Too Much

 

What I wore: four weeks after the foot surgery, I finally got an air-cast. It is a two piece plastic walking-boot/contraption that you wear over a giant white tube sock and secure in place with three enormous velcro straps. The nurse fitted it to me and said “This will be a transition week. You’ll still need your scooter for distances. But do what you can. Your body will let you know what is too much.”

How I got red eyes and a blotchy nose: I couldn’t actually stand in the air-cast at first, and used my knee-scooter to get to the car.

I went to my room and got into bed, bitching to no one in particular about not being able to walk in the walking cast. I took it off and had a long, self-pitying cry.

Who went with me: a couple of hours later FedEx wanted a signature so I strapped the medical-device-gray ski boot back on.  To my surprise I found that I actually could take some steps unassisted. Yes, I was wobbly. Yes, it was stompy. But I got up the killer three stairs and to the front door and realized I was walking. 20 and I went for a short dog walk with the knee scooter just in case. 20 took Captain and I took our 15 year old dog Cherry.

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It was not too bright, not too cold, and there weren’t any cars on our road. The feeling of liberation was real.

What I did beforehand: as Cherry has been disintegrating in her advancing age, I have been throwing remedies at her which seemed necessary and reasonable. It started with joint supplements. Next I got her dog hoodies and a pressure-sensitive electrically-heated dog bed.  After that it was laser treatments for her ear infections and acupuncture for her weak hind-end.  I got her some toenail covers to help with traction, and some Doggles (dog goggles) for when the sun was too bright. And when she started being picky about her food, I started cooking for her. Over the course of two years she went from an old dog to a reason we couldn’t travel.

Where I sat: the next morning I went to the barn and went for a walk on horseback. Staff were divided between the folks who thought it was awesome that I would get on a horse in a plastic walking cast and the folks who thought I was completely, certifiably, nuts. One person actually told me he thought I was crazy to get on a horse with a cast on my foot. The rest of them just looked at me with what appeared to be bemused alarm. The ones who thought it was awesome said so. I was so happy to be there and not just standing around answering questions about my progress that I didn’t care. I rode about 20 minutes and got off.

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Why I saw this show: I wanted a dog almost as much as I wanted a pony as a kid, and I have loved having them in my life, even when they do embarrassing things, or annoy the neighbors, or have violent diarrhea.

Why my sun-room is now a questionable shade of yellow: the next day was Saturday and the Bacon Provider left for a week-long business trip.  I have been very sad about the pace of travel in his job this fall,  and never more so than on this weekend. Also, the painters showed up and took over several rooms. I made some impulsive choices about paint colors.

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How I got wet: the following day it was warm enough to give the dogs a bath. Cherry loved a bath even though she needs help getting in and out, but afterward she wouldn’t settle down on the pile of towels I spread on the bathroom floor and ended up wandering around the bathroom and got stuck in the shower.

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Things that were not funny: the day after that Cherry went outside to go potty and never came back in. I found her collapsed in the grass. I stood her up and got her to follow me in. She was not alarmed. I was.

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Things that were sad: two days later she could not stand, even with help. She was covered in pee and didn’t want to be wiped off, so after cleaning her, I pulled out an old bottle of dog massage oil and after a few minutes of my attention, I settled her back down. I used up the oil and went online and ordered several essential oils.

Then: I called the vet and explained that I needed to bring my dog in but that I was in a walking cast and would need help getting her out of the car. The receptionist gave me the names of three vets who do house calls in my area. I called the first name on the list and left a message. I think he was a vet I had seen in the past. After about an hour I got anxious from not hearing from him and I looked up the other two vets online. The last one seemed to specialize in end-of-life veterinary care, including hospice and euthanasia. She also had online booking. I was able to make an appointment for the next morning without having to burst into tears again on the phone.

Cherry started screaming again and I changed the house-training pads under her.  The supply of pads was down to a half dozen and I had to go to Petco for more. I found that when I lived in North Dreadful visits to Petco could be very sad and lonely for no reason I can easily explain, and this quick trip felt especially echo-y and poorly lit.  I bought pee pads and a pink stuffed pig toy with a good squeaker in it for Captain.

Who should see it: the next day the painters arrived early. From her heated bed, Cherry drank a mouthful of water and a bite of food but no more. The vet came in one of those Mini Coopers that looks like a mini hearse. She wore scrubs and brought in a big old-fashioned black leather doctor’s case and sat down on the floor with me and Cherry. She asked a lot of questions. Captain brought her his Kong toy and made a nuisance of himself. Her opinion was that the dog was pretty far gone already. I got 20 to come down and hear the vet say that again. “If she isn’t drinking,” she said, “She won’t last more than three more days.”

I think I’ve been getting ready for her to be put down for a few months. I don’t remember when she last wagged her tail. 20 had to get ready over the course of a few days.

Anyway somehow in the middle of this difficult conversation the electrician showed up and I had to get up from the kitchen floor and stomp with my plastic cast up the stairs and show him which fixtures we didn’t have yet and which we did and where they went.

Then I stomped back to the kitchen and sat down on the floor and tried to convey to the vet that despite the flood of tears that had suddenly burst out of my face I was in fact ready to do this very hard thing. I announced to the room that there was no treatment at this point that was going to make her strong or well enough to stand and walk again, like it needed to be said. It didn’t.

I stroked Cherry’s face.

What I saw: Cherry’s last four breaths.

What else I saw: Captain sat on his big new monogrammed Orvis ™ bed and saw the whole thing. He stood and came over an checked her out before she was wheeled away.

And: The vet made a print of Cherry’s paw in clay, and left it on the kitchen counter. I said goodbye to the vet on the driveway, thanking her for doing a hard and important job. She gave me one of the nicest hugs I’ve had in a while. Certainly the best hug Ive ever had from someone I’d just met.

I went in and put Cherry’s bedding the wash, unplugged her heating pad and folded it up, wiped the floor, and moved Captain’s bed to conceal the hole left by Cherry’s departure. I texted the Bacon Provider with the news and a picture or two. I did not know he was sitting at his boss’s keynote speech, between two board members.

The very next thing that happened was someone came from the kitchen cabinet shop to measure.

And: a fancy box containing Cherry’s remains were returned to us by the vet a few days later. And a few days after that a bunch of essential oils arrived which I had little memory of ordering. I mixed up a small bottle of oil with lavender and bergamot and gave Captain a little massage. He loved every bit of it, but he loves everything.

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What I saw at home: I am looking at some of the new paint colors with suspicion, but I’m avoiding it by getting back in bed. My body has let me know that it is too much.

My Pets’ Pets

Things that were sad: we said good bye to Cherry this week, at age 15. She died peacefully at home (thanks to a veterinarian who specializes in both end-of-life pet care and house calls), surrounded by some of her people and Captain, her companion of 9 years. I will write a longer post about her soon. In the meantime, enjoy this story about pests.

What I saw: I have graduated to a walking cast, but when I was still on the knee scooter, I had trouble by the back door. Turning around was a process of bashing into walls, running over shoes, inventing new cuss words, and trying not to fall. As long as the weather stayed unseasonably warm (thank you, catastrophic global climate change), my solution was to open the door and leave it open for Captain. I have taught Captain he is not supposed to charge out an open door, and he has learned to wait, even if there are squirrels; so, he stands, sometimes trembling with anticipation, and waits for permission to go.

Things that were funny: by leaving the door open for him, Captain just stood in front of it wagging and asking to go out. He needed to be told it was ok. I was in the kitchen trying to do ordinary things, like unloading the dishwasher one cup at a time, spilling water, bashing into the cupboards, and trying to make tea that all take forever on a knee scooter, and there was Captain standing at the open door unable to go out.  I said something encouraging. Now he was whining. I finished unloading the dishwasher one plate at a time and went to see what was wrong. There was a big spotted slug in the doorway.

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Captain could not pass the slug without permission from me.

What I did beforehand: I had foot surgery in mid-October. I’ve been putting it off since seeing a creepy podiatrist in Seattle in 2000, but I realized as I limped around a horse show early this summer that I’d waited long enough.

What I wore: yoga pants

Who went with me: while I’ve been recovering from foot surgery, I’ve spent long days flopped out in bed, and Schwartz has been a shitty cat, not being nearly as snuggly as he should be, and finally curling up with me but not letting me actually pat him.

Why I saw this show: because of remodeling in other parts of the house, Schwartz is mostly confined to my bedroom during the day, and he has a cardboard box we put catnip in to entertain him.  He likes his box and thrashes around in it.

One thing that was not funny: one night, Schwartz brought a mouse up from the basement and put it in the box so he could play with it and it wouldn’t get away.

Another thing that was not funny: when the mouse abruptly disappeared, leaving two drops of blood behind, I assumed Schwartz had eaten it. This is a ridiculous assumption.

Still more things that were not funny: I was wrong, of course. The next night he was at it again, batting the mouse, enticing it to squeak and run and try to jump out of the box, and Schwartz was having the finest of fine times playing with it and not killing it.

Yet another thing that was not funny: the following morning I saw the mouse running around my bedroom, and I, temporarily one-footed and historically the only person in the house willing to catch and/or dispatch an injured mouse, was not able to do a damned thing about it.

Where I stood: then Schwartz showed up and recaptured the damned mouse and started for the bed with it in his mouth, I leapt to my feet, reacting from instinct, and nearly went down. Because I couldn’t put any weight on the left foot yet.

Something I watched: that night, there was a big storm and we were watching a few episodes of season 2 of Stranger Things.  We have a generator, and an expensive service contract for it, so we weren’t even worried about the power going out.

What it is: meanwhile, the Bacon Provider updated all our water treatment stuff, but the plumbers failed to install the air-gap we requested, and before the situation could be corrected, the heavy rain caused a bunch of water to back up into our basement. As a relentless troubleshooter, the Bacon Provider went out and got a sump pump to address it.

Who should see it: when the power did go out, quite late and in the middle of the episode, the generator did not fire up as it is supposed to. I found myself sitting in the living room in silence and almost complete darkness, and not sure where I’d left my knee scooter. I crawled around groping the air. The Bacon Provider went out to see if he could start the generator manually. It sputtered like it wanted to start, but couldn’t. He checked the fuel, and the oil.  It was still raining quite heavily still and the wind was so strong as to seem threatening. And now our sump pump solution was no longer a solution.

The least funny thing of all: I scootered around in the dark house, first looking for the number of the generator service company and then looking for mobile phone reception.  After the call dropped twice I got through. The tired woman who answered started off by asking my area code. I told her I didn’t have a landline and don’t know the local area code. She was indignant. I was more indignant. “I am sitting in the dark, I can hear water coming into my basement because the sump pump is off, I had foot surgery two weeks ago so I can’t walk, and you’re telling me the expensive service contract doesn’t include you being able to look up my account some other way?”

The Bacon Provider walked in, looking, by the light of his ever-handy pocket flashlight through the gloom even more alarmed, I told him, without muting myself, that I was on the phone with Sarah Huckabee Sanders (America’s grumpiest professional liar).

Eventually, after more arguing, she took my number and said we could expect a service call. My phone was down to 9% battery life, and my backup charger, when I found it, was almost dead.

I went to bed.

In the morning, I found out that the Bacon Provider had called the generator service company himself, after me, and got a call back. He was offered a technician at $480/hr with a two hour minimum in the middle of the night, or the normal day rate of $145/hour in the morning. He opted for the latter and went to bed. When they called in the morning to confirm, they told me that our service plan had lapsed two years ago. I begged to differ. They checked again, and found nothing. I insisted. On the third try they found my contract, up to date, under my correctly spelled name, at my address on my street, misspelled, and my town also misspelled.

I can’t wait until they call me in March about renewing!

What they saw when they showed up: the technician finally arrived mid-morning, and found that there was a big, spotted slug on an air vent of the generator, preventing it from starting.

A shit-show

What I saw: the physician’s assistant handed me a stack of pages of pre-operative instructions, including a page of “Helpful Items,” with pictures of crutches and canes and walkers and wheelchairs (things that no one ever thinks they’re going to need) and said, “You will want a knee-scooter.” It had been hurriedly circled in ball-point pen. I did not want it. She went on, “You can rent them, but…,” she said, glancing at my feet, “If you’re going to have to get both feet done, you’re probably better off just buying one.”

IMG_3932What I did beforehand: I avoid shopping with the Massive Online Retail Monopoly, but they have all the things and also all the reviews. You simply must read the reviews of these knee scooters or you might end up with the wrong one.  As for me, I had to read the reviews of the wrong scooter after I had found the right one to figure out that I was actually wrong. I had to get the child-sized scooter, because the manufacturer makes a “regular” sized scooter for people who are larger than the average size woman.

I got the one with the three wheels (instead of four) in the hopes of not hitting myself constantly in the ankle of my “good” foot. And I got the one with the bigger, 9” tires in the hopes of not wiping out thanks to a pea-sized bit of gravel on my driveway, or succumbing to the enormous thresholds of the doorways in Mrs. Gardenwinkle’s 80s museum. It came in a big box that arrived via drone only three minutes after I ordered it, and I had to put it together with the shiny, enclosed tools. It came with lots of written instructions, stern warnings about not backing up, and even has a training wheel, to put on the side opposite your good foot, for people with stability issues. I had the Bacon Provider adjust the brakes and finish the tire inflation. We took turns riding on it before my foot surgery, to see how it cornered (not especially well), to see how fast it could go (not especially fast), and to see how it stopped (well enough). It sat in the corner of the dining room like a vague threat until the surgery.

What I wore: the wrong pajamas.

Who went with me: I have to back up a little and say that Cherry turned 15 this summer and is now completely deaf. When she was a younger dog, she knew a good number of useful commands like sit, come, stay, down, don’t touch, and take it. I even taught her hand signals for sit, stay and down because I always thought that’s what good dog owners did to prepare for the day when their dog could no longer hear. Cherry’s hearing seemed to vanish suddenly and completely about two years ago, but in retrospect it was probably failing for a while and she masked the loss by continuing to seem obedient by making educated guesses about what she was supposed to do. Those educated guesses were her forte from a young age, and it was why I was able to get her to climb on top of things like big rocks or tree stumps for pictures. We are unprepared for her diminished vision, though. You cannot call a deaf dog. And you can wave all you want to a dog who can’t see, but she’s not coming to you except by luck.

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How I got tickets to the shit-show: Cherry seems to be able sometimes to see a waving hand about 6 feet away. She gets up and down the stairs from the kitchen to the yard with a great, clumsy leap. Sometimes Cherry wanders around the kitchen looking for people to stand next to, which is sweet but kind of annoying when you’re cooking. When she rises from her dog bed and starts wandering around the kitchen, then we wave our hands to try to shoo her out the door. She makes her leap off the stairs having no better plan. Some mornings we get up and she’s had more than one accident in the kitchen. The sting of frustration about this is dwindling as she becomes more and more frail.

Why I saw this show: so, the Bacon Provider had to do a webinar one morning, just a couple of days after my foot surgery. I was still unable to put any weight on the bad foot, spending most of my days with it elevated in bed, and taking pain meds.  I said derisive, colorful things about the word “webinar,” and some insightful things about capitalism. Only the cat heard me. He agreed, I think.

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Pretending to listen

Things that were not funny: before you need your knee scooter you can tool around your dining room, but it will never prepare you for the horror of a bathmat, a narrow bathroom, a pile of laundry, or a pair of shoes in your way. You can’t pick them up. You can’t go over them. You can’t go around them. The turning-radius a knee scooter is one half to two feet to large for most of this 80s museum. Also, you will come close to falling for surprising reasons, like missing the pad where you’re supposed to kneel, or smashing yourself in the good ankle, or the unexpected shoe (and it’s never your shoe, because all you need now is one sad shoe for your right foot, a sacrificial shoe, chosen to get extra, uneven wear and be forever associated with the dark days of recovery from surgery).

What it is: somehow, thanks to the webinar, I got stuck with feeding the dogs breakfast.

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Clearly on pain meds

Things that were sad: there were dog blankets all over the kitchen floor. People in my family cover the dogs with blankets when they sleep. Yes, this is ridiculous, but Cherry gets cold. But also, she is a dog, and being a dog, she wakes up and gets a drink and the blankets come sliding off and get dragged across the floor and left there when she goes back to her bed.

Who should watch their step: of course, Cherry is no longer really very housebroken so sometimes she gets up to go on the floor and other times she just poops in her sleep.

Things that were funny: so when I scootered across the kitchen to get a can of dog food and there was a dog blanket on the floor and I tried to back up, bend over, and pick it up, I was showered with dog-poo nuggets. And I don’t know if I was like, trying to nugget-dodge or maybe bounce them away from me like they were dog-poo-hacky-sacks, but I wobbled. Cherry, who was hungry, which was the whole reason I was trying to do things in the kitchen at all, was right up against me, keeping track of me the only way she can anymore.

Where I sat: so when I started to fall, I also hit the old dog, who also fell. No one was hurt, though the scooter and I were kind of tangled up and the poo nuggets were involved. Cherry wasn’t so much hurt as she was startled, and so she kind of had the shit scared out of her. The exertion of trying to get back up made her poop some more, and because she and I fell together, now she was pretty much just pooping on me. I’ve had dogs for about 25 years, but I think that was the first time I was pooped on directly by one.

When that was over, I righted the scooter and tried to stand. My pajama pants (these being the sub-optimal pajamas and not one of the two pairs of optimal, post-operative lounge-wear) got caught on one of the bigger, 9” tires of my five-star-reviewed knee scooter as I was trying to stand up so I fell again.

Where I sat on the way home: so I had to crawl around picking up the poo-nuggets, take off my clothes, wash my good foot, and still feed the dogs, and when I was done I had so much leftover angry energy I hauled the vacuum cleaner out, and took out the trash. I can’t say why exactly I sat down on the floor of the garage while I was taking out the trash, but I did. It was cold, and quite gritty, but not nearly as bad as falling in dog shit.

How Pluto Lost a Piece of His Ear

One day, my brother and I both had relatives visiting, and we decided to take the whole group on an easy hike on Cougar Mountain.  As I remember it, I had all three of my kids with us, both dogs (Pluto and Wheatie) plus my half-brother, Tony, who was 10 or 11.  My brother also had his daughter, his mother-in-law, and his father-in-law along.  The hike had the flavor of what my children still call a “forced march,” in that they weren’t altogether so keen to go for a walk in the woods and might actually complain the whole way.  Tony was pretty excited to go, and asked for the chance to walk Pluto.  Pluto was very strong on leash, and wore a prong training collar.
We were on our way down and almost back to the parking lot when we encountered a Dalmatian off-leash. Whether it actually bit off the bottom of Pluto’s ear, or the ear was trapped under the prong collar and was ripped off by the force of Pluto’s lunging at the other dog we can never know.
My brother was far enough behind to actually notice the piece of ear lying on the gravel path (I am sure of this detail, because later he wrote a haiku about it).  Someone did go back for the piece of ear before we loaded everyone up in the car to find the emergency vet. I don’t know if we thought it could be sewn back on. I think we folded it in a tissue and I put it in my pocket.  A dog’s ear is a blood-rich thing, and Pluto reacted to the bleeding by flapping his ears vigorously. To transport him without being showered in blood, we wrapped his head in disposable diapers and a cold compress from the minivan’s first-aid kit.
Despite these efforts, the car interior and the children and my brother’s in-laws were showered in dog blood, especially Tony who was visiting without his parents. Tony came from a home where he was an only child and did not grow up with pets.  He was very agitated, and complained the whole way to the vet’s office that he was going to catch a disease from the dog blood. I had a vet technician tell him that he could not get AIDS from a dog. Pluto had some stitches put in, and we all drove home.
For many years, the piece of Pluto’s ear sat forgotten on a bookshelf in our computer room. It dried into a nice little triangle, covered in short red-brown hair.