferrying the patient from his home to the dentist to, yes, that one hospital pharmacy open in all of San Diego, to buying his pain medication, and then to getting him home again. I’d do it again tomorrow for so fine and wonderful a friend. And I, too, have never forgotten the young dentist who came out on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving to treat a patient in terrible pain. What a remarkable man.


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