Category Archives: Goliath Stories

The End of My Rope

On Thursday, December 1, I will take part in an advocacy wall for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.  Me and a number of others will visit Congressional offices in an effort to increase awareness for poo problems, to try and secure funding for government assistance in finding cures for these diseases, and, as they say in Congress, “for other purposes.”

As I’ve mentioned, really since I started this blog and especially since I divulged that I have Crohn’s, insurance is a big deal for me.  It’s a big deal for anyone who has a chronic disease that requires treatment.  It’s a big deal for the family members of anyone with a chronic disease.

In light of the upcoming changes in leadership in our government, I want to revisit this story that I’ve posted before.  I don’t know if there will be an opportunity to bring up the real-life drama I experienced when I lost my insurance in 1982.  But I will be thinking about this story as I walk the familiar grounds and office buildings on Capitol Hill.

***

The End of My Rope

Friday, the first of October, 1982, was a really bad day.

Actually, it was a mostly normal day even after I found a memo and a pamphlet in my office in-box. The law firm where I’d worked for more than three years had just changed health insurance companies. The information about our new policy, beginning November 1, 1982, three weeks before my scheduled surgery, would be with Liberty Mutual. I didn’t give it a thought.

But Andrea, one of my bosses, suggested I give them a call. “You’d better make sure they know about your operation and don’t need more information.”

So I called the number on the brochure.

Forty-five minutes later, Andrea found me at my desk, staring blankly at the ‘Sitting Duck’ poster hanging on my wall. It showed a white cartoon duck wearing sunglasses.  He’d been enjoying himself, sitting in the sun in a turquoise blue lawn chair on the side of his house, sipping a soda.  But he was looking in wide-eyed surprise over his right shoulder at two bullet holes in the wall.

Sitting duck poster

Poster by Michael Bedard
http://www.mbedard.com

I knew that if I looked over my shoulder, I’d see some bullet holes as well. I was that sitting duck — I always seemed to be dodging bullets.  Life with chronic illness had become one fucking thing after another.  Now, just when I’d accepted and agreed to the surgery that so terrified me, my insurance was gone.  BANG! BANG!

“What’s wrong?” Andrea asked.

“It’s not covered,” I said, numbly, without a hint of emotion. Then I began to hyperventilate. “’Pre-… pre-… pre-existing condition,’ they said.”

“What?”

I explained what I’d been told, that the new policy didn’t cover anybody for 30 days and that it didn’t cover pre-existing conditions for a year. The firm had changed insurance to save money. Their decision would cost me everything. Everything.

I didn’t want to have the surgery — it terrified me. But I’d adjusted, accepted that I was, in spite of my attempted denial, quite sick, and that I had to have the operation. But I couldn’t possibly pay for it. Where was I going to get the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars I’d need? I lived pay-check to pay-check, and rarely had a nickle to spare; I had no savings. My parents were retired, living close to the bones themselves. My siblings were likewise broke. And I had insurance!

Loss of the insurance meant one of two things.  I could have the surgery that I really didn’t want to have anyway and pay for it myself. Or I’d face another year of ever-worsening illness — hemorrhages, bleeding, weakness, diarrhea.  Dr. C had been clear — my colitis was not just going to go away, as much as I wanted it to.

Without insurance, even if I could convince my surgeon, the hospital and the zillions of other folks involved in a major operation to actually do the surgery on someone without insurance, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life trying to pay the bills.  Bills that would have been covered just the day before.

My mind whipsawed between the injustice of the loss and terror at what would happen to me if I didn’t have that damn operation.

Andrea came around to my side of my desk and put her hand on my arm. “We’ll figure this out, Elyse. It’s late now, everybody’s gone. But we’ll work this out on Monday.”

She sounded reassuring; I was unconvinced.

“Really, it’ll be OK,” she repeated. “But in the meantime, I need you to …”

Her voice trails off in my memory. Andrea was a compulsive workaholic, an A-type personality. Work always came before anything else. Other people at the firm thought it was annoying, insensitive, or worse. But for me, it helped. It was exactly what I needed. It took my mind off me. I did what she asked, finished up and went home.

Of course I fell apart once I was home and told my roommate, Keily, the news. I ranted, raged, and cried — I wallowed all evening.

“I don’t even want to have this operation,” I shouted as loudly as I could to Keily as I sat in the bathroom, the door open. My gut, naturally, was erupting. It almost always was by then, especially when I was upset. Cramps. Diarrhea. Blood. Urgency. My shitty symptoms mocked me, proving that I couldn’t avoid the surgery. That I couldn’t put it off until my insurance kicked in. That I was totally screwed.

Keily sat outside the bathroom at the top of the stairs, stroking Goliath; that was her perch as I got sicker and sicker. She sat there and talked to me. She kept Goliath out of the tiny bathroom (Keily’s only successful effort at getting the Goose, as we nicknamed him, to obey.) That night, she held Goliath, and soothed him and me at the same time. She let me vent, rage, rant.

“It’ll work out. There’s some mistake. They can’t just do this to you. You need to trust the folks at your office.” Keily said repeatedly.

“You mean the ones who agreed to the new policy?” I wasn’t in a mood to listen.

That night I’d skipped Goliath’s after-work walk. It was getting on towards 10 p.m. and he needed to go out. I needed to do something else, or at least cry somewhere else. Walking clears my head, lets me figure out how to fix a problem, helps me find an answer. I knew a walk would help.

“Do you want me to come?” asked Keily. She often did, and that night she was concerned. I was so shaky and upset.

“No, thanks, I think I need to be by myself,” I responded. “I’ll be OK.” Actually, I was wishing I could leave myself behind. I was sick of me. Sick of sick me, anyhow.

So Goliath and I got into the VW and headed to the Capitol grounds, where we walked most nights. It’s such a beautiful, inspiring place. Plus for a woman walking her dog, it’s perfect. Of course it’s well lit — you can see it for miles. But there are also security patrols that never bothered us but nevertheless made me feel safe. A 120 lb. German Shepherd helped make me feel secure, too.

It was a clear night, with a half-moon casting shadows from the beautiful cherry and oak trees, from the enormous rhododendron bushes and other carefully tended shrubs across the expansive West Lawn. Nobody else was in sight.

I let Goliath off his leash. Deep in my own thoughts, I didn’t pay much attention to him. Unusually, he stayed right with me that night. He was as worried as Keily.

I cannot believe this is happening to me, I thought, rage building again at the injustice. Because my whole entire adult life had been focused on making sure I had health insurance.

From the time of my first hospitalization at 17, I had lived my life — made every single decision — with health insurance in mind. My dreams of acting, of singing, of writing? Of doing whatever the hell I pleased? They’d all been flushed down the thousands of toilets I’d had to rush to over the 10 years since my diagnosis.

After my first hospitalization, and with word from the doctor that my ulcerative colitis would likely flare up repeatedly throughout my life, my parents forced me to go to secretarial school – a career path that had never figured into my plans. My mother was an office worker and she’d always hated her job.  It seemed boring and demeaning. Secretarial work had once been a good career path for bright women. But that, I thought in my young “know-it-all” way, was no longer the case. Mom was stuck with it, and she and Dad stuck me with it, too.

I complained bitterly; I was talented, funny, smart. It wasn’t fair.

I was wrong about both the work and the women who worked as secretaries. I quickly became pretty ashamed of my attitude, and some of the secretaries I knew became great friends.

Still when the chance emerged to turn a secretarial job into a job as a legal assistant, I jumped at it. In the job I’d had now for three years, I wrote for a living, analyzed legislation and regulations for the firm’s clients and learned about U.S. politics and policy. It was a terrific job. The firm had been good to me. And my parents were happy because I was still working in an office. With health insurance.

Another wave of anger came as I walked down the groomed hillside.

And then I saw it. Something I’d never seen there in the dozens of times I’d walked that route. Inexplicably, on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building, there was a pole sticking out of the grass with a chain attached at the top, and a ball hanging down.

Tetherball.

I walked up to it and started smacking that ball. I’d only seen cheap sets with rope attaching the ball to the pole. This one had a strong chain that was covered in a canvas sheath. But instead of improving my mood, hitting the ball deepened my feelings of desperation.

SMACK. I hit the ball as hard as I could. “MY BODY HATES ME!” I shouted as I pushed the ball around the pole.

WHACK. “MY LIFE SUCKS!”

SLAM. “Fucking, fucking FUCKING INSURANCE!

SMACK, SMACK, SMACK. “Hopeless. Hopeless. Hopeless.”

With each hit of the ball, I pushed myself towards the end of my own rope. There was no way to unravel all the problems I was facing, the problems that kept expanding.  Just as I thought I’d licked one, it would multiply. No way to fix all the crap that kept piling up. Crap that I suddenly felt that I was facing alone.

That was the moment when I realized, with surprising clarity, that life just wasn’t worth the trouble. At least mine wasn’t.

I decided at that moment to hang myself. I would hang myself from the tetherball chain on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.  It suddenly became the perfect solution.

I saw no way out. I couldn’t continue, didn’t want to continue. And I’d gotten way past the amount of shit I could deal with.

I sat down on the grass on the hill just above the contraption and allowed myself one last cry. Naturally I didn’t have any Kleenex. Snot running with my tears did not make me feel any better.

The first problem I discovered was that I couldn’t quite figure out what to call the thing. It seemed important that I know what to call it if I was going to die on it.

I wondered: Is it a tetherball set? A tetherball apparatus? A tetherball thing-y? I didn’t know the answer.

Goliath tried to distract me, to cheer me and when that didn’t work, he sat down next to me and let me use his shoulder. He tried to lick my tears away, but they kept coming. He butted his head into me. But he got bored with my misery and wandered away.

I didn’t watch where he went, I didn’t care. It didn’t matter where he went, what he did. Whom he harassed. I was done.

The decision was made.

I got up and walked up to the tetherball thing-y and realized what I hadn’t noticed before: that the chain was actually quite short. Too short, possibly, for my plan. The ball itself fell to just the height of my shoulder.

I was shocked. How am I going to do this?

I reached up, stood on my tippy-toes like a kindergartner, grabbed the chain in my left hand, and tried to pull it down a little more. But it was a chain, so it was very strong and not at all stretchy. It was also pretty thick, about 2-1/2 inches wide and not terribly pliable.

I stood there, grunting, sobbing, trying to stretch my body. I held the ball and the bottom of the tether chain in my hand, trying to figure out a way to make this work. Wondering if I could quickly have a growth spurt.

How can I get this short thick thing around my neck?

Even on my tippy-toes and pulling it as hard as I could, it wasn’t long enough. It just reached from my chin to my shoulder — not even half way around my neck!

What sort of an idiot designed this damn thing with an impossibly short chain? I wondered. You can’t even smack the ball around the pole more than a couple of times.

Not to mention that it wasn’t at all helpful for putting me out of my misery.

I pursed my lips and moved them from side to side like Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp. I rubbed my chin and scratched my head.  Tried to solve the shortcomings.

Naturally, other problems popped up too.

What can I jump off of?

Of course, the answer was “nothing.” I was on the manicured grounds of the Capitol. I couldn’t pile up debris and jump off of it because there was no debris. The neat grounds rarely had much in the way of move-able objects.  I was starting to get annoyed.

I want to die. Now. Tonight. On the tetherball thing-y. How the hell can I do this?

There on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol Building — with security patrols passing every 10 or so minutes — I was hell-bent on committing suicide by tetherball.  I was trying to stretch, to grow, to find a ladder, a chair, anything I could jump off of with a piece of US Government-issued sports equipment wrapped around my neck. Wanting to and trying to die.

And then it hit me.

Or rather, he hit me. Goliath, of course.

SLAM! Something hard hit the back of my legs.

“Owwww!”

From somewhere on the grounds, Goliath had picked up a huge stick – an uprooted tree by the size of it. It was at least five feet long and four inches around. His mouth was stretched to the limit holding it. And he’d hit me with it in the back of my legs.

WHACK! He did it again. I turned and saw that he’d lowered his chest towards the ground into a bow. He kept his rear end high in the air, wagging the whole back half of his body ferociously.

He’d had enough of me feeling sorry for myself. It was time to play. So he rammed me with it again.

“Owwwww, Goliath STOP THAT!” I commanded.

He didn’t listen. He went around to my left and hit me with it again. His eyes caught the moonlight – they sparkled. He was laughing at me.

SLAP! “Owwww, NO! That hurts. Cut it out!”

He bounced to my right side with the long thick branch firmly in his mouth. Pretending to loosen his grip on it. Teasing me. Trying to get me to play. Wanting me to reach for the stick, which he would never give me.

(Come on, Mom, catch me!) He was play growling at the stick and at me. He bowed again, swung his head to and fro, and the long stick swung left to right, wobbled up and down. It got stuck in the ground for a second, and then he forced it back out again with a flick of his massive head. Goliath came close to me and then bounded off with his treasure. Circling me. Approaching me, but backing off before I could get to him. He never got close enough for me to grab that damn stick.

(Come on, Mom, try to grab it!) We were going to play, whether I wanted to or not. And he hit me with the damn thing again.

“Give me that stick!” I ordered. He wouldn’t. He danced around me and the tetherball thing-y and bashed me and the pole repeatedly.

I’m not sure if he knocked me over or I sat down in defeat, crying. He bashed it into me a few more times, but then lost interest. Goliath dropped his weapon — well out of my reach — and sat down beside me. He put his paw on my lap, his head on my shoulder and nuzzled me. Chewed at my hair and my ear. Let me scratch his ears.

“You silly Goose.” I said pulling his ears and tail affectionately. Hugging him. “You’re gonna kill me one of these days.”

I knew then that I couldn’t kill myself, that night or any other. Nobody in their right mind would take my stupid dog.

 *     *     *

I learned when I went back to work on the following Monday that the person I spoke with at the insurance company was wrong.  Mistaken.  My company’s coverage was considered continuing coverage and so my condition was insured.  I had my surgery and became healthy for the first time in about a decade.

Since the election, and especially since seeing the appointees to healthcare-related positions in the upcoming Trump Administration,  I have been haunted by the memory of the night I nearly ended my own life in a fit of desperation.  And while I think we can all agree that it was the silliest suicide plan ever devised, that misses the entire point.

And that point is that folks who lose their insurance or who are without insurance are often desperate.  And close to the end of their rope.  I certainly was.

How many other Americans have been in that position?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Millions?  How many think, consider, and/or attempt suicide?  How many will in the future without Obamacare?  Without Medicare?  Without Medicaid?

The New England Journal of Medicine reported the following:

First, many suicidal acts — one third to four fifths of all suicide attempts, according to studies — are impulsive. Among people who made near-lethal suicide attempts, for example, 24% took less than 5 minutes between the decision to kill themselves and the actual attempt, and 70% took less than 1 hour.  (Miller and Hemenway, 2008)  (Emphasis added.)

I am not a traditional candidate for suicide, I don’t have the risk factors.  But I was, literally, at the end of my rope because of a combination of constantly dealing with a difficult disease, being broke because I was young and just starting out, and suddenly losing my insurance.  I would have had a huge financial burden I would never be able to pay off.  All through the bad luck of bad health.  Simple bad luck.

When I hear the anti-Affordable Care Act folks preaching about how we need to get rid of Obamacare, I want to share the story of my desperation.  Because a flawed system is better than the old system, where pre-existing conditions — the very thing that makes insurance absolutely necessary — will be the very thing that made insurance coverage impossible.  There are problems with Obamacare.  But we need this program or we need a better program.  Going back to the old system is already unthinkable.  And the solutions I’ve seen from the GOP will not keep people like me with treatment options, out of medical bankruptcy, or away from desperate action.

Health insurance for many people makes the difference between life and death.  Literally and figuratively.

It is equally important as we all age to remember that Medicare is a lifeline for the elderly.  It is a promise to them — to us — made long ago.  A promise we have expected to be fulfilled as we planned for our future as senior citizens.  A promise that we have all paid into like our 401Ks, and that we have earned the right to use when we reach the appropriate age.

Keep your hands off my Obamacare.

Keep your hands off my Medicare.

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Don’t Ever Let an Opportunity Pass

Have you heard the delightful news?  Dr. Heimlich, of Heimlich Maneuver fame, got his first chance to try out his, ummm, thing on a real, live, choking person.

It’s true!

Dr Heimlich is 96 and living in an assisted living facility in Cincinnati.  On Monday he was sitting at lunch next to a new resident, Patty Ris, 87, who started choking on a pre-Memorial Day burger.  So Dr. Heimlich did the Heimlich maneuver on her, and likely saved her life!  He had never before done that sort of Heimlich on an actual choking person before.  Here’s a link to the story.

Cudos, Dr. Heimlich.  You’ve saved many, many people over the 50 years since we’ve been using the Heimlich.  And a personal thanks from me.

Never one to pass up an opportunity, I thought I’d use this news story to retell a Goliath story.  Many of my newer readers haven’t read about my 120 lb alcoholic psycho dog, so here’s your opportunity.  Older readers don’t need to continue.  There will, however, be a quiz.

***

CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Normally, I am the best person to have around in a crisis.

I keep my head.  I think the problem through.  I react intelligently, organize other helpful responders and do what needs to be done.   Yes, that’s just the sort of person I am in real life.

Generally, I also manage to keep a running humorous commentary which is invaluable to the hoards of folks standing around doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.  Because, let’s face it.  Not everyone handles stressful situations without becoming certifiably stupid.

Of course every rule needs an exception, and this story is no exception to the exception requirement.

*    *     *

It was just after John and I bought a house for Goliath because nobody would rent to a young couple with a gigantic dog.

We were incredibly lucky in buying our first house.  It was a tiny split level cape cod type that defied description.  But it was just right for newlyweds.  The whole inside had been redone – we bought it from a contractor who’d lived there.  The kitchen was new, the paint unmarked.  Everything was bright and clean.  The coral colored carpeting was newly installed and didn’t have a single blemish on it.

It had been a long stressful day at work for me, so after John and I walked Goliath and had dinner, I decided to take a long, hot, relaxing bath.  The one bathroom was on the “second floor” which was four steps up from the living room.   As it turns out, it was my last relaxing bath.  Ever.

So I wasn’t far when John announced from the living room below

“Uh, Lease?  We have a problem.”

John was fairly calm, actually.  Of course that would change.

“What’s the problem?” I said.  The water was still warm and I was just starting to wash away the day.

“The red ball is stuck in Goliath’s mouth.”

Shit!  I thought as I got out of the tub and grabbed my robe.  Why couldn’t he just pull the damn ball out and let me have my bath?  I was a tad annoyed at my new husband at that moment.

I went down the two steps to find John holding Goliath steady, calming him down, even though Goliath was relatively calm.

Goliath turned towards me and I immediately saw what John was talking about.

Goliath’s favorite tease-toy, a hard red rubber ball with a bell inside, was there in his mouth.  But it didn’t look like any big deal.  I looked at John with an I can’t believe you can’t handle this without me look.  John didn’t notice.

Red ball with bellStill available.  Photo Credit

That ball really was Goliath’s favorite.  He’d pick it up and taunt us when he wanted to play.  He’d wag his tail ferociously, and drop the ball, catching it in his mouth long before we could grab it from him to throw it.  It never hit the floor.  Goliath would drop and catch, drop and catch, drop and catch.  The bell inside would ring and he would wiggle his eyebrows and his back end.  Come on, grab the ball, he was clearly saying.  Let’s play.  But of course, he would never let us.

This time, as I dripped on the new carpet and assessed the situation, I could see that Goliath had caught the ball too far back in his mouth.  He couldn’t drop it again, and the ball’s size was just a little bit larger than his windpipe.

First I petted Goliath, soothed him, although he wasn’t really terribly upset.  In fact, he was just a little bit confused and uncomfortable.   I looked at John, astonished that he hadn’t just reached into Goliath’s huge mouth full of huge teeth, and pulled out the ball.

So I did.  Or at least I did the first bit — I reached into Goliath’s mouth, firmly placed my thumb and forefinger on the ball, glancing at John to make sure he would know what to do next time.  John and I watched in horror as the dog-slobbery ball slipped out of my fingers, lodging further into his mouth, right at the top of his windpipe, blocking most of his throat.

No longer able to breathe comfortably and no doubt pissed that his Mommy had made things worse for him, Goliath began to panic.  He started running around the house with John and I chasing after him. Trying to catch him, trying to pry the damn ball out of his mouth.

I’ve never felt so helpless.  So terrified.  It was later when I felt like an idiot.

John and I tried everything we could think of – we put the stem of a wooden spoon behind the damn ball and tried to pull it out.  But  it didn’t budge.  The spoon broke, naturally.  We went through a lot of kitchen equipment that night.

Stupidly, in spite of the fact that it hadn’t worked, we kept reaching into his mouth and trying to pull the ball out.  Each time we made it worse and the ball went down further.  With each effort we only made it more difficult for him to breathe, and the more panicked poor Goliath got.

Goliath ran back and forth between the kitchen, the dining room and living room – the three tiny rooms of our tiny little house.  John would catch him as he ran by and try something.  I would catch him on the rebound and try something, anything else.  Poor panicked Goliath raced across the three rooms, a half-dozen times.  And then a half-dozen times again.

Once when he caught Goliath, John reached into Goliath’s mouth behind the ball.  Goliath’s gag reflex, in constant action by that time, led him to clamp down on John’s right index finger.

“Shit!” John shouted as he pulled his hand away from Goliath and let him go.  Blood dripped from John’s hand.

Almost immediately I caught Goliath and did exactly the same thing, only Goliath bit my left pointer finger.  Then it was John’s turn again to be bitten, and Goliath got John’s left middle finger.   Blood was flying all around our new house, our new carpet.  We didn’t really care, though, Goliath’s panic had spread to John and me.

Goliath was going to die.

There was nothing we could do.  My boy would choke to death on that goddam ball in front of us.  And with each movement that Goliath made, the cheerful bell inside of it rang.  Alfred Hitchcock was directing the scene.

Maybe the image of Alfred Hitchcock led me to do what I did next.  Yeah, let’s just assume that that’s what happened. It is the only explanation.

I had to do something or my crazy, psychotic, beloved life-saver of a dog was going to die.  I was about out of ideas, and then I remembered a show John and I had watched on TV just the night before.

I went into the kitchen and took out our largest knife, knowing I had to give my dog a tracheotomy.

At the time, I was not yet a fake medical professional.  I had never done a canine tracheotomy.  I did not, in fact have a clue if dogs have tracheas, and if so, just where Goliath’s might be located.  I didn’t know if it would make a difference if I, ummm, otomied it.

But just the night before, Radar had done a tracheotomy on a wounded soldier on M*A*S*H.  And if Radar O’Reilly, another animal lover, could do it, well, so could I.  Goliath needed me.

Besides he was going to die.  That reality had become crystal clear.  I had to do something.  Something drastic.  And likely messy.

So I took the butcher knife from the kitchen to the living room to perform my surgery there, on the new carpet in the room that was now looked like a crime scene.  My blood and John’s was speckled all over the living room and dining room  rug and smeared onto the walls and door frames.  I stood, knife in hand, and looked around the living room for a clean spot on the rug.

Henkels Butcher KnifeAlso still available here where I got the photo

John had at that time caught Goliath who was still terrified, still panicked, but running out of energy and oxygen.  When John saw me with the knife in my hand and heard my plan, he must have thought

This woman can never get near my (future) children.”

But “Are you nuts?” was all I recall him saying.  Perhaps there were expletives mixed in there, somewhere.  Maybe.

At just that moment, Goliath keeled over.

“Oh my God,” I shouted.  “He’s dead.”  And I began to sob.

“No,” was all John said.  But he started punching Goliath in the stomach, which did not seem like a very respectful thing to do to a dead dog.  To my dead baby.

Out popped the ball.  John, holding tightly to Goliath’s muzzle with his two bleeding hands, breathed into Goliath’s mouth.   Magically, Goliath’s eyes opened.  Goliath took a very deep breath indeed.  So did we.

The Heimlich maneuver.  It works on dogs. 

There’s another thing I should tell you about the Heimlich maneuver.  It’s best to try it before attempting a tracheotomy.

*     *     *

Other Goliath Stories:

For Medicinal Purposes Only

Dogs and Other Nuts

What’s In A Name?

The Olde Towne School For Dogs

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How To Get Gun Control Legislation Enacted

It was a Sunday night in, I think, 1982, and I arrived home from my late night walk with Goliath at the U.S. Capitol grounds.  We’d had a lovely walk, on the always safe grounds.

US Capitol

US Capitol at night. Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/intrepid00/14504378266

 

When I got home, my roommate Keily met me at the door.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I responded, thinking she was weird.

“They just reported on the 10 O’Clock News that a bomb went off at the Capitol.”

“Oh!” I responded, and sat down to watch the news.

If I had heard or seen anything, I would have reported it. But in fact, there was nothing unusual about my walk that night.  Nothing at all.

Tuesday morning, I headed to the Rayburn House Office Building bright and early to attend a hearing.  I was stopped by the guard on my way in.  My briefcase and my purse were searched.

36 Hours Later.

Stupidly, I cracked a joke to a security guard who was suddenly actually guarding security.

“Now why did you have to say that?” he said. “Now I really have to look.”

As the days went on, more and more security was added.  No longer could I be at two places at once.  I (and half of the other twenty-somethings in DC) had long been leaving my briefcase in one hearing with a tape recorder running while my body attended a second one.  That became a thing of the past.

Within a very short time, security increased by leaps and bounds.  Metal detectors were installed; the life of a low-level lobbyist became more of a pain in the ass than it had been.

Our Congressional Representatives and our Senators were protected, though.  For a long time, I thought that was fine.

Until mass shootings became common.  And until those very same Congressmen and Senators refused to act to protect people in the US from the danger of random gunfire.  Until fealty to the National Rifle Association (the NRA) and keeping their jobs — became more important than the safety of regular people.  More important than protecting students in their schools, shoppers in their stores, workers in their offices.

So here’s my idea:

Let’s take down those metal detectors.  Stop paying for them to have security guards at every door.

The real world is a dangerous place.  And the folks who refuse to make it less so, should not hide behind shields the rest of us don’t have.

*     *     *

 I am not advocating violence against Congress or against anybody.  I oppose violence — and I am strongly in favor of sensible gun control laws.  But until the folks who make the laws — or in this case, DON’T make the laws — have the same concerns as the rest of us, well, nothing is going to happen.

And in fact, in the 1960s, Governor Ronald Reagan actually repealed open carry laws when Black Panthers led by Huey Newton made the legislators a wee bit nervous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The End of My Rope — Again

Just like three years ago, I am anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act.  Three years ago, I was fairly certain that the right-leaning Court would deem Obamacare unconstitutional.  Three years ago, I was lucky.  And I wrote about it here.

Today, tonight, as I wait for the decision on a far more pedestrian case, I’m still worried.  OK, I’m worried again.

You see, the “Prime Directive” of my life, from the age of 17, has been having and maintaining health insurance.

That’s what happens to you when you develop health problems, regardless of the age.  You need to put your square peg of a life into a round hole of getting the treatment that you need.  It never fits.  And you always lose a lot of yourself.  Oh, and all of your dreams.

And frankly, I resent it.

Healthy folks don’t understand just how thoroughly something most people take for granted — good health, good health insurance — can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Because I’m sure — positive — that the Supremes will be reading this blog, and for the new-ish friends who haven’t read this piece, I’m re-posting my most intimate post.

The End of My Rope

Friday, the first of October, 1982, was a really bad day.

Actually, it was a mostly normal day even after I found a memo and a pamphlet in my office in-box. The law firm where I’d worked for more than three years had just changed health insurance companies. The information about our new policy, beginning November 1, 1982, three weeks before my scheduled surgery, would be with Liberty Mutual. I didn’t give it a thought.

But Andrea, one of my bosses, suggested I give them a call. “You’d better make sure they know about your operation and don’t need more information.”

So I called the number on the brochure.

Forty-five minutes later, Andrea found me at my desk, staring blankly at the ‘Sitting Duck’ poster hanging on my wall. It showed a white cartoon duck wearing sunglasses.  He’d been enjoying himself, sitting in the sun in a turquoise blue lawn chair on the side of his house, sipping a soda.  But he was looking in wide-eyed surprise over his right shoulder at two bullet holes in the wall.

Sitting duck poster

Poster by Michael Bedard
http://www.mbedard.com

I knew that if I looked over my shoulder, I’d see some bullet holes as well. I was that sitting duck — I always seemed to be dodging bullets.  Life with chronic illness had become one fucking thing after another.  Now, just when I’d accepted and agreed to the surgery that so terrified me, my insurance was gone.  BANG! BANG!

“What’s wrong?” Andrea asked.

“It’s not covered,” I said, numbly, without a hint of emotion. Then I began to hyperventilate. “’Pre-… pre-… pre-existing condition,’ they said.”

“What?”

I explained what I’d been told, that the new policy didn’t cover anybody for 30 days and that it didn’t cover pre-existing conditions for a year. The firm had changed insurance to save money. Their decision would cost me everything. Everything.

I didn’t want to have the surgery — it terrified me. But I’d adjusted, accepted that I was, in spite of my attempted denial, quite sick, and that I had to have the operation. But I couldn’t possibly pay for it. Where was I going to get the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars I’d need? I lived pay-check to pay-check, and rarely had a nickle to spare; I had no savings. My parents were retired, living close to the bones themselves. My siblings were likewise broke. And I had insurance!

Loss of the insurance meant one of two things.  I could have the surgery that I really didn’t want to have anyway and pay for it myself. Or I’d face another year of ever-worsening illness — hemorrhages, bleeding, weakness, diarrhea.  Dr. C had been clear — my colitis was not just going to go away, as much as I wanted it to.

Without insurance, even if I could convince my surgeon, the hospital and the zillions of other folks involved in a major operation to actually do the surgery on someone without insurance, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life trying to pay the bills.  Bills that would have been covered just the day before.

My mind whipsawed between the injustice of the loss and terror at what would happen to me if I didn’t have that damn operation.

Andrea came around to my side of my desk and put her hand on my arm. “We’ll figure this out, Elyse. It’s late now, everybody’s gone. But we’ll work this out on Monday.”

She sounded reassuring; I was unconvinced.

“Really, it’ll be OK,” she repeated. “But in the meantime, I need you to …”

Her voice trails off in my memory. Andrea was a compulsive workaholic, an A-type personality. Work always came before anything else. Other people at the firm thought it was annoying, insensitive, or worse. But for me, it helped. It was exactly what I needed. It took my mind off me. I did what she asked, finished up and went home.

Of course I fell apart once I was home and told my roommate, Keily, the news. I ranted, raged, and cried — I wallowed all evening.

“I don’t even want to have this operation,” I shouted as loudly as I could to Keily as I sat in the bathroom, the door open. My gut, naturally, was erupting. It almost always was by then, especially when I was upset. Cramps. Diarrhea. Blood. Urgency. My shitty symptoms mocked me, proving that I couldn’t avoid the surgery. That I couldn’t put it off until my insurance kicked in. That I was totally screwed.

Keily sat outside the bathroom at the top of the stairs, stroking Goliath; that was her perch as I got sicker and sicker. She sat there and talked to me. She kept Goliath out of the tiny bathroom (Keily’s only successful effort at getting the Goose, as we nicknamed him, to obey.) That night, she held Goliath, and soothed him and me at the same time. She let me vent, rage, rant.

“It’ll work out. There’s some mistake. They can’t just do this to you. You need to trust the folks at your office.” Keily said repeatedly.

“You mean the ones who agreed to the new policy?” I wasn’t in a mood to listen.

That night I’d skipped Goliath’s after-work walk. It was getting on towards 10 p.m. and he needed to go out. I needed to do something else, or at least cry somewhere else. Walking clears my head, lets me figure out how to fix a problem, helps me find an answer. I knew a walk would help.

“Do you want me to come?” asked Keily. She often did, and that night she was concerned. I was so shaky and upset.

“No, thanks, I think I need to be by myself,” I responded. “I’ll be OK.” Actually, I was wishing I could leave myself behind. I was sick of me. Sick of sick me, anyhow.

So Goliath and I got into the VW and headed to the Capitol grounds, where we walked most nights. It’s such a beautiful, inspiring place. Plus for a woman walking her dog, it’s perfect. Of course it’s well lit — you can see it for miles. But there are also security patrols that never bothered us but nevertheless made me feel safe. A 120 lb. German Shepherd helped make me feel secure, too.

It was a clear night, with a half-moon casting shadows from the beautiful cherry and oak trees, from the enormous rhododendron bushes and other carefully tended shrubs across the expansive West Lawn. Nobody else was in sight.

I let Goliath off his leash. Deep in my own thoughts, I didn’t pay much attention to him. Unusually, he stayed right with me that night. He was as worried as Keily.

I cannot believe this is happening to me, I thought, rage building again at the injustice. Because my whole entire adult life had been focused on making sure I had health insurance.

From the time of my first hospitalization at 17, I had lived my life — made every single decision — with health insurance in mind. My dreams of acting, of singing, of writing? Of doing whatever the hell I pleased? They’d all been flushed down the thousands of toilets I’d had to rush to over the 10 years since my diagnosis.

After my first hospitalization, and with word from the doctor that my ulcerative colitis would likely flare up repeatedly throughout my life, my parents forced me to go to secretarial school – a career path that had never figured into my plans. My mother was an office worker and she’d always hated her job.  It seemed boring and demeaning. Secretarial work had once been a good career path for bright women. But that, I thought in my young “know-it-all” way, was no longer the case. Mom was stuck with it, and she and Dad stuck me with it, too.

I complained bitterly; I was talented, funny, smart. It wasn’t fair.

I was wrong about both the work and the women who worked as secretaries. I quickly became pretty ashamed of my attitude, and some of the secretaries I knew became great friends.

Still when the chance emerged to turn a secretarial job into a job as a legal assistant, I jumped at it. In the job I’d had now for three years, I wrote for a living, analyzed legislation and regulations for the firm’s clients and learned about U.S. politics and policy. It was a terrific job. The firm had been good to me. And my parents were happy because I was still working in an office. With health insurance.

Another wave of anger came as I walked down the groomed hillside.

And then I saw it. Something I’d never seen there in the dozens of times I’d walked that route. Inexplicably, on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building, there was a pole sticking out of the grass with a chain attached at the top, and a ball hanging down.

Tetherball.

I walked up to it and started smacking that ball. I’d only seen cheap sets with rope attaching the ball to the pole. This one had a strong chain that was covered in a canvas sheath. But instead of improving my mood, hitting the ball deepened my feelings of desperation.

SMACK. I hit the ball as hard as I could. “MY BODY HATES ME!” I shouted as I pushed the ball around the pole.

WHACK. “MY LIFE SUCKS!”

SLAM. “Fucking, fucking FUCKING INSURANCE!

SMACK, SMACK, SMACK. “Hopeless. Hopeless. Hopeless.”

With each hit of the ball, I pushed myself towards the end of my own rope. There was no way to unravel all the problems I was facing, the problems that kept expanding.  Just as I thought I’d licked one, it would multiply. No way to fix all the crap that kept piling up. Crap that I suddenly felt that I was facing alone.

That was the moment when I realized, with surprising clarity, that life just wasn’t worth the trouble. At least mine wasn’t.

I decided at that moment to hang myself. I would hang myself from the tetherball chain on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.  It suddenly became the perfect solution.

I saw no way out. I couldn’t continue, didn’t want to continue. And I’d gotten way past the amount of shit I could deal with.

I sat down on the grass on the hill just above the contraption and allowed myself one last cry. Naturally I didn’t have any Kleenex. Snot running with my tears did not make me feel any better.

The first problem I discovered was that I couldn’t quite figure out what to call the thing. It seemed important that I know what to call it if I was going to die on it.

I wondered: Is it a tetherball set? A tetherball apparatus? A tetherball thing-y? I didn’t know the answer.

Goliath tried to distract me, to cheer me and when that didn’t work, he sat down next to me and let me use his shoulder. He tried to lick my tears away, but they kept coming. He butted his head into me. But he got bored with my misery and wandered away.

I didn’t watch where he went, I didn’t care. It didn’t matter where he went, what he did. Whom he harassed. I was done.

The decision was made.

I got up and walked up to the tetherball thing-y and realized what I hadn’t noticed before: that the chain was actually quite short. Too short, possibly, for my plan. The ball itself fell to just the height of my shoulder.

I was shocked. How am I going to do this?

I reached up, stood on my tippy-toes like a kindergartner, grabbed the chain in my left hand, and tried to pull it down a little more. But it was a chain, so it was very strong and not at all stretchy. It was also pretty thick, about 2-1/2 inches wide and not terribly pliable.

I stood there, grunting, sobbing, trying to stretch my body. I held the ball and the bottom of the tether chain in my hand, trying to figure out a way to make this work. Wondering if I could quickly have a growth spurt.

How can I get this short thick thing around my neck?

Even on my tippy-toes and pulling it as hard as I could, it wasn’t long enough. It just reached from my chin to my shoulder — not even half way around my neck!

What sort of an idiot designed this damn thing with an impossibly short chain? I wondered. You can’t even smack the ball around the pole more than a couple of times.

Not to mention that it wasn’t at all helpful for putting me out of my misery.

I pursed my lips and moved them from side to side like Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp. I rubbed my chin and scratched my head.  Tried to solve the shortcomings.

Naturally, other problems popped up too.

What can I jump off of?

Of course, the answer was “nothing.” I was on the manicured grounds of the Capitol. I couldn’t pile up debris and jump off of it because there was no debris. The neat grounds rarely had much in the way of move-able objects.  I was starting to get annoyed.

I want to die. Now. Tonight. On the tetherball thing-y. How the hell can I do this?

There on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol Building — with security patrols passing every 10 or so minutes — I was hell-bent on committing suicide by tetherball.  I was trying to stretch, to grow, to find a ladder, a chair, anything I could jump off of with a piece of US Government-issued sports equipment wrapped around my neck. Wanting to and trying to die.

And then it hit me.

Or rather, he hit me. Goliath, of course.

SLAM! Something hard hit the back of my legs.

“Owwww!”

From somewhere on the grounds, Goliath had picked up a huge stick – an uprooted tree by the size of it. It was at least five feet long and four inches around. His mouth was stretched to the limit holding it. And he’d hit me with it in the back of my legs.

WHACK! He did it again. I turned and saw that he’d lowered his chest towards the ground into a bow. He kept his rear end high in the air, wagging the whole back half of his body ferociously.

He’d had enough of me feeling sorry for myself. It was time to play. So he rammed me with it again.

“Owwwww, Goliath STOP THAT!” I commanded.

He didn’t listen. He went around to my left and hit me with it again. His eyes caught the moonlight – they sparkled. He was laughing at me.

SLAP! “Owwww, NO! That hurts. Cut it out!”

He bounced to my right side with the long thick branch firmly in his mouth. Pretending to loosen his grip on it. Teasing me. Trying to get me to play. Wanting me to reach for the stick, which he would never give me.

(Come on, Mom, catch me!) He was play growling at the stick and at me. He bowed again, swung his head to and fro, and the long stick swung left to right, wobbled up and down. It got stuck in the ground for a second, and then he forced it back out again with a flick of his massive head. Goliath came close to me and then bounded off with his treasure. Circling me. Approaching me, but backing off before I could get to him. He never got close enough for me to grab that damn stick.

(Come on, Mom, try to grab it!) We were going to play, whether I wanted to or not. And he hit me with the damn thing again.

“Give me that stick!” I ordered. He wouldn’t. He danced around me and the tetherball thing-y and bashed me and the pole repeatedly.

I’m not sure if he knocked me over or I sat down in defeat, crying. He bashed it into me a few more times, but then lost interest. Goliath dropped his weapon — well out of my reach — and sat down beside me. He put his paw on my lap, his head on my shoulder and nuzzled me. Chewed at my hair and my ear. Let me scratch his ears.

“You silly Goose.” I said pulling his ears and tail affectionately. Hugging him. “You’re gonna kill me one of these days.”

I knew then that I couldn’t kill myself, that night or any other. Nobody in their right mind would take my stupid dog.

 *     *     *

I learned when I went back to work on the following Monday that the person I spoke with at the insurance company was wrong.  Mistaken.  My company’s coverage was considered continuing coverage and so my condition was insured.  I had my surgery and became healthy for the first time in about a decade.

Since the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, started, I have been haunted by the memory of the night I nearly ended my own life in a fit of desperation.  And while I think we can all agree that it was the silliest suicide plan ever constructed, that misses the entire point.

And that point is that folks who lose their insurance or who are without insurance are often desperate.  And close to the end of their rope.  I certainly was .

How many other Americans have been in that position?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Millions?  How many think, consider, and/or attempt suicide?

The New England Journal of Medicine reported the following:

First, many suicidal acts — one third to four fifths of all suicide attempts, according to studies — are impulsive. Among people who made near-lethal suicide attempts, for example, 24% took less than 5 minutes between the decision to kill themselves and the actual attempt, and 70% took less than 1 hour.  (Miller and Hemenway, 2008)  (Emphasis added.)

I am not a traditional candidate for suicide, I don’t have the risk factors.  But I was, literally, at the end of my rope because of a combination of constantly dealing with a difficult disease, being broke because I was young and just starting out, and suddenly losing my insurance.  I would have had a huge financial burden I would never be able to pay off.  All through the bad luck of bad health.  Simple bad luck.

When I hear the anti-Affordable Care Act folks preaching about how we need to get rid of Obamacare, I want to scream.  Because a flawed system is better than the old system, where pre-existing conditions — the very thing that makes insurance absolutely necessary — will be the very thing that made insurance coverage impossible.

We need this program or we need a better program.  Going back to the old system is already unthinkable.

Is Obamacare perfect?  Nope.  Is there a perfect solution?  Nope.  But it is an improvement.  A huge, huge improvement.  And the problems will be fixed.

Health insurance for many people makes the difference between life and death.  Literally and figuratively.

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Do I Hear Five?

On May 29, 2011, I was fifty-four and a half years old.  And I was seriously irritated at the GOP in Congress.  You see, they had announced that they were going to take away Medicare from those then under 55 years old.  And that meant me.  I spouted off about it to anyone who would listen.

They’re gonna take Medicare from ME!  I’m 54-1/2!  That’s where they’re gonna start!

After the first 528 times I mentioned this fact to each and every person I could corner, I still felt unsated.  I wanted to tell more people of my irritation.  Whether or not I knew them.

And so I heard a voice inside my head (something I rarely admit to):

Go forth, it said,  and start a blog.

Oh and give it a stupid name to keep yourself humble.

And so I did.  Both of those things.  FiftyFourAndAHalf was born with this post.

Blogging has been a completely different experience than I expected.

My original plan was to do a political/humor blog.  But in spite of a never-ending source of fodder, I found that I wanted to write about other things, too.  That part didn’t really surprise me.

What surprised me was that blogging, and Word Press, became a place where I met new friends, discussed topics important to me.  Where I laughed and cried along with folks I will probably never meet.

Thanks, everybody.  And while I’ve been writing less than usual and reading less than usual, I love the special place that is the ‘sphere.  So, yeah, thanks for being out there, for reading, and for giving me stuff to read too.

From Daily Kos.com

From Daily Kos.com

 

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Draining

Today’s the day.  D-Day.  “D” for Duncan.  “D” for Dog.  NOT “D” for Draining.  Duncan, if he knew what was in store would consider it “D” for “DON’T” or maybe “DAMN!”

 

You're Gonna Do WHAT?

You’re Gonna Do WHAT? To ME?????

I’ve grown up considerably since I first had to take similar action.  And I am now a fake medical expert and a professional Googl-er.

But the old days produced much better stories.  Like this one.

Dogs and Other Nuts

You’ve already met my psychotic German shepherd, Goliath.  The one with the stupid name and the drinking problem.   The manic of a dog I was crazy to take into my life.

As you can probably guess, from the moment I put him in my car that first night, all life immediately revolved around Goliath.  Morning, after-work and evening walks became a ritual.  It was good for my health, which was otherwise pretty crappy.  It was good for my psyche, which was also not tops.  It wasn’t so good for some of the other dogs at the park, though.

Mostly outside Goliath was quite friendly, he liked to play with other dogs.  He made many doggy friends, and their owners liked him too.  But more often than I liked to admit, Goliath listened to his darker angel:

Gotta bite a dog.  Gotta bite a dog.  Gotta bite a dog NOW!”

He would then race across the park towards his would be victim, dragging me behind him shouting:

“No!”

“Stop!”

“Heel!”

God Damn it — STOP!

Goliath was about 18 months old when I finally admitted that something had to be done.  When I knew I had to “fix” the problem.  When he pissed me off so much that there was only one solution:

I had to cut off his balls.

Yup.  Castration.  Dr. Jane, Goliath’s vet, had been telling me to neuter him for months.  Carlos, Goliath’s dog trainer told me to do it, too.  The owners of Goliath’s ‘frenemies’ suggested it less politely.

But I’d never had a neutered dog before.  It seemed harsh.  Cruel.  Unfair.  Plus, I’d always hoped for grandchildren.

Of course I read about what happens to a dog after-balls.  I learned that neutering lowers a dog’s testosterone level – makes him less likely to act like Rocky Balboa at the park.  Less likely to fight with other dogs.  And way less likely to drag me in front of a bus while rushing to attack another dog.  All good things for me.  But for him?  Not so much.

I learned that it’s best to neuter your dog at about six months of age.  But six months was right after I brought home my traumatized, abused dog!  It just didn’t seem nice to turn around and say:

“You’re home now.  Nobody will ever hurt you again.

Oh, except when I cut off your balls.”

And really, I empathized.  I was young, unmarried, childless.  I didn’t want anyone to neuter me.  So how could I do it to my best friend?  I just couldn’t.

At least not until he ticked me off once too often.  (I’m telling you, do not mess with me.)

Goliath

We were at Lincoln Park one night for our after-work walk, when Goliath got that urge to fight.  I struggled to hold him, to keep him away from the other dog, to make my maniac behave.  He didn’t.  He wouldn’t.  It took all my strength to keep him from hurting that other dog.

That was it, the last straw.  I’d had enough.  It was time.  And feeling very much like Alice’s mad Queen of Hearts, I made the decision –

“Off with his balls!”

Goliath and I arrived at the animal clinic that Tuesday.  Unfortunately it was our regular vet Dr. Jane’s day off.  A young vet I hadn’t seen before called my name and led Goliath and me into an examining room.

Handsome vet

(Google image)

I have to admit, I was embarrassed.  Dr. Jane was a woman, and, well, I’d hoped to be discussing my dog’s testicles with her — with a woman.  Instead, here was this handsome young guy who I had fallen for immediately.  And rather than flirting with him, there I was talking to him about castration – hardly the best way to get a date.   My heart sank knowing that my chances with the handsome vet were also being nipped in the bud.

Dr. David quickly sensed my discomfort.  He knew I was wavering.  He could tell that I was about to chicken out and change my mind.

“He’ll be fine,” said the vet, looking Goliath over.   “It’s very routine.  He won’t even notice the difference.  But you’ll be much happier with the results.”

Of course I couldn’t look Dr. David in the eye.  Because naturally I was wondering if he would notice if someone cut off his balls.  I was pretty sure he’d notice.

“Now, I don’t know how much you know about this procedure, but there are actually two different ways of doing this.  We can either castrate him completely –basically cut off his testes — or we can drain the fluids inside.  That has the same effect.”

Drain them?” I said hopefully.

“Yes, we essentially drain him, lowering the testosterone to a more manageable level.  It’s less radical, less risky.  Dog owners are often more comfortable with this procedure.  Now which of those options do you think makes the most sense for this big guy?” he said, looking Goliath right in the eye.

“Draining them sounds much better,” I said, feeling relieved.  I was feeling so good, in fact, that I could actually look Dr. David in the eye again.  They were deep blue …

So I left Goliath with Dr. David and what I envisioned to be some sort of sterile siphon.   I no longer felt even a smidge of guilt.

You know what?  Even doing the procedure late helped.   After the surgery, Goliath was less interested in killing other male dogs.  From time to time one of them really ticked him off and led me to believe that those sacks hadn’t been completely drained, after all.  But the newly drained Goliath was a huge improvement over the old testosterone-filled maniac.  For the rest of his life he was considerably less aggressive.

The draining also left him with his pride.  He kept a bit of flesh in between his legs to chew on.  It eased my guilt — after all, they’d only drained some fluid from him, and doctors and vets do that sort of things all the time.  Goliath was still a man.  He kept the semblance of his balls.  Something to chew on.  He was still alpha dog. I had not turned him into a pansy.

In the intervening years, I married John, a man who quickly became devoted to Goliath.  A few years later, when we had all moved out of state, I took Goliath to a new vet.  Goliath was then about nine years old –getting up there in doggy years.  The poor old guy was having problems urinating and needed some attention.

But when I gave the new vet, Dr. Joe, the rundown of Goliath’s health history, I got an unexpected lesson when I mentioned to the man how Goliath had been “fixed” at 18 months.

“I don’t know if it makes any difference, but I should probably tell you that, you know, Goliath wasn’t actually ‘castrated,’ he was ‘drained.’”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, at the time the vet said that either they could castrate him, ummmm, cut off his, ummmm, testicles, or drain them.  I chose to have him ‘drained.’”

I’m pretty sure that all of Dr. Joe’s medical training in delivering disturbing news culminated in this one moment with me.  Every cell in his face solidified so that there wasn’t even a hint of a smile.

“Ummmm, Ma’am?”  he said without so much as a hint of humor,  “There is no such procedure in veterinary medicine.  We don’t “drain” the dogs.  We surgically remove the testes.  All that’s left is the skin.”

“Oh,” I replied.

I’ve never told this story before.  Somehow, I bet both vets have.

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Crisis Management

Normally, I am the best person to have around in a crisis.

I keep my head.  I think the problem through.  I react intelligently, organize other helpful responders and do what needs to be done.   Yes, that’s just the sort of person I am in real life.

Generally, I also manage to keep a running humorous commentary which is invaluable to the hoards of folks standing around doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.  Because, let’s face it.  Not everyone handles stressful situations without becoming certifiably stupid.

Of course every rule needs an exception, and this story is no exception to the exception requirement.

*    *     *

It was just after John and I bought a house for Goliath because nobody would rent to a young couple with a gigantic dog.

We were incredibly lucky in buying our first house.  It was a tiny split level cape cod type that defied description.  But it was just right for newlyweds.  The whole inside had been redone – we bought it from a contractor who’d lived there.  The kitchen was new, the paint unmarked.  Everything was bright and clean.  The coral colored carpeting was newly installed and didn’t have a single blemish on it.

It had been a long stressful day at work for me, so after John and I walked Goliath and had dinner, I decided to take a long, hot, relaxing bath.  The one bathroom was on the “second floor” which was four steps up from the living room.   As it turns out, it was my last relaxing bath.  Ever.

So I wasn’t far when John announced from the living room below

“Uh, Lease?  We have a problem.”

John was fairly calm, actually.  Of course that would change.

“What’s the problem?” I said.  The water was still warm and I was just starting to wash away the day.

“The red ball is stuck in Goliath’s mouth.”

Shit!  I thought as I got out of the tub and grabbed my robe.  Why couldn’t he just pull the damn ball out and let me have my bath?  I was a tad annoyed at my new husband at that moment.

I went down the two steps to find John holding Goliath steady, calming him down, even though Goliath was relatively calm.

Goliath turned towards me and I immediately saw what John was talking about.

Goliath’s favorite tease-toy, a hard red rubber ball with a bell inside, was there in his mouth.  But it didn’t look like any big deal.  I looked at John with an I can’t believe you can’t handle this without me look.  John didn’t notice.

Red ball with bell

Still available.  Photo Credit

That ball really was Goliath’s favorite.  He’d pick it up and taunt us when he wanted to play.  He’d wag his tail ferociously, and drop the ball, catching it in his mouth long before we could grab it from him to throw it.  It never hit the floor.  Goliath would drop and catch, drop and catch, drop and catch.  The bell inside would ring and he would wiggle his eyebrows and his back end.  Come on, grab the ball, he was clearly saying.  Let’s play.  But of course, he would never let us.

This time, as I dripped on the new carpet and assessed the situation, I could see that Goliath had caught the ball too far back in his mouth.  He couldn’t drop it again, and the ball’s size was just a little bit larger than his windpipe.

First I petted Goliath, soothed him, although he wasn’t really terribly upset.  In fact, he was just a little bit confused and uncomfortable.   I looked at John, astonished that he hadn’t just reached into Goliath’s huge mouth full of huge teeth, and pulled out the ball.

So I did.  Or at least I did the first bit — I reached into Goliath’s mouth, firmly placed my thumb and forefinger on the ball, glancing at John to make sure he would know what to do next time.  John and I watched in horror as the dog-slobbery ball slipped out of my fingers, lodging further into his mouth, right at the top of his windpipe, blocking most of his throat.

No longer able to breathe comfortably and no doubt pissed that his Mommy had made things worse for him, Goliath began to panic.  He started running around the house with John and I chasing after him. Trying to catch him, trying to pry the damn ball out of his mouth.

I’ve never felt so helpless.  So terrified.  It was later when I felt like an idiot.

John and I tried everything we could think of – we put the stem of a wooden spoon behind the damn ball and tried to pull it out.  But  it didn’t budge.  The spoon broke, naturally.  We went through a lot of kitchen equipment that night.

Stupidly, in spite of the fact that it hadn’t worked, we kept reaching into his mouth and trying to pull the ball out.  Each time we made it worse and the ball went down further.  With each effort we only made it more difficult for him to breathe, and the more panicked poor Goliath got.

Goliath ran back and forth between the kitchen, the dining room and living room – the three tiny rooms of our tiny little house.  John would catch him as he ran by and try something.  I would catch him on the rebound and try something, anything else.  Poor panicked Goliath raced across the three rooms, a half-dozen times.  And then a half-dozen times again.

Once when he caught Goliath, John reached into Goliath’s mouth behind the ball.  Goliath’s gag reflex, in constant action by that time, led him to clamp down on John’s right index finger.

“Shit!” John shouted as he pulled his hand away from Goliath and let him go.  Blood dripped from John’s hand.

Almost immediately I caught Goliath and did exactly the same thing, only Goliath bit my left pointer finger.  Then it was John’s turn again to be bitten, and Goliath got John’s left middle finger.   Blood was flying all around our new house, our new carpet.  We didn’t really care, though, Goliath’s panic had spread to John and me.

Goliath was going to die.

There was nothing we could do.  My boy would choke to death on that goddam ball in front of us.  And with each movement that Goliath made, the cheerful bell inside of it rang.  Alfred Hitchcock was directing the scene.

Maybe the image of Alfred Hitchcock led me to do what I did next.  Yeah, let’s just assume that that’s what happened. It is the only explanation.

I had to do something or my crazy, psychotic, beloved life-saver of a dog was going to die.  I was about out of ideas, and then I remembered a show John and I had watched on TV just the night before.

I went into the kitchen and took out our largest knife, knowing I had to give my dog a tracheotomy.

At the time, I was not yet a fake medical professional.  I had never done a canine tracheotomy.  I did not, in fact have a clue if dogs have tracheas, and if so, just where Goliath’s might be located.  I didn’t know if it would make a difference if I, ummm, otomied it.

But just the night before, Radar had done a tracheotomy on a wounded soldier on M*A*S*H.  And if Radar O’Reilly, another animal lover, could do it, well, so could I.  Goliath needed me.

Besides he was going to die.  That reality had become crystal clear.  I had to do something.  Something drastic.  And likely messy.

So I took the butcher knife from the kitchen to the living room to perform my surgery there, on the new carpet in the room that was now looked like a crime scene.  My blood and John’s was speckled all over the living room and dining room  rug and smeared onto the walls and door frames.  I stood, knife in hand, and looked around the living room for a clean spot on the rug.

Henkels Butcher KnifeAlso still available here where I got the photo

John had at that time caught Goliath who was still terrified, still panicked, but running out of energy and oxygen.  When John saw me with the knife in my hand and heard my plan, he must have thought

This woman can never get near my (future) children.”

But “Are you nuts?” was all I recall him saying.  Perhaps there were expletives mixed in there, somewhere.  Maybe.

At just that moment, Goliath keeled over.

“Oh my God,” I shouted.  “He’s dead.”  And I began to sob.

“No,” was all John said.  But he started punching Goliath in the stomach, which did not seem like a very respectful thing to do to a dead dog.  To my dead baby.

Out popped the ball.  John, holding tightly to Goliath’s muzzle with his two bleeding hands, breathed into Goliath’s mouth.   Magically, Goliath’s eyes opened.  Goliath took a very deep breath indeed.  So did we.

The Heimlich maneuver.  It works on dogs. 

There’s another thing I should tell you about the Heimlich maneuver.  It’s best to try it before attempting a tracheotomy.

*     *     *

Other Goliath Stories:

For Medicinal Purposes Only

Dogs and Other Nuts

What’s In A Name?

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Filed under Dogs, Family, Goliath Stories, Health and Medicine, Hey Doc?, History, Huh?, Humor, Science, Stupidity, Wild Beasts