How do I begin to tell this story when I don’t know how it ends?
Scene: Christmas afternoon. My friend Pat and I have finished our takeout dinner from the Drift Inn. We’re talking. She’s sitting on the sofa and I’m on the loveseat. Between us sprawls my big yellow dog, Annie, who has shared our feast and seems delighted to have both of her favorite people here.
The phone rings. I jump up. It’s my aunt calling from Santa Clara, California. Like Pat and I, she is a widow. Her kids live nearby, but thanks to COVID, she is spending the holiday alone with homemade chicken soup. As we’re talking, Annie goes to get off the loveseat and falls, her legs giving out under her. My heart stops. She gets up, falls again. Trying to get to the back door, she rises and falls repeatedly, finally makes it outside. I see her trying to go to the bathroom and falling. I have to get off the phone.
What follows is a nightmare. It’s raining hard. It’s almost dark. Annie keeps trying to walk and falling down. I don’t know what to do. I call the local vet’s office. This being Christmas, they’re closed. I can go to Corvallis, 55 miles away, or Springfield, a hundred miles away. I don’t like to drive the mountain roads in the dark, but this is my Annie, my life companion now that Fred is gone. I will do anything for her. I call Corvallis and tell them we’re coming. Now it’s completely dark. When I go back out, I find Annie huddled in the muddy space between the patio and the garden shed. I squeeze in, but she won’t move. I can’t lift her and I don’t want to drag her. We’re both soaked.
I can’t get her into the car alone. My friend Pat has vertigo and back issues and can’t help. I call my neighbors, Pat and Paula, and they come. They can’t lift Annie either. I bring out her big blue blanket and they wrap her like a burrito. Gradually we get her to the gate and into the Honda Element.
6:30 p.m. White-knuckle drive to Corvallis. The 24-hour vet is in a dark industrial area. Because of COVID, pet owners must sit in the parking lot while their pets are cared for. Young aides take Annie away on a gurney, and I sit for four hours, rain sheeting down my windows.
1:15 a.m. Christmas is over. They bring Annie out and lift her into the car. The doctor and I, masked, stand in the rain as she shares her diagnosis. Annie has severe arthritis and this thing I’d never heard of: Vestibular Disease, which looks like a stroke, but it’s a type of vertigo. She is dizzy, nauseated and leaning hard to the left. She doesn’t know which way is up. But it will pass in a few days, they say.
Dec. 26, 2:30 a.m. At home, Annie is still crashing and falling. She refuses to move past the doorway. We spend what’s left of the night in the living room lit by Christmas lights. Toward dawn, Annie begins to whine, moan and occasionally shriek. She can’t get up at all. She refuses food, water, and pills. It’s Saturday and the local vet is still closed. I call the vet in Corvallis. She says if things don’t improve, bring her back in.
2:30 p.m. Pat and I are sitting in my car outside the vet’s office again. We are not alone. Many dog and cat owners are doing the same thing. The techs run back and forth to transport animals and get forms signed. Annie is going to stay in the hospital this time, but we’re waiting for paperwork, to talk to the doctor, to pay. It begins to rain and blow again. Pat and I chat, read, eat the snacks we brought. On my phone, we watch part of the Zoom Mass we’re missing and sing along. It gets dark. Finally, we talk to the doctor, arrange for payment, and drive home. It’s not raining this time, but the oncoming headlights are blinding. When I get home, where there is no Annie, I fall apart. Pat holds me while I cry.
I spend Sunday on my own, take a solo walk, do chores, take a cake to my helpful neighbors and hug their big Lab, Harley. As with a human in the hospital in these COVID times, I can’t visit Annie. I can only wait for the doctors to call.
Monday morning: Annie is being moved out of the ICU. She is eating and drinking, but she still can’t stand up. Her neurological symptoms have not improved. Most dogs get better in a few days or a few weeks. Some don’t.
As I try to work, I keep thinking I hear Annie walking around or shaking her tags. I think I’ll see her in the doorway or on the loveseat. The quiet is deafening.
I don’t know what the future holds. I do know that my Facebook post on Annie’s situation has drawn 121 comments, and they’re still coming in. Annie has more fans than I do, and that’s fine with me. Please pray for us both. Thank you to everyone who has shown me so much love these last few days. Kudos to the Willamette Veterinary Hospital. Although farther than I’d like to drive, I do believe they’re giving her the best possible care.
Have you heard of Vestibular Disease? People can get it, too. In fact, my friend Pat has been suffering from vertigo for quite a while. I accused her of giving it to Annie. She was not amused.
Click here for some information on the condition.