NOTE: I’ve been hooked on David Bowie’s “Changes,” the lyrics of it, and the lyrics of other of his songs that have saved portions of my life. I’m excited, ecstatic about the changes Obama’s going to bring, and I’m ready to make changes in my lifestyle that might facilitate his changes. I’ve been through a difficult block of change, a three-for-one package deal, a combo career, geographical, and relationship change that spawned this piece. But changes in the dog, my truest friend of almost 14 years, are where my heart’s at lately. I’ve pushed this aside since the wee hours of October 21st when it happened, but it’s been nipping at my heels so I’m letting it out into the front yard.
We’d rushed Nova to the emergency veterinary hospital. I’d filled out the initial paperwork and been briefed by the doctor. It looked like a vestibular episode, he’d said, and it was decided to leave him there for an estimated twenty-four hours for supportive care and testing. I wrapped up the paperwork and dropped a $500 deposit. Then they led me to the back so I could say goodnight. I was afraid I’d be saying goodbye, not goodnight, and I could tell I had only a limited amount of time before I broke down. I slapped at both sides of my face just hard enough to sting a bit to keep me with the program. I needed just enough time to go back there and tell my boy the plan like I always do when we have to part.
The back room was a sea of tables and equipment. Nova was lying on his side flanked by the vet and an assistant. He was stabilized, an IV needle in his left arm. The vet smiled at me. Not a pointless smile, but one that actually had some love and strength in it. He seemed a great guy, so calm, so easy going and personable, and very knowledgeable from what I could tell. I went around to the back of the table where it looked like I could get the best access to Nova’s head, so I could whisper in his ear. I whispered, I prayed, I spoke to him, and spoke and spoke, all the words and phrases he loved to hear. He opened his eyes and lifted his head toward me. I held him. I kissed him. I told him I loved him. I said he needed to stay here for awhile and I’d be back to get him as soon as I got the word.
I walked back around the table and he struggled to get up to go with me, his eyes full on me, brightening with intent and hope. That show of love and loyalty about killed me and I almost lost it. I went back to the side of the table and told him the plan again. I kissed him again and squeezed his arm meaning I’m serious, he needs to stay. The assistant finally stepped in and attended to him and I headed for the door. I wasn’t going to make it out of the building before the meltdown. I ran into the restroom and let my heart explode. I wouldn’t need it anymore anyway. My sobs drowned out the world but my tears wouldn’t wash me away. There was no escape from the pain.
In the car on the way home in between sobbing, I went over the events of the evening trying to find a reason for all this. What had he eaten? What vaccines had he just had the other day and could they have caused a reaction with something else? What had his behavior been like the last week, two weeks, month? Were there any signs of anything weird? I was raking my brain in desperate, inefficient strokes, for something I could use, something that made sense. I flashed back over the nightmare of waking to Nova’s desperate breathing and the scuffle on the bed as he tried to right himself but kept flopping in circles. I flashed back over the rush to the telephone, the panicked dash for clothes, any clothes, the nightmare ride to the hospital. It was living hell.
The first strike against us was the time, 3:30 a.m., and the second strike was the rain that made the lights of oncoming cars on the pavement look like the surface of a glaring, blinding, watery sun. Nick was driving and I was in the back trying to hold steady a dog that was trying to flip like a fish. He vomited and then shit. And I was straddling it all, holding him to the seat back talking a greased streak of his favorite words interspersed with Dear Gods and Sweet Jesuses. Nova was all stiff and straining his head up and right, his eyes wide, wide open, the whites too visible. “Pig eye,” I call it, all up and back like a stuck, squealing pig.
So many things went through my head. I thought he was dying. I thought he wouldn’t make it to the hospital. In some sane moments along life’s path prior to this I remember trying to deal with the fact that there’d come a time he’d have to leave this planet and I’d have to say goodbye for good, and it wasn’t like this. It wasn’t him so traumatized and out of touch that I’m not sure if he even knew who I was. It was more like we had knowing eye contact and said a knowing goodbye during which I’d tell him the plan—he could go on ahead if he had to and I’d be there as soon as I could get there. Then I thought maybe it would be better, easier, him not knowing me from a lamp post. No matter how it happened I couldn’t picture my life without my best and truest buddy by my side.
And then a thought struck me, stunned me silent. These death vibes and sobs aren’t doing my boy any good. In the universal scheme of things they’re just dragging him down and putting trash vibes out there for everyone else as well. Nova’s not dead. And there’s a possibility he’ll be OK. “Believe” echoed in my head. “If ever there was a time, now is it. Believe.” And in that instant I knew where people who’ve lived through the most horrific tragedies get their power. It had been an inconceivable concept, prior, and now I could see it had to be this sort of shift from a power infinitely bigger than the smallness of my humanity.
After we’d got back home I lay in bed in what was left of the darkness, eyes wide open, my brain whirring, stuck on high. It was weird not having the boy lying at the bottom of the bed crowding my feet. But my main thoughts had become about supporting him with my belief. This episode of his could be a fluke. And I’d be no good to him if I was dead tired when the vet called in a few hours. I looked at the clock. 5:37am. I’d sleep until 8:30 then start a coffee IV drip in preparation for the vet’s call at 9:00. But I couldn’t sleep. I heard the Blues Brothers’ Peter Gunn Theme in my head. The sassy horns and the lazy-rolling, growling R’s of a sax army ran as background music to an abbreviated inquisition, “You know the ‘Nova Series’ kids’ books you were supposed to have written years ago?” Yeah. “Write them now.” Ah…OK… And Nova? “He’ll be OK…”
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