Monday, February 16, 2015

Tell Me What's Wrong. Now Tell Me Again.

It all started with a bloody Christmas Eve.

At least that's when it seems to have started. Bailey, our thirteen-and-a-half-year-old dog hasn't been himself for a while. But because our pets can't tell us when something is wrong, we have to be open to the clues. Kind of like with babies. And while we knew Bailey's hips were bothering him and that he could no longer climb stairs, it never occurred to us that he might be in constant, chronic pain.

On Christmas Eve, we had a party. All family, with a bunch of kids. The kids were playing downstairs and the adults were upstairs. Because one of the adults is allergic to dogs, we left Bailey downstairs with his bed so he could rest and not beg or make people sneeze. Well, the kids got kind of loud. And Bailey started barking. And we figured it was because he wanted to come upstairs and be with the adults, yet couldn't climb the stairs. But we left him down there because allergies. Bad move.

The barking eventually stopped and not long after, my niece came upstairs to tell us that Bailey was "biting everyone." I'm proud to say that she is a terrific storyteller, something I greatly admire about her. But this comment was different and called for some investigation.

"Biting everyone? What are you talking about?" I said and started down the stairs.

Aside from my husband and my brother-in-law, my dad is one of Bailey's three favorite men. I hadn't seen my dad go down earlier, but if I had, I would have assumed that the dog stopped barking because he was happy to see my dad. What I found instead was my dad with a bloody hand, my cousin the RN asking him questions and my husband comforting Bailey, who was cowering and trembling in the corner.

Thankfully, after bandages and hugs were given out, the remainder of the party was uneventful. Though he avoided my dad, Bailey came upstairs and laid down by my brother-in-law for the rest of the evening.

In January we had some construction work begin in the house. These contractors were here a couple of years ago and remembered Bailey. He is usually a great watch dog--he growls and barks, and once he sniffs your hand, he backs off but watches you carefully. Well this time, when hands were offered, Bailey snapped at them. Thinking this was unusual, but not unheard of, I comforted him and let the guys go about their work.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was walking Bailey and we saw my neighbor from next door. We started talking and he, too, extended his hand to the dog, who snapped again. Now I just tell people not to offer their hand as he is very touchy and sensitive in his old age.

But when I relayed this information to a friend, she wondered aloud whether Bailey was in pain.

"He doesn't act like it," I said. "I mean, he eats all his food, is always excited and bouncy to go for a walk and wags his tail and likes to play with us."

On further thought, though, I realized Bailey does lay in bed and just moan at us sometimes. Usually it's when we're eating dinner or close to the time for his walk, so I presumed he was just asking us for food or to go out earlier than scheduled.

Last night, my brother-in-law came for dinner. It was the first time Bailey had seen him since Christmas Eve, and we expected him to get waggy and happy as he always does. But when my brother-in-law extended his hand to say hello, Bailey growled and bared his teeth. He also avoided any contact with him all night.

This morning I called the vet to make an appointment for Bailey.

It's never easy to read the signs our pets are trying to send us. Yes, different barks mean different things, just as different cries from a baby mean different things. But Bailey is clearly not himself, and it is finally apparent to me that it's not something that is going to go away on its own.

I'm hoping the cause is treatable. We'd all like him to feel better, like his old self again. I admit I feel guilty for not having put the signs together sooner. Maybe I just didn't want to admit to myself something could be really wrong. Bailey always puts on a brave and playful face for us. But I don't want his world to shrink to his immediate family, and I don't want him to suffer any more than he already has. I just hope the vet will understand whatever message Bailey's been trying to send. That will be the first step toward figuring out what comes next.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Old Lessons Made New

I remember as a girl watching my mom iron my dad's police uniform shirts. Like hanging clothes on the clothesline and making pots of soup and stew, this is one of those memories that always takes me back to childhood. And though she did it pretty regularly, Mom never gave me lessons, and it never occurred to me to ask. It was just one of those things moms did.

Fast forward to my twenties, when I moved out of my parents' house and into an apartment I shared with a friend. This experience of going out on my own and suddenly being responsible for, well, everything that had to do with my own survival was the most feet-to-the-fire education I'd ever had. I didn't know how to cook. I didn't know how to budget or shop for groceries. In fact, I had pretty much no housekeeping skills to speak of, but I was lucky: my roommate did. And he was a great and patient teacher. He was the one who taught me how to iron a collared shirt, fold a fitted sheet and figure out which pot or pan to use in the kitchen. In retrospect, it's easy to see how important it was to know these things, but when I was young, Mom did them all and, in my mind, always would.

Those lessons from decades came flooding back to me this morning when my fifteen-year-old asked me to teach him how to iron the shirt of his scout uniform. I admit I haven't ironed since leaving the corporate world fourteen years ago (my husband's office is casual dress) and I hoped I'd remember how to do it. Not surprisingly, once I set up the ironing board, heated the iron, laid out the shirt and began pushing the iron back and forth, like Tillie Olsen, my mind was filled with thoughts, ideas and emotion. But before long, Jacob was eager to take over, and I reluctantly let him. No doubt he felt the same sense of autonomy and independence, mixed with the thrill of learning something new, that I did all those years ago.

They say that with age comes wisdom, but I think it's more than just aging that wisens us. The older we get, the more our lives change and the more we are forced to learn new things, become resourceful and solve problems on our own. Though I know Jacob could have Googled "how to iron a shirt" and watched a video of the process on YouTube if he was living on his own and needed to learn, I'm glad I had the opportunity to teach him. And I hope when he goes out on his own, his memories of adolescence will include those of his dad and grandfather teaching him how to cook, and of his mom teaching him how to iron and do his own laundry. It may not make him eager to do these drudge-filled jobs, but hopefully it will give him something to think--and maybe smile--about while he's doing them.