Dog Days

It has been a long time since I last posted here.  I don’t generally post about my personal life but this post is an exception, and a somewhat rambling one at that, so bear with me.  The main reason for my long silence is that I am currently embroiled in various crises, the most immediate and exhausting of which is my dog’s recent back surgery.  Three weeks ago he had a problem with a vertebral disc, and post-surgery his hind legs are still paralyzed.  I have been caring for him round-the-clock, changing his bedding in the night, cooking him chicken and vegetable stew, giving him massages and keeping his spirits up to the extent I can.  A proud, handsome, willful animal like him (he is a terrier mix) does not do well with disability.  But in these three exhausting, sleepless weeks he has mellowed a bit, gradually giving up his role as Chief Protector of the home, accepting, perhaps, that for now he needs to rest and get well.  It is hard to see him so helpless.  It is hard to go for weeks without a proper night’s sleep (I have been taking care of him almost single-handedly).  I have learned a lot of things in the past weeks: how to express a dog’s bladder, for instance.  But mostly I’ve learned that people, including strangers, can be utterly wonderful in times of crisis. 

So this is a post mostly about gratitude. 

Therefore, thanks: to my friend, the vet-around-the-corner, who has stuck by me with daily visits, bladder and dog anatomy lessons, middle-of-the-night emergencies.  To the good folks at the local Unitarian universalist church who called and brought sustaining food and found resources; to the friend who is coming in to mow my lawn and insists that it gives her peace.  To the rehab vet in the next town who lets me bring my dog in once a day for bladder expression and doesn’t charge me.  To the extraordinary people at Eddie’s Wheels for their patience, kindness and generosity.  To the massage therapist I found when I thought I’d fall apart, for not only bringing me back together but also for sharing the story of her own dog, which gave me some hope.  To my daughter for being there, for being steadfastly supportive, and non-squeamish about such things as dog pee. 

The prognosis for my dog is uncertain.  He’s certainly improved since surgery, in terms of bladder function, but there is no sensation in his hind legs yet.  The hospital where we took him did not operate on him until several hours after he was admitted, and only after he’d lost sensation in his legs.  The neurosurgeon tells us that dogs like him sometimes never recover and in other cases recover completely.  So who knows?  Still, if his bladder function normalizes and he has his wheels, he can have a good life.  For him a good life is hanging around in the kitchen for scraps, getting a back-rub,  marking every stationary object within a 2-mile radius of the house, chasing squirrels and putting the fear of Dog in the mailman, random strangers and neighbors.  Things are complicated by the fact that he is a rescue who was almost certainly abused before we got him, and therefore he has a fear-aggression problem.  Thus he still has to wear his plastic Elizabethan collar from surgery because he hates being handled when he is not feeling good, and will let you know it.  Yet when he is not afraid he is a sweet, goofy, charming fellow, a bit of a brat, but with a vast capacity for affection.  If, as in the case of  Nanny Ogg’s cat in the Terry Pratchett books, come magic could transform him into a human, he’d be both difficult and irresistible.  A pirate with a heart of gold, but more complicated than the stock character might suggest.    

So things are very difficult but it helps me to remember to be grateful.  That might sound clichéd to some but really, I could not have done without the support and remarkable generosity of friends and strangers who are no longer strangers. 

It also helps to see the greenery in the tangled back-garden, brought about by copious rain in the last few days — I saw an animal rooting about there recently, either a marten or a fisher, stocky and pale brown and busy-looking, like a Wall Street executive.  Only the day before that I saw an enormous snapping turtle, likely a female looking for a place to lay her eggs, standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, contemplating the road.  She looked like she had emerged from an ancient shelter and a long sleep  — much of her shell was covered with moss.  I’m always polite to visitors, even those that can extend their necks at the speed of lightning to relieve you of a digit or two – so I stood at a safe distance and said hello.  The turtle looked at me through rheumy eyes and said nothing.  I thought of A Tuin (Terry Pratchett again) and was silent.  Certainly the mossy world on her back was a world in its own right. 

When I came out to have a look about a half-hour later, she was gone. 

A couple of months ago when I was taking my dog for his long morning walk, I saw another remarkable sight.  There was some sort of commotion in a tree — I saw a flash of grey, sudden movement from one branch to another.  Then there was a gray squirrel scolding agitatedly over a nest, and a hawk flying out of the tree with empty claws, chased by two crows.  Against a pale morning sky the scene was perfectly choreographed.  Because I am human and a writer, I saw all this as a story, a metaphor, maybe, for help from unexpected quarters.  Because I am only a mote in the universe’s eye, however, I try not to see signs everywhere.  Surely the universe has better things to do! 

And yet. 

I am currently writing in a café, waiting for my car to be repaired nearby.  It is a peaceful island of a moment, but half my mind is with my dog, hoping he is sleeping peacefully in his pen, awaiting my return.  Other ongoing crises, no less important and immediate, occupy most of what mental energy I have left.  But I have not given up hope of doing some fiction writing this summer.  The other day when I was half-falling down from exhaustion I started thinking inevitably about gravity.  And a story idea was born, although it does not yet exist outside of my head.  And as a friend points out, one’s writing cannot be unchanged by the experience of expressing a dog’s bladder. 

The days seem to have the surreal quality (and the lack of controllability) of a bad dream, but these moments of clarity and peace are also part of the experience.  In the mix are also a couple of classic Hindi masala movies that we’ve found time to watch: Kabhi Kabhi and the more modern Dilwale Dulhaniya le jayenge.  So there’s sad-eyed dog, and film songs, and story ideas and strange animals and kind people calling, and new discoveries among car mechanics and writing recos for students and thinking about horrible oil spills and dealing with daily lack of sleep and worry, and the faint yet unmistakable odor of dog pee pervading all things like a sort of ether.  That’s my life at the moment. 

 More anon, hoepfully on other matters.

9 Responses to “Dog Days”

  1. Val Says:

    Sorry to hear things aren’t going well . . . but glad you’ve found some support and moments of natural beauty.

  2. vsinghsblog Says:

    Thanks, Val! I trudge on, growling at providence. Hope all is well with you.


  3. FoundOnWeb Says:

    And of course, the problem with dogs is that they can’t explain to us, and we can’t explain to them, and so we have to have a sort of negotiated agreement. Except that dogs have a hard enough time just spelling negotiation, let alone coming up with an in-depth post-modernist definition that would include such things as allowing even a small woman to lean on their bladders.

    It can be hard, maintaining 24/7 support, and I shan’t attempt to offer advice from a whole continent away. It sounds like you have your support group in good shape, and, better yet, aren’t unwilling to use them. That group is wider than you think, and more ready to assist than you can imagine.

    Good luck. Keep us informed.

    • vsinghsblog Says:

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for writing. My dog seems to have caught on that I need him to cooperate for us to manage. So he’s being a good boy for the most part. The bladder function has improved and, not that you want details, but he can pee a longish stream on his own now, so I don’t have to lean as much.

      It is like having a baby in the house; my rule of survival is to sleep when he does, although I can’t always do so.

      Thanks to more than a little help from friends, we are managing!

  4. studiogh Says:

    Call on your friends, we are here for you…

  5. Kurt Says:

    Dear Vandana’s Blog,

    We’ve missed you. Signs, as you say, being a localized phenomenon, an entry from you is a nod from the universe or, using a homier metaphor, the throwing open of a window to share news with neighbors and friends thousands of miles but one click away (hey, Vandana’s home and she has news!). If there’s a wheel and I ever return as a dog, oy, I should be so lucky to have such a caregiver. More likely, I will return as a caregiver again (and again) till I get it right. Thanks for the lessons.

    Did you see any flashes (of wizard’s fire) from the mossy back of that snapping turtle?


  6. Kurt Says:

    Good lord, I see that this post is 3 weeks old. Hope things have progressed for the Bandit. I’ve been away from my newsreader for awhile.

  7. vsinghsblog Says:

    Yes, it’s about time for an update. Bandit is certainly better, can almost pee entirely on his own (yay!) although as he gets better the terrier-brat nature is also returning, which makes him hard to manage. He still can’t use his hind legs but there are signs that there may be progress there too, although the prognosis is unknown. It is in any case a slow process but he does enjoy things despite his situation: sitting in the porch and barking at passersby, keeping a watch out for chipmunks and rabbits, getting fed, playing games like finding hidden treats, and being cuddled. As for me, I am becoming slowly reacquainted with sleep, and although there are times when I’m very tired, my arms and legs are getting pretty strong with all the carrying. I’ve even managed to get some work done for my college (thank goodness I am off teaching this summer) and am at least thinking about writing more fiction. So if this does not kill me, perhaps I’ll be stronger and have some stories to show for it as well, although don’t be surprised if dog pee shows up in more than one of them…

    Oh and I have about three blog posts that are semi-complete at least in my head, so one of these days…

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