The Trials of a Dog Wearing a Donut

Annie in donut 2018

Monday, 6 a.m.

I awaken for the umpteenth time and listen for the dog. I hear her shaking her head. Along with the big blue donut around her neck that’s driving her crazy, she has an ear infection, so neither one of us can sleep. Does she need to go potty? Is she licking her incision? Is she choking on the bandage she ate last night? If she’s quiet, is she asleep or is she dead?

Seven more days. I’m not sure either one of us will survive. Annie had her second knee surgery on Thursday in Springfield, Oregon, a two-hour drive away. They don’t do this complicated bionic procedure on big dogs here in Newport. Oregon Veterinary Referral Associates is very nice, full of kind, talented people. If only they weren’t so far away. If only the air weren’t full of smoke from the various wildfires. If only it wasn’t 90 degrees out and the air conditioner on my Honda “Toaster” Element wasn’t broken. If only Annie hadn’t torn her left ACL a year and a month after she tore the ACL on her other leg.

The surgery went well, they say. After three days, Annie is beginning to put some weight on the leg. Just now when I finally got up to stay up, I found her on the easy chair in the den. “How did you do that?” I asked. She didn’t say. The leg must have worked well enough to get her up there. By the expression on her face, she doesn’t know how she’s going to get down.

I’m afraid to look at her incision. The first night, she got to it in spite of the donut, and removed several of her stitches. I mopped up a little blood and applied a bandage. I rejiggered the donut, and she doesn’t seem to be able to reach the remaining stitches. Except for church, when the neighbor doggie-sat, I have been with her constantly. Once in a while, we go for a short walk. She scoots along on three legs faster than I can walk, stopping to sniff here and there and to water the grass. Mostly we’ve been sitting on the floor. I pet her belly while reading, writing, watching videos on my tablet, or just contemplating the shocking fact that under her fur, my dog has fat thighs like me.

Last night, since I was right there, I took off the troublesome donut. She stretched out, rubbed her head on the rug in ecstasy and went to sleep. For hours. I couldn’t bear to wake her. I slipped into the other room to watch TV, checking on her at the commercials. Sleeping, sleeping . . . No! I caught her sitting up, licking her incision, bandage gone, shit-eating grin on her face.

I put the collar back on and gave her more of her six different medications while praying to God that she will be able to digest and excrete the big bandage, just as she has passed and excreted all manner of other things, including parts of a nylon collar, rubber toys, and wood. Please don’t let her need emergency surgery to remove the stupid bandage which her stupid mom left unattended and which her stupid mom absolutely cannot afford.

I contemplated a future without her. No. Please God, save us from our own stupidity.

I have told Annie that she has to live until I pay off this surgery. At least. Aside from the bandage making its way through her digestive tract, she’s healing well. Her incision looks fine. Her appetite is good, and she seems relatively happy. Except that the donut is driving her nuts because she can’t scratch her itchy ear, lick her stitches, or lick her bottom. I’m hoping the drugs help.

During my off-and-on sleep, I had wild dreams. A dog got hit by a car. My hair turned into this big bushy thing that got bigger the more I tried to control it. I won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. That was a nice one. But I’m as sleepy now as I was when I went to bed at 9:45 last night. Welcome to another doggy day.

If you have read my 2011 book Shoes Full of Sand, all of this may sound familiar. We went through two knee surgeries with Sadie, Annie’s predecessor. But Fred was here to help. They did the surgeries at our local vet’s office. Plus I was so much younger then.

On the good side, Annie’s a wonderful snuggler, and we communicate without words. I walk toward the door, suggesting she goes out. She stays put and licks her lips. No. I want to eat. I give her a pill in a chicken-flavored pill pocket, which she thinks is a treat. (God bless the people who invented pill pockets.) She interrupts my work to nose my sweatshirt and my shoes to tell me it’s time for a walk. I get up. She has me well-trained. Except that now she’s telling me she wants the donut gone. Not happening.

The car goes to the shop tomorrow for a whole day of repairs. $1,400. Turns out the air conditioner wasn’t all that was broken on the trusty toaster, which has covered a lot of miles this year.

God willing, we will survive this, but it’s going to be a long, long week.

 

 

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We’re Never Too Old to Sing and Play

Gus & Trish 91315
Gus Willemin and Trish Morningstar at the South Beach open mic

 

I was sitting at the piano at the Saturday evening Mass when I got a vision of me and my three-woman choir in Newport, Oregon being echoed at churches all over the world, singing and chanting the same songs at the same Mass. It was beautiful.

Behind me that night sat two visiting couples, probably in their 70s. Both of the men sang out, one in a strong voice, the other in a reedy rasp. Both came up to talk afterward. The burly guy from Vancouver thanked me for lowering the key on a couple of the songs, making them easier to sing. The other man, thin, balding, with an earring in his left ear, shared that he is losing his voice to cancer. “Did any of you girls ever smoke?” he asked us. We shook our heads. “Well, good.”

All three of my Saturday singers are over 70. I’m getting closer every day. Our Sunday choir also has its share of septuagenarians. But none of these singers are “geezers.” Nobody is ready to settle in their easy chair to watch TV till they die. In fact, they’re so active it’s difficult to keep up with their schedules, whether they’re singing with Sweet Adelines, hosting charity events, working at the rec center, serving as Master Gardeners, taking classes, visiting grandchildren, or traveling to the Bahamas.

To most of the congregation, I’m a fixture. They only see the back of my head, if they can see me at all. The music automatically happens. Maybe the teenagers think I’m corny with my button earrings and my pixie cut hair playing the moldy old songs like “Holy Holy Holy,” then rocking out to “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness.” But I catch the little kids staring at me as they come up for Communion. When I smile at them, they smile back, star struck. The piano lady smiled at me!

Of course to some of them I’m the guitar lady because I play for the kids in the religious education on Wednesday nights. Some of our big hits are “Alle, Alle, Alleluia” and “The Butterfly Song.” The little kids sing with gusto, but when they become teenagers, they seem to lose their enthusiasm for the music. Why is that? Will they get it back when they’re old like me? It’s hard for me to understand because I never stopped loving music.

I had a very musical weekend. Every Friday from 3 to 5 p.m., the Waldport song circle meets at the community center. We have a blend of “young” guitar guys just starting to turn gray, a steady group in their 70s and 80s, and Doug, 97, who can’t wait to get to the piano. The music is rarely perfect, but it feels good.

Yesterday, we had our monthly South Beach open mic—second Sunday, 5 to7 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center. Again, it’s a majority of gray hairs. We get ukuleles, mandolins, guitars, fiddles, flutes, saxophones, cellos, and drums. We sing gospel, folk, rock, pop, Beatles, Dylan, Grateful Dead. Anything goes. We accompany each other and harmonize. This wave of sound builds up. Riding it is better than surfing, I swear.

We share a language of music in common, songs that we all know from school, church, the radio, and American Bandstand: “This Little Light of Mine,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” We grew up in an era when teachers made time for music. I remember loving those thick books full of songs that we sang while teachers played clunky old school pianos. “Waltzing Matilda,” “Funiculi Funicula,” “Little Brown Jug.” Do you remember? I wonder if children do that at all now.

Kids whose parents can afford it, still take music lessons, but do they get together and just sing? Are they too busy fiddling with their phones? Do they think listening to Granddad strum and sing is too corny to think about?

We old folks are still learning new songs and new skills. We battle arthritis and hearing aids. We struggle to figure out which pair of glasses will let us actually read the sheet music, but there are too many great songs to ever stop. We may have to lower the key a little these days, but like that man at church who is losing his voice to cancer, we’re going to sing until we can’t sing anymore. Then, like one of my favorite songs says, we’ll whistle, and when we can’t do that, we’ll listen.

I Can’t Believe It’s All Happening Again

Remember last year when my father broke his leg, a tree crushed my fence and part of my house and my dog had knee surgery for a torn ACL all within three months? And then the west was on fire all summer?

Well, ditto for 2018. It’s déjà vu bigtime.

This June, I traveled south to California to help my dad. I had visions of making major progress with the house, yard, his caregivers and his doctor appointments. He was not doing well. His leg never really healed, so he was still using a walker. He had fallen recently, only skinned his knees, but needed the paramedics to scoop him off the pavement in the back yard. He complained about blurry vision, his clothes getting too loose, and being tired all the time. He obsessed over the gardening and other tasks not getting done.

I thought I would swoop in and fix everything. Instead I woke up on the second day with the stomach flu and couldn’t move beyond the bathroom for the next 48 hours. I didn’t feel much better until a week after I got home. I helped as much as I could, cleaning house, pulling weeds, and running errands while trying not to puke, but didn’t do nearly as much as I wanted to. Dad said, “I didn’t expect you to work.” Yeah. I can just hear him telling people, “She was here for over a week and didn’t do a damn thing.”

The day I got back to South Beach, I picked Annie up at the kennel. I didn’t leave her home with the neighbor feeding her this time because she had been barking for two weeks straight at the bear prowling through our neighborhood. Ten days of that would surely cause the neighbors to lose their minds.

We were overjoyed to see each other. But as I settled in the back yard with the cell phone to make some calls, I noticed my dog suddenly holding up her back left leg. She couldn’t put any weight on it. No. I just paid off the last surgery. Dear God, let it be a thorn or a hangnail, but I already knew what it was. In big dogs like her, when one knee goes, the other is almost sure to follow. The vet confirmed my diagnosis, torn anterior cruciate ligament. Yesterday I found myself back on the road to Springfield to meet with the surgeon, a cheery fellow who said, “Same song, second verse.” We scheduled surgery for Aug. 16. Here we go again.

Once again driving I-5, the air was hazy with smoke from Oregon’s wildfires. Like last year, fires are blazing all the over the West, including a horrific blaze in Redding, and others near Yosemite and Clear Lake, where my brother and my cousins live. The fires seem bigger and harder to control this year. Here’s a link to information about some of the worst California blazes. Please God, watch over the firefighters and help them stop the fires.

And then there’s Dad. On July 25, a year after I sprung him from the nursing home to start his new broken-leg regime at the house with paid caregivers, he fell again. Blood all over the kitchen again. He called my aunt on his cell phone again. The paramedics came again. They had to break the screen door, which he keeps locked. This time, his legs and hips are intact, but he needed 11 stitches on his left arm and has damaged his right shoulder, which means that none of his limbs work as they should. But he refuses to go to “rehab” or have nurses from Kaiser come to the house. He’s a stubborn old cat. He sees his doctor on Aug. 10.

What if dog and dad both need my attention at the same time, 700 miles apart? Annie does not travel well, and I can only lift her 75 pound hulk into the car so many times before my osteoporotic spine crumbles into a pile of shattered bone. Plus Dad would probably trip over the dog. I spent last year running back and forth trying to deal with everything at once. I’m trying not to think about it.

So no tree trouble this year, right? Not exactly. When that other monster tree tried to eat my house, another tree fell at the far end of the yard. The weather was so bad I didn’t see it, didn’t get it included in the insurance claim. It’s still lying on the fence. Yesterday I noticed another tree is leaning on the fence and yet another is resting atop the woodshed. I can’t afford to pay someone to deal with them, so they sit. At least the limpy dog can’t jump over the sagging fences. Also, the bear has moved on, or Annie is too stoned on painkillers to bark about it.

So, déjà vu. I’m using the definition loosely. Actually the phrase does not mean having the same thing happen twice. It’s having the feeling that you have experienced something before. The urban dictionary translates it from the French as “already seen.” Yep, seen it, done it, did not get the T-shirt.

I have to go find Annie’s inflatable collar. Hey God, stop laughing at me.

Click below for a few refreshers on the events of 2017.

“On the Road to California Again” 

“It’s Knees to Me. Annie Preps for Surgery” 

“It’s All About the Dog These Days” 

“Choking in Smoke as the West Burns” 

“If a Tree Falls, It Breaks the Fence”

If you want to read even more past posts in a handy all-in-one-place format, consider buying a copy of my book Unleashed in Oregon: Best from the Blog. (Sorry for the plug, but gee, if you buy a book, it will make me feel better.)

The highway feels a lot longer on foot

IMG_20180714_194816022_HDR[1]When yet another head-on crash closed Highway 101 just a half mile north of my home in South Beach, Oregon, Saturday, I worried about getting to church to play piano at the evening Mass. There is no other road. Back in May, I sat for hours behind a similar accident. It was miserable, but I had nowhere to go but home. Now, as I listened to the sirens and checked the news, I wondered: Should I try to walk to Newport?

It was a sunny afternoon, ominously quiet without the usual highway noise. Those stuck in line no doubt shut off their engines to save gas. I read on News Lincoln County that one woman was running out of oxygen and put out a 911 call to the fire department. One crash victim was being loaded on a Life Flight helicopter. Another would be transported by ambulance. Photos online showed debris all over the northbound lane. It would take forever to clean it up.

Should I walk? I put on my comfortable shoes and loaded up a bag. But I hesitated. The accident happened at 12:50 p.m. It was 2:30. Emergency responders were working on clearing the road. Tripcheck.com said it would be closed for up to two hours. Maybe the road would be open. My music books were awfully heavy.

In the end, I took a chance on the road being open. When I ventured out in my car at 3:30, traffic was moving. Cars were backed up all the way through Newport to the north and back to Beaver Creek to the south, but I arrived at church on time.

After Mass, I was itching to find out whether I actually could have walked it. After dinner, I tricked Annie by taking the garbage out and then going on down the road. Soon I was on Highway 101, cars whooshing past too close for comfort. The four-foot bike lane felt far too narrow.

The road rapidly becomes a tunnel of trees and cliffs on both sides, mud, grass and dirt along the road littered with coffee cups, cigarette butts, and other debris. I felt conspicuous in my pink shirt walking where people don’t usually walk. I envisioned getting mowed down by a car. I’d make the news as an “elderly woman” with no ID, just a cell phone and a key attached to a whistle.

The road goes uphill and down, in and out of a tsunami zone. On the east side, water trickles under the ferns and fir trees. In an opening on the west, sun rays beamed through the trees on a swampy area filled with blooming purple foxglove. It would have been pretty but for the lethal vehicles flying past me at 60 mph. I decided I would only go as far as the Newport airport.

The road widened out at the turnoff. At 7:30 on a Saturday night, the airport was deserted. Two small planes and an orange Coast Guard helicopter sat on the tarmac beyond the chain link fence. In the light breeze, the windsock pointed due north.

Feeling small in that big area of buildings and runways, I snapped photos and started back, humbled about my earlier plan to walk to town. This was only a little over a mile, and I felt tired. It was four miles to the bridge, six miles to church. I pictured myself sitting on the ground in a puddle of sweat, defeated. Walking on the highway is not like walking the dog in the woods, stopping here and there for her to sniff and pee. It’s a forced march on concrete, expecting to get killed any second.

I couldn’t help thinking about P.D., the main character in my Up Beaver Creek novel. In the story, she and Janie walk much farther than I did. They are younger and in better shape. But there are also no moving cars.

In my imagination, I picture Highway 101 wide open, with couples, singles, and families with kids and dogs safely strolling on a pleasant summer night or making a pilgrimage during the heat of the day to get food and water. People would talk to each other, maybe even sing. Perhaps someone could install a few benches to rest. The trash would get cleaned up once people saw it up close, and the road could become a pleasant gathering place.

But commuting to work would be tough. And what if it was raining or snowing?

Yesterday morning, driving to church, I passed the airport in my car. It took about two minutes, compared to my 45-minute expedition Saturday night.

Could I walk to town in a pinch? I could. It would take an hour and half to two hours, and it wouldn’t be pretty. I’d be sore for a week, but I could do it. When the tsunami comes, it’s quite possible our cars will be useless. We will need to seek alternatives. I’m thinking I need a bicycle or a horse.

I have not been able to find out much about the accident victims, but it was a bad crash. Keep them in your prayers. Please stay safe out there!

*********

Annie is still waiting for her appointment with the surgeon to fix the torn ligament in her knee. She wants to go on long walks in spite of her gimpy leg, but she’s not up to it these days. For me, walking without her is just not the same. Give her a few months, and she’ll be back at it.

Up Beaver Creek launch draws a crowd

Sue signing books 7818I’m a worrier. As Sunday, July 8, the date of my book launch party for my novel Up Beaver Creek approached, I kept thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I’d get sick. My father would get sick. The notice wouldn’t get in the newspapers. The cake would not be ready. My copies of the book would not come in time. Nobody would come. It has happened before, and I was competing with the county fair, a rally to support justice for immigrants, and summer vacation.

I knew I was doomed when Sheryl from the library called me late Friday to tell me there had been a mistake and the meeting room had been double-booked. Oh no! But I had told everybody, what would I do? Panic! She said she would ask the other, smaller group to use the conference room. Still, as I approached the library yesterday, I prayed. “Please, please, please, God.” By then, I had the cake, I had the books, and I had assurances from friends that they were coming. But still . . .

I entered the library upstairs, said hello to the boy and girl sculpture by the door, waved to a friend, and hurried down the stairs, still praying the other group would not be in the room. What if . . . ?

Breathe out. The room was empty. Librarian Jan was ready for me with a sign-in form and a key to the storage room so I could get out the chairs and the coffee pot. Thank God.

What followed was the book party of my dreams. Friends and strangers poured in. We needed more chairs. They liked my talk. They laughed at my jokes. They praised my writing. They bought my book and lined up for autographs. I even got the flowers I had fantasized about, thanks to sweet friend Ashley. Friends stepped up to help with book sales, setting up chairs, and serving cake, which everyone said was delicious. Thank you, JC Market.

This might sound weird, but it was like getting all the acclaim the deceased might receive at a funeral but being alive to enjoy it. Writing is a lonely business in which rejections far outnumber acceptances for most of us. Bad reviews will come. Sales will slow to a trickle. But I’ll be feeding off the validation of this book launch for a long time.

Last night as Annie and I finished our short limp around the block, a friend called to tell me she had already read 100 pages and was loving the book. Wow. Something I wrote did that?

I’m so blessed. I just keep thanking God.

Up Beaver Creek is available at Amazon.com and should be available for order through your local bookstores via Ingram. (Somebody try it and see if it works.) I need to set up more talks and readings and spread the book far and wide. It will give me more to worry about, but publicity and marketing are part of the writing business these days. Your suggestions are welcome.

Thank you to everyone who helped, especially Pat, Trish, Sandy, Ashley, and Sheryl. You rock.

Remembering San Jose as It Used to Be

IMG_20180626_150901406[1]Sitting in an over air-conditioned Jack in the Box restaurant at the corner of Branham Lane and Almaden Expressway in San Jose the other day, my father sipped his chocolate milkshake and smiled at the irony. When he was a boy, this was the site of the Five Mile House saloon. Across Almaden was Ed Mullins’ general store. His Grandpa Joe and Grandma Louise Fagalde lived across Branham just west of the Guadalupe River. They had a house, a small orchard, a vineyard, horses, a fish pond, and in later years a service station with a little store.

Joe didn’t know much about cars. When my dad would come to visit as a teenager, he’d urge him to drive, saying, “Hey, kid, let’s go for a ride.” But with the help of his sons and niece Irene, they made it work. For my father, growing up in the 1920s and ’30s, it was a magical place where his grandfather spoke several languages, piloted a horse-driven water truck to wet down the dirt roads, had horses so trained they’d obey him like dogs, and a parrot who would call “Hey Joe!” in exactly the same voice as Grandma Louise, driving him nuts.

There was no bridge over the creek, but a graveled crossing, which Joe rebuilt after it washed out every winter.

The two-story house didn’t have electricity when Dad was young. Later, it just had one light bulb hanging in each room. There were no plugs; there was nothing to plug in. They used an outhouse, cooked on a wood stove, and stored food in an ice box, yet they had wonderful family gatherings where somehow the women produced a feast without any modern conveniences.

Looking across the six busy lanes of Branham Lane now, we could see a two-story retail building which offered manicures, eyelash extensions, computer service, a dentist’s office, and some kind of car repair. The creek was all that remained of the old homestead. The Fagalde property was sold in the 1960s after both grandparents had passed on. Changes were happening all over Santa Clara Valley. The land of orchards and dirt roads on which Dad occasionally road horses between his parents’ place on Dry Creek Road and his grandparents’ home on Branham Lane disappeared. But in his mind, he could still see it.

We had been touring the sites of Dad’s youth. I laughed when I came to the intersection and saw the Jack in the Box. I had been looking for a place to get a burger. Now we could park and really study the place. Afterward, I drove through the parking lot across the street to get a closer look. Dumpsters stood where the outhouse used to be. The creek, where it was not blocked by trees, still had water in it. And the occasional shopping cart.

“You should write a book about it,” my father kept saying. Maybe I will. If not a book, something. When the physical evidence is gone, how can anyone otherwise know what came before, that it wasn’t always a nail salon and a Jack in the Box, that once people ate ice cream at Mullins’ store, stopped for a drink at the Five Mile House, and heard a parrot shout “Hey Joe!” behind the service station?

I’m 30 years younger than my father, but a lot of what I remember in San Jose is gone, too. We have to tell our stories.

******************

Speaking of stories, the launch party for my new novel Up Beaver Creek is next Sunday, July 8 at 2:00 at the Newport, Oregon library. Come hear about the book and help me celebrate its publication. You can buy it now on Amazon.com or order it at your local bookstore.