In my life, there has been a clear and obvious trend that I no longer try to avoid. It’s called, “The universal law of everything all at once.” What this means is, if the universe has something on my plate, it’s a buffet-style helping and I’m about to do some heavy throwing up.
This has been illustrated quite clearly in my most recent Pug debacle.
A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law got us tickets to come and visit her and my father-in-law in Las Vegas. Don’t get too excited. We lived in Vegas for about 6 years, so I have already learned my lessons about loose slots and the dangers of dancing girls. No, the plan was to go and have a relaxing time hanging out with family and maybe seeing a show downtown that did not involve exposed breasts.
Yes. I said breasts. Let’s all try to focus, shall we?
Anyway, there was a lot about this scenario that was already a little stressful. Kyle is mortally terrified of flying and is pretty sure that God is out to get him. My daughter is one of the loudest singers on the planet, especially in confined spaces. Our dog, Turk, is a horrible, awful, disgusting monster that will eat anything in front of him. In fact, right before he left, he got into my trash can and ate an entire tampon or two.
Yes. I said tampon. Are we going to have to stop every time I say something weird? If so, it’s gonna take you a LONG time to read this story.
Okay, so here’s the scene: Abigail, Kyle and I make it to Vegas with minimal screaming, crying and cursing. We hang out in Vegas and I dink around on the computer at my leisure while my mother-in-law feeds my daughter full of cookies and taquitos. Kyle and I see a show that is rated PG-13, and we’re all feeling pretty good about our vacation.
Then we get a call from the lady who is watching our dog, Turk. About 1000 miles away.
“Ummm…yeah. Your dog hasn’t eaten anything for 3 days. I’m a little worried about him.”
My dog is a PUG. Pugs eat EVERYTHING. As I have previously stated, they eat everything regardless of whether or not it is food. They eat anything that smells like it might have possibly ever been in the same room as food. Turk specifically has eaten all of these things:
- A found burrito
- Candy w/plastic wrapper
- An entire bag of cookies
- Countless stuffed animal innards
- A lion’s mane
…in addition, of course, to his most recent, disgusting acquisition of a…
“Oh my gosh,” I said. “I know what’s wrong.”
The girl on the line sounded relieved. “Great. What is it? I totally thought I was just freaking out for no reason.”
But, by that time, I was totally freaking out for a pretty good reason. My dog, Turk, my stupid, disgusting dog that would eat anything, had just eaten his way to a possibly early grave.
Of course, I was 1000 miles away. I couldn’t do anything. I love my doggy. Kyle and I had gotten him long ago, when a handful of doctors had told us we might not have kids. By the time we got pregnant with my daughter (and gave up trusting doctors FOREVER), I had already invested too much maternal love and instinct to treat him like a dog. He sleeps with us, he eats three meals a day (hope the vet’s not reading this) and will even sing with us if we make him.
Now, I realized that the hairy Baritone of our Becker family quartet was possibly in life-threatening danger. And I couldn’t do anything.
I called a friend and asked her to pick up Turk and bring him to the vet. When the vet took a look at him, they said he was dehydrated and refusing to eat. He was uncomfortable sleeping. They said that he would probably need to have surgery to remove the “material” (euphemism for “disgusting tampons”) in his stomach.
I bawled. We didn’t have the money for a dog surgery, and yet I couldn’t let the dog die because I happen to be a mammal! I had some money saved, money that I was planning on paying our taxes with at the end of the year. I told them to wait until we got there and we would figure out what to do.
Two days later, we were back in Portland, at the side of our rapidly deteriorating family member. The doctors said that the surgery needed to be done now, as the material in his stomach was fully expanded and not allowing any food through. In addition, it had started to move into his intestines, which might lead to further complications. Despite Kyle’s warnings that we didn’t have the funds to do it, I told them to go ahead. His surgery was scheduled for the following day, the day before Halloween.
In my church, sometimes we fast for things that we really want. It means that we don’t eat food or drink water on purpose for about 24 hours to show God that we’re REALLY SERIOUS about something. Lots of people fudge the numbers (including me), but this time I didn’t. Every time I thought about how hungry I was, I thought about what it would be like without Turk. Sure, he’s just a dog to you. To me, he is 25% of my tiny nuclear family unit. He’s as human as you can get without having opposable thumbs.
I ended my fast just as the doctors said his surgery would be completed. As I was eating my McNuggets and beautifully-cold root beer, I got a call.
“There’s been some problems with the surgery,” the vet assistant said.
My food went sour in my mouth. “What happened?”
“When the doctor went in, the two tampons had twisted around each other. One side was stuck in his stomach, while the other one was pulled down into his large intestine. It’s kind of like having a plug in your bathtub with an anchor underneath.”
“Okay…so…what does that mean?”
She sighs and speaks with trepedation. “It means that the large intestine twisted around the string, causing multiple perforations in the intestine. The only way to save him was to remove a large section, about a foot long.”
I was stunned. What I thought was going to be an unfortunate, but necessary, surgery (that would consist of unzipping his stomach and zipping it back up again) had turned into a full-on Frankenstein-monster moment.
“Right now they are suturing his remaining intestines to his stomach. The problem is, we don’t know if there was enough undamaged intestine for the suture to heal correctly. He has about a 50/50 chance of recovery if he lives through the night.”
After days of crying and praying and fasting and hoping that things would turn out okay, this was devastating news. I thanked her and tried to hold it together for the rest of the day. Later, after checking in and finding that he would need overnight care at the pet ER, Abigail and I went to a Halloween party. It seems counterintuitive, but made so much sense. I needed an affirmation of life.
We went and danced. Abigail and I rocked and jumped around the little community center, playing in the strobes lights and dancing until we were red in the face and aching in the sides. So much pressure, so much stress, poured out of me. I scream-sang the lyrics to “We Are Young,” and “Time Warp,” not caring that everyone in the building could hear me. I didn’t mind that I was the only person over the age of 12 who did the “Chicken Dance,” flapping until my arm fat almost started a friction fire. I was just glad to be doing something I loved and forgetting all the things that might or might not happen in the morning.
The funny thing about that dance. I felt so alive. I felt more alive than I had in a long time. Being close to death does that to us. Whether it is a person or a pug, when you realize how close death always is, when you are faced with the honest fact that nothing, no matter how perfect it seems now, can last forever, we have two choices: We despair, or we dance.
Turk did survive. He has a gorgeous scar down his belly and I flinch every time he jumps on the couch. I am so afraid all of his guts are going to come pouring out. His walks have become harrowing and grotesque adventures. Each one is a wonderful game of, “Does that poop look normal?” And yet, he still survives to give me years of cockeyed looks and puggy bed-farts.
And I love him for it.
The cost? Well, if you don’t count the cost of the emotional trauma, the lost sleep and the work that I just couldn’t focus on, it boiled down to these numbers:
Overnight stays at the vet: $450
Overnight stay in the ER: $350
The grand total cost of the whole operation: $2,028
Having my pug eat something as disgusting as two tampons and live: Priceless
This experience has taught me the same thing all people learn when they look death in the face. I have gained the ability to appreciate all the small moments just a little better. Every ice-cold root beer, every McNugget, every dance is just a little better knowing that it can’t possibly last.
Someday, Turk will get too old to jump on the couch. He will lose interest in sexually accosting his stuffed lion in front of our church friends. Someday, Turk will die. As will I, as will you.
Still, I’m not sad that youth, and health, and beauty can’t last forever. Each of us has a tenuous grip on life as it is. The only moment that we ever really get is the one we are living right now.
But, for right now, it’ll do.