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For the love of Dog, Chapter 3 | Pamdemonium
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For the love of Dog, Chapter 3

August 26, 2010

Pilgrim did not walk after three days. He did not stand on his own for nearly two weeks. It was even longer before he could roll himself over.

The surgery took place Tuesday afternoon, and Pilgrim came home Friday at the end of the business day. His back third was shaved, with big crescent-shaped sutures on either side over the hip area. The red dog was purple from the bruising. These were mean-looking bruises, mottled and magenta red, and they covered him. We later learned the tissue insides were just as damaged.

We were overjoyed to have Pilgrim home. We set him up in the den/office and let out happy sighs. Then he peed all over himself and his dog bed.

This is not Pilgrim; his bruising was worse and covered the back-end top and bottom.

Grabbing a different dog bed, we put towels over, cleaned Pilgrim up and transferred him carefully. A few hours later he peed on himself again. And again. And again. We could not lift him without causing serious pain and he could not move himself but to signal he was wet and unhappy. This went on all night; we nearly went through every towel in the house. Saturday morning I went shopping.

Returning with baby wipes, absorbent canine training pads and ice packs to augment my homemade ones, I set up a basket and added baby powder, sterile pads, rubbing alcohol and Pilgrim’s multiple prescription bottles to the mix. The basket overflowed with stuff. Pilgrim overflowed, too.

The back room smelled of hospital or nursery – baby powder and pee. The instructions from the surgeon specified two rounds of range-of-motion exercises on both back hips and legs daily, plus two five-minute walks, “supported with a towel if needed.” I created an excel sheet with a daily schedule that included medication administration – one painkiller with breakfast and dinner, a different painkiller at noon and midnight, antibiotics twice a day, too. I guess the exercise gave me a sense of control, however wrong, because it was soon clear we had no control at all.

By Monday, using a towel under his belly, we could hoist him, pick him up, carry him outside, and support him while he did his thing. At surgery, Pilgrim weighed 50 pounds, eight or 10 pounds more than he should but eight pounds fewer than a few years back. Like many rescues, Pilgrim eats and eats and eats, fearing no next meal may come. It took us a few years to realize Pilgrim was inhaling all the food Shadow left behind, which is how the 38-pound dog we adopted got fat.

Lifting 50 pounds off the floor is challenging under the best of circumstances. The towel gave us a way to get our arms under Pilgrim’s stomach but neither Shaun nor I are big, burly people. “Lift with your legs,” I repeated like a mantra to the man of the house. Exhausted, in the middle of the night, proper form is more difficult to maintain. Midway through the first full week Shaun pulled his back. More lifting for me.

No one was sleeping through the night, ever. Shaun canceled work for the week; I informed a client a big project was going to be very, very late. Dogs who are uncomfortable, in pain or anxious pant a lot, and loudly in Pilgrim’s case. A light sleeper, I could not sleep in the same room with him, which made him more anxious. Earplugs helped but by then my dormant mothering instinct was in overdrive, listening for the boy’s discomfort through the foam in my ears, much like I imagine new mothers do with baby monitors.

Pilgrim would sleep for two hours and wake up panting and whimpering. Shaun took the night shift while I tried to sleep. Still, I’d wake up at least once, sometimes twice, and help with the lifting. Our world had collapsed into care of the dog. We were zombies with only enough brainpower to question whether we had made the wrong decision.

At dawn on the third Saturday, two weeks and a night after Pilgrim came home, I lost it. I screamed and yelled at Shaun, blaming him for Pilgrim’s accident, and broke down in impossible sobs. I am by nature not a crier let alone a sobber. I am a suck-it-upper. Though I probably hadn’t slept more than three hours at a time in two weeks, it still was ugly and unfair.

We had decided to call in reinforcements some and I had made arrangements for an acquaintance to come by at noon that day to spell us so we could sleep or leave the house. Clinging to this lifeline, I watched the clock all morning. Miscommunication translated into a no-show. We were on our own.

Shaun’s breakdown followed the next night. He had Pilgrim in the living room, in front, while I tried to work in the back. I heard a choking, gasping sound. Pilgrim was on his dog bed, panting and looking sad. Shaun was sitting on the floor, head bent over the dog, and sobbing, tears running off his face onto Pilgrim’s mahogany coat. “Pilly, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” he wept. “What have we done?”

That “darkest before the dawn” adage is a bunch of crap. Darkness can last a long, long time.

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