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Interspecies Soul Mates

Fourth of July hike, 2011, Camel’s Hump, Vermont

          While my soul mate vomited and collapsed into a lethargic heap of feverish black and cinnamon fur—looking nothing like the charismatic German Shepherd I knew—I heard an echo, as if the words from a recent journal entry leapt from the page: “My greatest fear is losing Brady.” I raced him to the emergency hospital that sunny Sunday afternoon, whispering: “Everything will be okay,” while fretting that it wouldn’t.

We had just returned from Brady’s ‘five-star’ vacation in Vermont at my dad’s house. This meant swimming. We swam in pristine Lake Willoughby right next to the “No dogs allowed at the beach” sign. Brady jutted his head out by mine as I stretched my lanky legs to keep up. We perfected synchronized swimming. 

“Are we going to the doggy Olympics this year?” I whispered. 

“You did this just for me and I love it,” I heard him reply.

That vacation seemed light years away as Brady endured hours of prodding in a sterile room under fluorescent lights. In between tests, he nestled on my lap while I caressed the thick cream and tan swath on his cheeks. I played Krishna Das chants to soothe us until my iPhone battery died. 

“His fever is so high that we want to keep him overnight on fluids until we have a diagnosis,” the head veterinarian said as she popped her blonde head in our room.

“Dr. Whitney, please treat him as you would a human. I will see him through this no matter what,” I said. 

The vet tech put Brady on the hospital’s leash, and handed his worn blue leash and embroidered collar to me for safekeeping. This small gesture underscored the disquieting reality that Brady was staying there without me. It was as if my husband had admitted me to the hospital, and the nurses gave him my jewelry in an envelope. 

As overnight stretched into several days with no diagnosis and no abating of symptoms, I showed up with a backpack loaded with salad, his purple bear, dried chicken, books, and my laptop. We had a room of our own during visiting hours, albeit one with a pungent bleach bouquet, but that could not keep me away. I curled up next to my boy from morning to bedtime as the IV machine pumped fluids into his ailing body.

When Brady placed his head on my lap, I stroked his velvety coat and he let out a stress-relieving cross between a groan and a yawn. It was a grawn. “I would rather be with you than anywhere else in the world, even if it’s doggy lockdown,” I said. Over and over again. “My fearless warrior, you are,” I heard him reply. Endorphins and dopamine rushed through us and our serotonin levels spiked. They must have heard our hums of contentment in the hallways. This was just one of our interspecies bonding practices that we used to displace bad news for another day. 

Dr. Whitney burst in on our snuggling session one afternoon with the answer I wasn’t looking for. “Brady tested positive for Leptospirosis. He has acute renal failure,” she said. 

“Uh uh. He was vaccinated for Lepto,” I said.

She shook her head. “The Lepto vaccination is problematic. Was Brady swimming in any rivers or streams recently?” 

I recalled our vacation in Vermont and fessed up soberly. “It’s not your fault, Michelle,” she said, tilting her head.  But Brady’s dream vacation is becoming his bucket list vacation, I thought.

“He could be here for an indefinite period, and he will have to be attached to the IV machine 24 hours a day through a catheter inserted into his veins,” she said. 

“Give him every treatment he needs. I would give him my own kidney if it were compatible,” I said calmly while my heart screamed. 

I logged into my Johns Hopkins alumni library account that night to become an expert on kidney failure and Leptospirosis. Leptospira are spirochetes, one of the most aggressive forms of bacteriaSince I myself had been fighting spirochetal Lyme disease for a few years, I realized just what we were up against. My bedside table quickly became covered in pieces of paper with creatinine and BUN kidney levels that I got from my morning calls to the hospital, but I didn’t waver in my fight to save my soul mate dog’s life.

My husband had always somewhat jokingly referred to Brady as “my wife’s fiancé.” But I had never experienced love at first sight until I stared into this puppy’s intent bluish brown eyes five years earlier. Something supernatural must have happened between us because I don’t know how else to account for it. No one took our situation lightly. A team of people were praying and meditating for Brady. My husband was flying in from his job across the country to spend the weekends with Brady at the hospital. He brought home-cooked meals of salmon and filet mignon, and coaxed Brady to eat when no one else could. I was about to put my mail on forward to the emergency hospital. 

But the IV machine had become Brady’s critical prosthetic. Our new abnormal kept us at the brink of death’s call. It was time for epic reinforcements, time to bring in the person who taught me how to listen to Brady, how to become fluent in the language of dog.

This post is based on Michelle Slater’s [unpublished] memoir: Soul Mate Dog: Becoming Fluent in the Language of Dog, a unique twenty-first century love story that explores animal communication and the philosophical relationship between dogs and humans. It’s based on a medical journey, one that vets have said needs to be told.

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A Vignette from the Lyme Timeline

This week’s post is an excerpt from my unpublished memoir Starving to Heal in Siberia: My Radical Recovery from Late-Stage Lyme Disease, chapter one: Vignettes from the Lyme Timeline. It recapitulates a theme from One Me: Lovable As is.

Michelle’s Point of View, June, 2015: Jackson Hole, WY

And poets are what we need when ill, not prose writers. In illness words seem to possess a mystic quality. –Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill”

I awoke from the stupor of sleep to see the sun rise in shades of periwinkle through the window, filtered through my fog.  I felt no trace of my characteristic delight in the sun’s beauty, though, nor did I feel my early morning optimism about the day. In fact, I wasn’t sure where I was, or who I was.

Then, I heard Dmitri’s familiar voice having a work conversation on his phone. There was an anniversary card with a photo of a boy holding a rose in his teeth standing on my bedside table. “Ah, Jackson Hole,” I sighed as I remembered.

As the sun rose higher, I felt mocked by the hope of its raspberry rays. For, there would be no horseback riding together through rugged rivers that day, nor would there be any vigorous hiking below the spires of the Tetons. Dmitri waved at me from the balcony, his Slavic grayish blue eyes smiling at me. Our long-standing code on vacations was that early mornings were for working, and we would meet up later; we had always respected one another’s work ethics. Only I had no work to do.

In largo tempo, I pulled on my jeans and sweater. I ambled down to the coffee shop on the corner, journal clutched in my aching hands. I sat down with an almond milk latté to scrawl out some words, desperate to chart my heightening sense of disorientation. With each sip and each written word, I tried to find my way out of the fog.

My brain, or is it still a brain,

and is it my brain,

is floating away in largo tempo,

as if on a lethargic current of air.

Strident calls from my psoas and lumbar

mute my thoughts.

All I hear is their crescendo through my back and limbs,

reminding me that I am in this broken body,

and it is mine.

The sun is rising in Jackson Hole

but I am in its shadow

for no raspberry rays shine in these parts.

Where have I to go this morning?

There is no manuscript to write,

There is no class to teach.

Replete with the angst of purposeless,

I make the attainment of coffee my primary goal.

Tabula rasa after two Master’s Degrees and a Ph.D.

How does one confront a blank slate, when

one’s brain has been replaced with a stranger’s brain?

When one’s brain is the other?

What can be written on a blank slate when one doesn’t have the

crittheory brain,

the music brain, the lit brain that one once had?

And this slate? It is broken.

The pieces have been saved,

but they don’t fit together.

Shards are missing.

Tabula rasa, on a broken slate,

a failed synecdoche.

Yet.

This discursive narrative

leaves me cleaving to a new handmade

axiom, “One Miche: Lovable As Is”

as if I were a used commodity. As Is.

Crittheory brain, music brain, lit brain, could not love this Miche

as is.

Too slow, memory faulty, fallible, unable to produce,

but broken-slate Miche with the other’s brain

has had it with these Sisyphean pursuits and echoes

“Lovable As Is.”

As is.