Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rewind (Part 4): The Storm & Beyond

We did not go to the park tonight. Instead we crossed Pierce and walked down Leawood. The night was big and clear and warm, the first such night we've had since last week's snow. Duncan was anxious to get out and gallop, especially now that he sees the snow retreating, pulling back from around the trunks of the trees, leaving yellow and green circles of grass in its place, slush piling up in mounds along the curbs and the edges of the sidewalks. He is not a casual admirer of snow, my dog.

I was thinking of the storm that hit Denver a year ago tonight. It had been kind enough to provide an appetizer of sorts that Monday afternoon, and by five o'clock the main course was on its way and I was in hurry, driving down Santa Fe to 6th, where I headed east to pick up Duncan from Firehouse Animal Center.

Before the storm had moved in Ken had been lucky enough to pick him up from Alameda East, where his last night had been uneventful. He'd hurried him to our vets where he was rushed through an x-ray which determined that yes, there was a blockage and yes, it should have been removed 24 hours earlier. As comforting as surgery would've been that terrible Sunday, Ken and I felt infinitely more confident with people we knew and trusted. Alameda East was good to him, although not quite as good to us. I could tell you that perhaps their priorities are not in the right place and that they seemed much more concerned with maintaining the image they'd cultivated on their Animal Planet television show, but I won't. Instead I'll tell you that eventually–nearly a month later–the Board did finally get around to approving the grant I'd applied for to prevent financial euthanasia.

Doctor McCarty performed Duncan's surgery almost immediately after the x-rays came back, and throughout the day the staff was kind enough to call and keep me updated as to his progress. But then late in the afternoon, when news of the coming snow began to whisper down from important places, they called and urged me to get there soon in order to take him home where I could keep my eye on him throughout the night. They feared, and rightfully so, that they wouldn't be able to make it to work the next morning and didn't want Duncan left without care.

I raced to pick him and once there hugged everyone: tall, happy Dr. Rogers, who seemed surprised, the mannish tech in the the back room who was tending to Dunc, and the tall, gay guy who presides over the telephone at the front desk. I cried when they took me in back to see him. He was on his side in a cage, needles and tubes sticking out of his foreleg. His eyes were closed, but the lids were open just enough so that I could see the rolling whites under them. He smelled terrible, like medicine and antiseptic. His belly, which had been shaved, was a shade of pink I did not know existed outside of Disneyland. A large raw wound ran down the middle of his abdomen, the stitches black and clotted with small balls of dried blood. His leg and shoulder had also been shaved, for his IV and the pain patch that they'd given him. He hardly seemed to register what was going on.

I knelt down next to him, put my hand on his warm shoulder and whispered in his ear, "These are my favorite parts of The Duncan: the ears," which I kissed and stroked. "The cheeks," which I smoothed with the back of my fingers. "And the paws," which I squeezed reassuringly. When he heard my voice and smelled me, he lurched awkwardly and tried to rise but couldn't without groaning. I cried again while the techs cleaned him up, removed the needles, unhooked the tubes. Doctor Rogers spent extra time with me explaining the medicine, explaining how I should feed him, when to give him his antibiotics and pain killers, how to help him outside when he had to pee, what to expect. Doctor McCarty was in another emergency surgery but I was allowed to peek my head in and thank him. The staff helped me load my weak, barely coherent dog into my car and wished me well, reminding me that he had to be back at seven o'clock the following morning.

It took me nearly an hour to drive home through the falling snow. The sky was filled to capacity with clouds and the flakes were growing larger and falling harder. Cars parked on the sides of the street began to vanish, trees sagged under the weight and the street lamps were little more than glowing orange balls way up high, the light hardly reaching the ground. Slowly we went, navigating the hills, sliding through stop signs on blessedly empty roads. Finally we reached home and I coaxed Duncan inside where I arranged his pillow and a blanket next to the fireplace. It would be the place he'd lay for the next three days, getting up only to stagger outside every couple of hours to squat or hunch up, his legs shaking beneath him. The snow buried our yard and overrode the brick wall surrounding our patio. We did not have a shovel so I spent an hour pacing back and forth in a square spot I'd carved out by the repeated tromping of my feet. I mashed the snow down tight and created a path for Duncan when he needed to come outside. And because it was important to keep his stitched dry, I put him in one of my t-shirts, tying the loose end up on his back to keep him from tripping on it. We brought his food and water to him and practically laughed as we watched him eat ravenously. I spent much of that first time laying next to him, my arm draped carefully over his body. He slept heavily but moaned lightly, little more than a thin, transparent whine that did not wake him but haunted me. When Ken got home late that night he found me sleeping on the floor next to my dog.

It snowed all night and by the time I had loaded Duncan into the car for his return to Firehouse, school had been canceled, as had Ken's flight out of Denver. It took me nearly an hour and a half to get back to the clinic and no sooner had I returned home–two hours later–than they called and urged me to come back; they were closing early because of the storm. I spent much of that day driving on roads that no one should have driven on, except in plows and sanders. And when school and flights out of Denver were canceled for the rest of the week, Ken and I had to figure out how to get Duncan to Idaho to spend the holiday with my family. We weren't even sure the doctors would let him travel, which meant our adventure had not quite seen it's final days.

* * * *

Leawood was dark and the south side of the street had turned to slush which had then frozen into a treacherous path which alternated between crags and ruts and smooth, polished glass. I'd hoped the houses would be warmly lit and decorated. It's a neighborhood I like because the homes remind me of the neighborhood of my youth. But very few of them were lit up, aside from the obligatory tree in the window. It was a dark and difficult walk but as we moved slowly down the hill toward the elementary school I thought back to that night one year ago when the dog who was now dragging me couldn't stand on his own feet, couldn't hold his head up, but was never allowed to forgot which parts of him were his papa's favorite.

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