A week ago today, two friends came over to our house, bearing a massive watermelon. Sure, it was a beautiful summer day, perfect for watermelon, but the summer treat wasn’t for me. I hadn’t asked them to come, but they knew that I couldn’t leave, and had no way of obtaining one for several hours. While the watermelon was being sliced and diced, I was trying everything I could think of to get Jenny, my beloved guide dog, to eat it… to eat anything, really. Each time I showed her the food, Jenny turned and walked in the opposite direction – as she had had every time she’d been shown food the past twenty-four hours. The closest we could get her to the watermelon was to mash it into her water bowl… and even then she drank a bit and walked away.
My friends hugged me as I cried worried tears, telling me Jenny would be OK, offering words of comfort and plausible reasons for why Jenny might be avoiding food after 36 hours of throwing up.
But when Jenny wouldn’t get up and say hi to Ben when he returned home, I knew we were in trouble. Maybe it was a reaction to a medication her vet prescribed, but even so, Jenny wasn’t eating, and this couldn’t continue indefinitely.
A week ago today, Ben and I drove to the north Edmonton Emergency Veterinary clinic with a brave but lethargic Jenny. The vet recommended hospitalization. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to walk out the doors of the clinic as a vet tech took Jenny into the back to put her on IV fluids and figure out what was wrong.
Within minutes of Ben posting the newest development on facebook, our phones went crazy. Friends and family called, texted, tweeted, facebooked, emailed, cheered as certain ailments were ruled out. On Monday morning, my colleagues asked where Jenny was, and comforted me as I cried and told them she was still in the hospital. Our friends lit a Coleman lantern the first night she was gone, and promised they’d light it each night she was away until she came home.
By mid-day Monday, Jenny was no longer dehydrated, but she was still lethargic, and still not eating on her own. We agreed to an ultrasound which showed an unclear image of a foreign object in her digestive tract. They recommended surgery that night, and I knew I wouldn’t sleep until I got the results of the operation. For the second night in a row, our friends lit the Coleman lantern, and posted about Jenny on Facebook. People I knew – and people I didn’t – were cheering for Jenny, sending prayers, offering comfort. Some friends even stayed up late playing dice games online with me when I was too keyed up to sleep. When the call came that Jenny’s surgery was a success – and they were able to remove the foreign object (a nectarine pit, as it turned out) with less intrusion than they expected – I could see in my mind all the names of all the people who had been with us on this journey. The names and faces and stories seemed to have no end – those who had been where we were, those whose beloved animals never came back, those who came home happy and healthy as though nothing had happened. I was overwhelmed by how powerful even small actions and words could be.
The emergency vet’s office staff were all amazing, answering my frequently “checking up!” calls with respect and compassion, giving us as much information as they could, even if it wasn’t encouraging. When we first admitted her, they gave us room and space to spend some time alone with our beloved Jenny, and repeated this compassionate act when we agreed to admit her for surgery. As soon as they could, they called with major developments, cracking jokes about Jenny being a cheap drunk on the pain killers. Twelve hours post-op, she still wasn’t eating, but they were encouraged that she was resting comfortably and communicating that she wanted to go outside. Not 45 minutes later, my phone rang three times from the clinic, and my heart stopped (oh, no, did she get sick again?), but the news was good – JENNY WAS EATING! Six hours after that happy phone call, we got some other amazing news: Jenny could come home!
When we came to pick her up, we got a full update – Jenny was a princess dog (“um, no canned food, please!”) and was a huge hit with the staff. When they brought her out, her head enclosed in a Cone of Shame, she wiggled and waggled and was completely different from the lethargic and stoic guide dog that had come in 48 hours earlier.
There was no way Jenny could guide – and I couldn’t ask her to – but Ben and I still had to work this week. We couldn’t leave her alone, and we couldn’t take time off ourselves. While Jenny recovered from her surgery – stoned out of her mind on painkillers – we had offers of “Jenny sitters”, offers made without us even having to ask. Ben’s mom came and kept her company (and snuggled her on the couch) on Wednesday and Friday, and our friends Keith and Donna – bearers of watermelons and lighters of Coleman lanterns – took her on Thursday for a little field trip to their house. I’ve thanked them all for giving her meds, feeding her smaller meals as appropriate, sending me ecstatic messages when Jenny had her first post-op poop… but I don’t have any other words to thank them – or anyone else – for lifting us up in such practical ways.
For those who have been with us on this crazy journey – offering words of comfort and hope, giving me space, providing medical treatment, offering practical assistance, sharing our story, cheering us on…
Thank you isn’t enough.
I used to think words were cheap.
You’ve proven me wrong.
Words have power.
Your words have power.
Your words and lanterns and hands and time and prayers… they made all the difference this week.