Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What I Have Learned in the Past 72 Hours from My Old Sick Dog

My dog is a little bit sideways.

Anyone who knows my dog will argue that she's always been a little bit sideways, but it's for real this time. Her head is cocked to the right at a permanently inquisitive angle, and in order to walk a straight line she has to cross her feet like a dressage horse in travers.

She's not moving fast, but, dammit, she's moving, and I am moving beside her in the cool damp morning air, choking on my own delight.


Approximately 60 hours ago:

"I don't . . . I don't mean this the wrong way, but . . ."

I look over at my dog, my 14-year-old very sick dog, who is crouched in a shivering heap on the floor.

It's mid-morning on a Sunday at the veterinarian's office. My dog's doctor is here, I am here, my dog is here (barely), and nobody else is here.  It's silent except for the swish of the air conditioning. There's a stunning fall morning in full swing outside, but I'm sitting on the floor, in here, with my dog, because standing up really hasn't occurred to me.

I came here to have my dog put to sleep. At least, I thought that's what I was doing.

"Are we talking about a quality life?"

"I've seen it hundreds of times," the doctor assures me, "and only once did a dog fail to pull out of this.  Within 72 hours, you're very likely to see a completely different picture. Although the decision is certainly yours, I absolutely could not recommend euthanasia at this time."

I can't even get my head around a completely different picture, because I haven't taken my eyes off the current picture. Kira's face is matted with chocolate tears. Her hind-end fur is sticky with fluids. Her limbs twitch, and her hipbones sharply extrude. Her legs are splayed in nearly four directions when she can manage a crablike stagger. Her short tail is tucked under her body.  And her eyes, her gentle begging golden-brown eyes, are showing white all the way around and madly jittering from side to side. It's horrifying.

We've been up all night together, me curled up on the floor while Kira frantically blundered around the room vomiting.  I've been crying all night, and that's not just an expression: it's been all night, nonstop, with a grief I haven't known since half a lifetime ago. I spent all night saying goodbye to my sweet companion. I said all that I needed to say, and I talked to the children, dropped them with their grandparents, and drove my dog here. So sad, yes, horribly sad, but all prepared to say goodbye.

And now my veterinarian, a geriatric specialist, has taken a single decisive look into my dog's spastic eyes and told me that this pitiful creature may fully recover and live on, well, indefinitely.

"The first 24 hours are dreadful," she assures me, "and then you'll see a vast improvement."

She is so firm that, even if I had two brain cells left to rub together, I wouldn't consider arguing. It feels truly surreal to hand her a credit card, stuff my purse with a bottle and a box of pills, carry my living dog back to the car, and point the nose of the car toward home.

As two overjoyed little girls build fluffy pillow piles all over the house, I gently lay down my twitching, damp, urine-stained dog and stroke her head, wondering, "Oh, lordy, is my vet fully sane, and how long have I caused this sad death to drag on?"

But Kira lay in her fluffy kid-built pillow-bed all day, and she slept that night. And the next morning, after I carried her downstairs, she sniffed . . . and ate . . . a little bite of waffle. From there, upward.


I carry the dog down the stairs. I carry the dog up the stairs. I clean up the dog's hind end with a soft cloth. I wash towels again, then again.  I mix and mince a full buffet of bland foods in hopes that one of them might tempt a few calories into her. I crush big pills. I dose her with little pills. I pry open her jaws. I rub her throat. She is gentle and mild throughout, though, as her eyes begin to steady, she starts to suspiciously focus on me as I approach with yet another pill.

A friend of mine cares for the elderly. She'll sometimes text me photos of her companions.  I have to confess -- this is not to my credit, I know -- that it's uncomfortable flip open my phone and be confronted with people who are struggling, are diminished, are fragile. They are strangers to me.

But they're not strangers to my friend.  She hasn't seen these elderly people interact with her children, nor wish her goodbye at the door every morning, nor greet her arrival every night. She didn't choose them, and she hasn't lived with them for years. Yet she cares for these people with all her heart, with all her good wishes, seeing the strong souls inside the frail bodies, willing these people to be gently treated and highly valued.

My friend is a pretty special person, and I think about this as I'm taking care of my struggling, diminished, and fragile dog. I've learned something.


On this morning, glory of glories, Kira asked to go out on her usual walk.

Well . . . I'm using the word "walk" with some generosity. Every five or six feet, Kira veers to the right at a 30-degree angle. The vet said to stay on her right, where she can better see me. So I stop and let Kira slew crosswise in front of me, which puts me on her left. Then I backtrack and loop around behind to reclaim her right side.

Five steps later, she diagonally careens again and we again orbit each other. And again. And again. She's weaving, and I'm bobbing, but we're making progress down the driveway toward her beloved strip of piney woods.

Once there, she sniffs something. Then something else. She bends a leg to do some business. She gingerly lowers her hind end to do a bit more. She gazes out into the woods while she takes care of these necessaries, somber and self-contained as Whistler's Mother.   She's rocking back and forth on her feet, still far from steady. But she's doing what a dog does, and she looks surprisingly orderly about it.

Then she's done, and back we go, up the driveway: weave, cross, dodge, stop, circle back. She might be a bit, well, less from now on. She might not gulp down her meals and look around for more. She might take tiny steps in her world from now on, hummingbird sips of contentment instead of great gulps of ecstasy, but the quality will be there. Fragile, maybe, diminished, maybe, but still very much present.  I've learned something there, too, something that at last seems appropriate for this year's Days of Awe.

Weave, cross, dodge, stop, circle back.  We are two shuttles crossing on a loom. Her threads are thinning, yes. Her edges are a little frayed. But my girl's still here. She is still tracing her own bright path in the Great Tapestry.

We weave our way back to the house, this good small soul and I, quietly entwined and lurching along side-by-side indefinitely, for as long as indefinitely may be.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Yes, There's At Least One Wrong Answer

Today's Tammy's Tips topic, from the remarkable founder of We Love Messes (and I can attest that they really do, bless 'em):

There Are No Wrong Answers. Discuss.

Disagree. I respectfully submit that there's always one wrong answer: no answer at all.

You'd think this was a no-brainer. We know, intellectually, that silence equals assent, that not-to-decide-is-to-decide.

But the fear making a wrong decision plops us right into one of my favorite gutters: are you making your decisions from a place of joy or a place of fear?

Okay, fine question, but it's still in no-brainer territory, so let's take it one step further:

What happens when you're just so plain stinkin' wrung out that there's neither joy nor fear to spur a decision? What happens when you can't even pick up a pencil, let alone make a list of pros and cons?

I propose that the answer starts in your closet, which swiftly becomes a metaphor for Everything Else. As those in the know may know, I'm currently a little manic about capsule wardrobes.  (Promise, this becomes relevant in a few paragraphs.) I believe that assembling your personal rag, bone, and hank o' hair every day is an exercise in important and intimate decision-making.

Effective wardrobing, like so many things in life, starts with a cleanup. To make room for good, you must first release your ungood.  "I can't tell you," says the elegant proprietor of my favorite consignment store, "how many women take something out of the closet, look at it, say, 'Hmm, I just don't wear this,' or 'Gee, I've never really liked this,' and then put it back in the closet.

"I tell them," she continues, gracefully gesturing with an empty clothes hangar, "that you have to take it out of the closet in order to get anywhere with a wardrobe cleanup. You don't have to give it away. But you have to start by at least taking it out."

My sister has trammeled this territory more artfully than I ever could do, with a number of magnificent "letting go" posts, including, notably, this one.

So once you've let go, what comes next?

An answer comes next, that's what, even an incomplete, ill-conceived, semi-crappy one.

I've spent some time being rudderless. Not just "not sure what comes next," not just twentysomething confused, but entirely without direction, utterly adrift, curled up with my arms over my head out there where the Hakken-kraks howl.  I couldn't make any decisions from joy, nor from fear.

And on one spectacularly low day, I had even moved beyond "just going through the motions." Happily, I guess, my nadir occurred in a parking lot. I was in my car. I'd parked my car.  I'd been in my car for, um, a couple hours. I couldn't just stay in my car forever.

So I came up with one answer: I got out of the car and put one foot on the ground. Then I decided to put the other foot on the ground. Then I decided to make those feet into a step.

Sometimes one foot is all you can lift. Toward what? Doesn't matter. The motion itself is the answer. It may be the only answer you have for all those big horrible questions.
Ill-conceived answer?
Incomplete answer?
Semi-crappy answer?
Probably, yes, to all. But stasis . . . stasis is the wrong answer.

Resolved: Because stasis is the wrong answer, yes, wrong answers DO exist.

But not about shoes. You should always buy the shoes.

And then take one first step in them.


A wardrobe coda:  We are houseguesting this weekend with He'en's grandparents.  He'en just appeared at my door in a brand-new-never-before-worn outfit, a gift from her grandmother. She almost minces around the corner, pausing partly for effect and partly for . . . well, just general eight-year-old radiance.

"Whoa!!!! Do you feel stunning? Because you look stunning," I tell her.

She grins and hunches her shoulders with a little delighted wiggle.

"I feel almost embarrassed that I'm this stunning," admits He'en.

My sweet little girl, please hold that thought tightly, tightly. And please feel so bright and beautiful, and, yes, stunning, for all your days to come.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Spring Hopes Eternal

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
- Sara Teasdale

Today I broke ground on our long-planned butterfly garden.  The girls are out with their visiting grandparents.  The spouse is off working. For about forty whole incredible minutes, it's been just me, the dog, and the dirt.

"Set out wildflower seeds" has been on my phone's memo app for about two weeks. Snow, sun, sun, snow (perfect) and then surprise! head lice, business emergency, blizzard, work, school break, work, kid with a cough (not so perfect).  From deep in the Mommy-trenches, I kept missing the weather windows for my patient wildflowers.

Today I dutifully worked for several hours . . . post office . . . groceries . . . specialty lightbulbs . . . then ZOOM raced home from WalMart with one eye on the gathering clouds and a new hand-tiller jingling in the back of the car. I shoved my fresh pedicure into a pair of raggedy snowboots, whipped the wildflower seeds off their garage shelf, and frantically chawed up the island in the middle of our driveway with the store tags still flapping on the tiller.

Did it! Booyah! The seeds are all laid down, in the nick of time for a little snow that's due tonight!

I am so pleased. And I wish I had better words, or more time, to describe the soft smell of fresh-turned dirt, mingled with the plopping all around of a sassy spitty snow, offset by distant thunder-rumbles in the background. Because those are some of the best smells and sounds in the world.

I'm an earth sign, truer than true. It's been a long, dry, chilly season around here, but spring is on the way.  Again, forever and always.