October 9, 2008
Split Second Tragedy-Comfort in Dog Years
My sister Liz is eating tropical fruit salad tonight…not in the tropics though…from a container in a refrigerator in a nursing home…a place she lives now. A place where she never planned to spend any time…a place she didn’t fill out a change of address for. She has no choice here except to rely on the comfort and care of strangers….and often that reliance brings her only frustration, disappointment, and always questions.
Tonight when she hollers loud enough to get the attention of one of the nonchalant aides milling about the nursing station…she will ask them to get the small container of tropical fruit salad out of the refrigerator in the messy kitchen behind the even more cluttered nursing station and bring it to her.
I know right where it is…that it has sections of mango and papaya and pineapple and guava and little shavings of coconut. I studied it carefully in the supermarket…it helps to concentrate on things that are small these days. I walked down the hall past people shuffling in walkers…into the stark dining room of despair….opened the half door that keeps the residents from going into the kitchen and searching for things….and put this little container of sunshine in the refrigerator…at least that’s what I hope it will be for my sister when its fed to her.
The residents search for things that aren’t in the cupboards or on the shelves inside of the refrigerator….they are searching for times lost…days that have vanished. They go to the kitchen because they forget where they are…it’s a curse and a means of survival in this place that they too must live now for whatever reason time has stolen the life they knew before.
For a few moments they are oblivious to the signs about keeping the refrigerator door closed or leaving the ice scoop in the ice machine…they don’t see the labels on all the food…they are living in their memories at the homes they have left with the people who have left them. For only a few glitches in the sequence of time …they are back.
In this house of little hope, my sister doesn’t have that memory-lapse pass to escape her present. She is if anything these days…acutely aware of what is and what is not…she just doesn’t understand what has happened and she is not alone there. We, her family do not either.
We do know however, that on August 10, 2008 our sister was struck down…pulled into an unconsciousness that defied diagnosis and understanding to those of us standing on the sidelines of her nothingness that we could not reach through. In a moment she was sucked into a coma and became a prisoner of some unseen enemy that no one had the weapons to defeat.
Each family member abandoned the paths of their own lives to travel to Liz’s bedside. Sitting on an airplane pelted by relentless rain, I flew up from the south, numb; hurtling through the night sky to a surreal world I dreaded entering. My siblings, our parents, my sister’s husband…a fractured family at best, came together in her intensive care room where the sounds of machines breathing for her…feeding her…checking for signs of life that had all but vanished…covered the grief imposed silence. Something horrible…an unexpected tragedy has happened to my family…not the usual squabble…not the miffed feelings that always abound…a deep down sad life event…that will undoubtedly change us and has immediately shamed us. When was the last time we were all in the same room together? Families shouldn’t come together only at hospitals and funeral homes. We are guilty and this remorse is very evident in our eyes and in our silence.
We are asked to do something unfathomable…remove all means of life support…and for once we come together as a functional family and we decide instead to pray. It is more with penitence than hope that we all do what we have to…watch the machines perform inexplicable tasks…feel the wind as the life flight helicopter lifts off and takes our sister away…to a destination where we have sent ahead every fiber of belief we can summon. I stand on the ground with my Mom and Sadie watching the life ship fly away until it is out of sight realizing we remain as close to her now as when we were next to her bed. Liz remains out there in oblivion while we gather ourselves together to begin a journey infinitely longer than the two hour drive ahead of us.
Like most things in life, it now seems as if this all happened in an instant, and the days have flown by like the helicopter that whisked Liz off to recovery. Now, on this day that my sweet dog Sadie and I put the tropical fruit salad in the refrigerator, we are weary, but grateful. I am thankful that the coma’s cruel grip vanished 19 days after it changed our world for what seems like seconds now…and for what will be forever for my sister.
Thank God we have our dogs in times like these…living creatures we can whisper our most horrible fears to…the best of therapy and counsel on four legs…who with the lick of tongue or a touch of their soft fur…take the worry and the tension away. I tell Sadie that while I am the person making arrangements, capable of getting necessary care for my sister, finding people that no doubt saved her life, and seeing to the things that need to be seen to…that I am frightened beyond all measure. As we drive back to Charleston, I wish this never happened, I pray that my sister will walk again, be able to use her hands, sit at a holiday dinner table with the rest of us. I don’t look for answers….its all I can do for now to put one foot in front of the other most days.
The calm and accepting presence of my Sadie girl is my lifeline. I smile in the dark of the car remembering how Sadie walked around the nursing home today…greeting each person much like she does at her book signings…taking an extra moment for a person to lean down from their walker and touch her…not minding that one woman is lost in time and thinks Sadie is her dog. It’s a different audience than Sadie is used to, but she doesn’t mind.
I am sending up a lot of prayers these days asking and thanking equally, but I thank God every day I have my dog Sadie as I know does everyone else who has experienced the love and comfort of a dog…or cat…or other living creature. Sadie keeps me going…she reminds me to live in the moments…moments that become days and days that become years and if we’re lucky….years that become memories. Looking for memories is not a good thing…making them is. Dogs are the best at this. Sadie savors her days and lets the years take care of themselves. She loves me and I need her so I can be there for those who need me.
Patti Lawson’s 37-year old sister Elizabeth was stricken with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a neurological disorder characterized by inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. After 19 days in a coma, she regained consciousness thanks to the fantastic staff at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. Her miraculous recovery is the result of prayer and in large part due to the efforts of Dr. Tristan Smith and Dr. Thomas Scott. She continues to struggle to regain mobility and cognitive abilities. Sadie’s visits inspire Liz and the other residents. Read more about Patti and Sadie and follow Liz’s
September 30, 2008
Sadie and I have had to make a lot of changes in our routines since we sold our house. Many things we just took fro granted now take planning and compromise. Its all worked out pretty good…we live in a smaller space and now like the lack of big responsibility that goes with that. Sadie goes to a great day care and likes that…no longer a solitary dog watching Animal Planet and waiting for me to come home. However, once in a while we hit a snag and have to re-tool things…like the day she went to a vet’s because her regular day care was unavailable. That’s the day she didn’t get lunch…despite the fact that like any good Mom…I had packed one and had taken it with her.
This place…Phillips Animal Hospital had a great website. I took a tour and it seemed nice It was not like her normal place…it was not even close to being extra special, But it did appear that Sadie would be safe there for the 7 or so hours I had to leave her and work.
For the first two times, it seemed to work our. OK…Sadie was a little ticked at me each time…batting me with her paws on the way to the car as if to say..”Gee…why did you have to leave me in these inferior conditions for all this time?” But overall…it was OK.
Then came the Freaky Friday that we have not forgotten. I packed Sadie’s lunch as usual. It’s important that I make sure she isn’t fed something she’s allergic too…important so she doesn’t itch herself crazy…AND keep me up all night as well. So…her lamb and rice food along with Cowboy Cookout was mixed into a nice container and handed to the attendant who was reaching for her leash. It was simple…”Here is her food…feed her.”
Not so it seems. When I went to pick her up, I paid the bill, collected her and her tote bag, and we rushed down the boulevard homeward bound eager for DOGERCISE. I placed the tote bag on the kitchen floor and went to change clothes…but Sadie didn’t follow me into the bedroom like she usually does. She had her head buried in her tote bag and no wonder…her container of food was in there…untouched. She had not been fed ALL DAY.
I quickly mixed her a fresh bowl of food and watched her scarf it down…yes…even faster than usual. She then slurped up an ENTIRE bowl of water as well and I sat down on the floor next to her as she thankfully licked my face. Gee…I felt horrible as I looked back on the the delicious lunch I had enjoyed at a favorite restaurant celebrating Friday and the approaching weekend. While I feasted with friends, my poor little dog had sat in a strange, stark kennel with nothing to eat and it appeared…nothing to drink either.
I immediately called Phillips and not to belabor the point…they were full of excuses. “The attendant hadn’t understood what I told him?” How could that be…here’s food…here’s a dog…give it to her? Should someone who has such a lack of comprehension of simple commands be working with living creatures?
I asked that Dr. Homan call me. I left message after message. It was never important enough for this veterinarian to return my call. Sadie never went back.
What is happening in our world today? Customer services…customers’s that are right…these are things of the past. But you expect more from someone who is supposed to care for animals…who professes to love living creatures…you expect that they will answer your calls and quesitons…that they will care that they made a mistake…that they will take seriously if not sacredly that you trust your beloved animal to them whether its for an hour…a day…or a medical problem. I couldn’t trust this facility nor its employees again…my dog deserved her lunch…she needed to have water available. I needed to know why she didn’t have these. We’re still waiting to find out.
There’s a lesson in this. I asked people AFTER this incident about this facility and I was not happy with what I was told. In fact, I was frightened that I had ever left her here in the first place. Choose carefully where you leave you pet. Cindy Adams the famous NYC gossip columnist who made her Yorkie Jazzy famous with a best selling book learned the most horrible lesson when she left Jazzy at a careless kennel. Jazzy died.
Sadie seems none the worse for her missed lunch…perhaps I feel worse that my trust was misplaced…sadder…wiser…onward and upward!
July 19, 2008
LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE…TAKE BARKING ONES TO DAYCARE!
Sadie and I sold our house. The packing, scavenging for boxes, sales, and decisions seemed like they would never end, but they did and there we were alone in a big empty house the night before the closing. We used the foam mattress topper and the comforters and bedding that we weren’t taking with us to make a little nest for sleeping on the floor of the empty and now cavernous master bedroom. This was the first house I ever owned all by myself…the place Sadie came to live with me and made it a home…the memories were endless. We curled up on the floor, set the lone remaining television on timer, and went to sleep for the last time in our home.
In the morning, we gathered up our bed and threw it away, made the final cup of coffee, and walked together to the closing. It seemed appropriate that Sadie go along, although I was disappointed that her paw print was not required on the official sale documents, she was nonetheless a necessary party to the transaction.
Fast forward to our new residence…a tiny furnished condominium in a complex of many…a balcony overlooking a big pool that will do us no good as dogs aren’t allowed to swim in it, and in the middle of the miniature living room…Sadie’s pennie where she’s always stayed quietly…waiting for me to come home for lunch and then back at the end of the day. It seems though, that more had changed than our location, Sadie was no longer happy in her familiar crate in new surroundings with strange new noises and she wanted to be heard on this matter.
And heard she was…by the neighbors on both sides, the residents above and below, the people on adjoining balconies and those across the courtyard as well as the swimmers in the pool. This most quiet dog, who has never been asked to leave any number of luxury hotels due to even the slightest noise infraction was receiving nasty voicemail messages and threatening notes under the door! The President of the Condo Association once resided in a federal prison so when he said he would “have this dog removed by one of his associates” we were scared.
After determining that the chances of taking Sadie to work with me every day were slim, we searched the Yellow Pages for a suitable Dog Day Care facility and to our incredible luck discovered Camp Critter Creek. Patty Schal has created a sanctuary for animals to stay when you can’t care for them yourself. It was an incredible solution for me and Sadie. Patty and crew operate the day care, boarding, and grooming facility at a lovely location just outside of Charleston.
I called and made arrangements for a tour of Camp Critter Creek. I new almost immediately that this was a place where my little sweet dog could stay until I could make other plans. It was clean…it was bright…and Patty was wearing a LIFE IS GOOD T-shirt…one of our favorites! There were relaxed animals lounging about the office…Patty’s personal menagerie…and a walk through the boarding facilities only confirmed my initial impression…this was a place that my dog would be safe…where she could bark if she wanted…where she wouldn’t be lonely…where she would be treated with love and kindness while I was at work. I made arrangements to take Sadie to the Camp on my way to work and pick her up on my way back. I told her it was just “temporary” as Mom would soon have a new house for her and everything would be the same.
Despite this we were nervous as we packed her tote bag and I was sad, as we left the condo the next morning, but Sadie was overjoyed not to be left behind … scary noises plus a strange environment equated loneliness and fear and what other way for a dog to express this than by barking I did a lot of thinking that first morning as we drove out to the Camp.. What kind of Mom was I to sell Sadie’s house…had I let a good offer overcome my good sense as to what was best for Sadie? How could I manage working fulltime and find time to take a dog to day care every day? What would I do at lunchtime without Sadie to get out and walk and share my lunch hour with?
We arrived and Sadie, though always reluctant to leave me, went off with her caregiver and I went to work…feeling that I’d let her down. At the end of the day, she was her usual self; eager to see me and we bounded out the door and went home hoping the evening would last longer than possible.
I always want to fix things…make them perfect and felt compelled to replace the house and get a place for Sadie where she could stay as before…in her own little world…A TV with Animal Planet on as her company…waiting for me to come home for lunch…waiting for me to come home from work or shopping. So when a house in our neighborhood became available I leaped at the chance and agreed to pay an exorbitant amount of rent because I felt I must correct my wrong move.
The endless moving began again…from the condo to the house…from the storage area to the house…buying new furniture…arranging the pennie in the perfect location with the TV in the basement….and at last showing it to Sadie. I was so proud to have almost duplicated her former surroundings with the new washer and dryer…the treadmill in the same place…the same bed in her pennie. She sniffed it…looked at me…wagged her tail weakly…and went upstairs.
Seems I should have been paying more attention on those morning drop-offs at Camp Critter Creek because something wonderful and quite unexpected had happened as we made out way to the little dog refuge by the creek each morning. Sadie’s whines weren’t in despair at leaving me…they were excitement and eagerness to enter the building. It seems Sadie liked spending her days in the company of dogs and people who like them…her Mom’s perfectionism and need to hang on were needless. Sadie was saying a lot to me by her nonchalance with duplicate house. Things with her were just fine with the new arrangements…she liked the cats at the Camp…she liked the little creatures in the big cage she ran to check out each morning…she was content to run out in the yard for her exercise and get treats…and she wasn’t lonely.
It was time to move on…forget our old big house…stay in the condo…big houses don’t solve things…it takes a bigger heart to live in a smaller place.
Yep, we moved a second time…put things back in storage…wore ourselves out, but the lesson learned was worth it. Sadie and I don’t walk by our old house with longing anymore and I quit crying when I look at it standing silent and dark. People can learn a lot about life and living it from dogs. Change is inevitable and necessary for growth, but it can’t happen while we hang on to the past…time to let go…make new friends…make the best of the moment…they don’t last forever.
So if you see a beautiful dog sitting happily in the passenger seat of a convertible one of these summer mornings in Charleston…its just me and Sadie…going to our day jobs…loving every minute of it.