Once, when Amelia was about three or four years old, she, Colton and I were driving along. The two of them were of course in the back seat and all of the sudden Amelia yells, “Who’s driving the car!?” In the seconds that I was trying to figure out what she meant, Colton chimed in and answered, “Mom is. The person who has their hands on the big wheel up in front is the one who is driving the car.” It made me think about how we assume kids understand these things, but that often they don’t understand what parts are working what parts, and who is in charge and who is driving the car.
I wasn’t going to blog this week on account of what happened to me, and will warn you that what follows is me pretty raw and loose and it is probably disorganized thinking. It even may run the risk of looking whiney or catastrophic death spiral-ish. But, I warned you.
Physically I feel like I did in chemo, only with hair; painful, flu-like, body achy, headachy and afraid. I have retreated mentally to a rather stunned and shocked place, and am cowering and licking my mental wounds. I am one who has to understand an event intellectually before I can incorporate it emotionally, and being just a day out of this event I am not even close to understanding it and far from incorporating it. But maybe for once there is value in me blogging about something while I am in the midst of it per se, rather than after five years.
On Thursday Scout the Wonderdog and I were taking a lunchtime walk. Scout, for you new readers is a tripawd and is 11 years old, and he has occasional bad back problems because of his three leggedness when/if he falls. So, it’s a slow, careful short walk for him; Scout could not get away from me if he tried, but because THE LAW is that dogs be on a leash, I obey.
Readers Digest version: A neighbor’s dog got out of its yard (yet again,) and charged me and my buddy. The dog viciously attacked Scout, bit into his face and would not let go. Scout being handicapped, could not defend himself and was going down, so I started to push at the other dog to get him off of Scout. The dog got mad at me, and sunk his teeth deep into my leg. In the end, Scout and I both came home with multiple deep holes in our bodies, deep wounds in our psyche, and a bloody sickening mess.
It gets worse.
I took Scout to the vet first because simply as I triaged us, it seemed he was bleeding worse than me. I didn’t realize how bad my wounds were at the time, with adrenalin and shock numbing me, I just kept moving. Hands on the big wheel, I just kept driving.
Scout will be okay but with a hole in his lip and injury to his back, this will be a long recovery. And it will be a long round of antibiotics for the dog who is impossible to pill and who gets diarrhea from even minor diet changes.
While I was at the vet, I asked if by chance they knew the dog that attacked us. They did, and pulled the dog’s records.
The rabies vaccine was almost three months past due. At that moment, I knew I had deep deep wounds because my subcu fat was spilling out. I almost threw up when they told me, and began to cry.
I have not stopped crying.
I got Scout home and then drove myself to my doctor. My regular doctor was out, so I got “the new one” on staff. I’m sorry, but I have seen my share of top-notch docs in my day, and she was not one of them, absolutely clueless. I asked what to do about the rabies concern and she had no idea. I then suggested that perhaps going over to the hospital might be a good idea? “Yes dear,” she said as she did not clean the wound. She at least had a clue about one thing, when I asked about sutures as the wounds were still bleeding out, she said in her broken English, “No dear. First item on test, never suture puncture wound.” Thank God she got that right. She failed however to irrigate or clean the wound, instead dabbing Neosporin on it and sending me on my way saying in her broken English, “Hospital, good dear.”
I was still looking for the one with their hands on the big wheel.
During the drive to the hospital, I called two friends, both of them doctors. One is my old buddy from years ago, in fact he danced at my wedding; he is a BIG infectious disease expert. I asked him about the need for rabies shots given the peculiarity of the situation and he said, “Absolutely, the disease is 99% fatal Lauren, do not mess around with this and start them tonight so they can inject into the open wounds.” Ugh. But at least he had his hands on the wheel.
After two hours of waiting in the ED with all the drunks, and imagining how bad shots “into the wounds” would feel, I was finally taken back to the exam room. I was so hopeful that a driver would be waiting and organized about how to navigate all of this, but when I got back there, I searched and searched and no one had their hands on the big wheel. Everyone, including nurses, the registration person and animal control cop told me something different about where/how the shots were given, the side effects and even the need for shots and what should happen next etc. Finally, I was reduced to becoming an obnoxious, mildly aggressive Lauren as I pushed them aside and took the big wheel. Nothing like having to drive with blood still pumping out of your leg at an alarming rate.
I asked for the CDC printout on the side effects of the shots, asked to talk to the pharmacy to assure some had been given out of this lot already and of course as we know with my fear of germs, became über crazy with the nurses about cleanliness. One nurse helpfully suggested waiting ten days to get the shots to see if the dog started to look sick or acted weird. I am sorry but charging unprovoked from half a block away at another dog is weird enough for me. Then another nurse walked in to give me the shots and said she had never done rabies shots before (confessing this to me only after I asked specifically if had she done them before,) so I knocked her out of the driver’s seat as well…nothing like riding with a driver who announces she has never driven before.
Animal Control came, and even they didn’t seem to have their hands on the big wheel. They were unaware that there are two identical dogs in that yard, and I had no clue which of the two had attacked me and Scout for quarantine purposes. I still don’t know if they have driven over and sorted it out and quarantined the right dog.
I felt like I had to not only literally drive myself and Scout to all these places for treatment, but I figuratively had to continue to drive the car once I arrived. Occasionally, I had to pull off the highway with fits of crying about how I had failed to protect Scout, and about missing my son’s play as I sat in the ED alone. I was a distracted driver to say the least, but had to stop crying and get my hands back on the wheel and get right back at it.
I felt like little Amelia; I didn’t know who was driving the car. I didn’t know what parts where making what parts work.
I don’t want to talk about the rabies shots. I am a fifteen months of chemo veteran and I will say only this, urban legend about how bad these shots are is spot on. And I have to go back for three more rounds.
I thought I knew trauma, I thought I was a tough girl; I thought nothing could scare me after cancer.
I was wrong.
As we sat in the front seats of her convertible yesterday, I wept to a friend as it all spilled out. I asked her how much one person could have to face in their life; I cried about how things had recently been so tough for me with other matters, and how I was finally feeling that bad days were behind me and now this had just had done me in. I cried about my failure to protect Scout, thinking now that I should have picked him up when the other dog came running. I cried about how could people let rabies vaccines lapse? I cried about missing work and my income again being in jeopardy as a single parent and I cried as I wondered how could I work feeling so awful, with such a headache and body pain. I cried about missing my son’s play, the first ever where he had a lead role. I cried because legal stuff feels so slimy to me. My health insurance was finally after five years of outrageous rates to go down, and I cried because I doubt that will happen with this now.
I wept about how someone else’s failure to be responsible could be so life changing for me. How when you expect others to be driving their car because they appear to have their hands on the wheel and seem like responsible drivers, and they are just pretending, it sickens you. I cried about how no medical professional except for the ones I called myself to oversee the issue seemed to know how to handle it. I cried with her for a long time, and am so grateful she came to see me and sat there with me, with her hands on the big wheel.
A client, who’s son had been sexually abused once said to me, “We are good people, we volunteer, we live lives of service, how could this happen? How did we find ourselves in this cesspool of human failure?” I thought I got it then but I didn’t; I know that because I so get that now. There is a difference between that vapory thing called perhaps karma or just life, and wounds/injuries to the body and psyche that are caused by human failure, by another human being irresponsible with their car.
Cancer is uncontrollable and random; I didn’t feel like a victim when I had cancer. I don’t ever recall saying, “Why me?” I didn’t really feel like my actions or anyone else actions had caused me to get cancer. Perhaps that trauma was easier to manage because I couldn’t say, “If me or someone had just done A, B and C I wouldn’t have cancer.”
But this is different; this girl with swagger who is fearless, who has never had a victim mentality in her entire life, feels frightened and victimized. Because if someone had done A, B and C I would not be in this situation. Why, if you were given a car to drive, did you not follow the rules of the road? How hard is it to take your dogs two blocks away to get vaccines? Why with multiple reminder cards mailed to you did you not take them on time? How did I find myself caught up in this cesspool of human failure? Why am I paying the costs of human failure?
Physically the wounds will hopefully heal; although I am told I am far from being out of the woods with such deep tissue wounds. Mentally, I just don’t know. It is a fresh and unfamiliar kind of hell for this warrior to navigate.
Since cancer, I have been so careful about what goes in my body, and what I do to be proactive against recurrence. I do everything I can to keep cancer away. I take tons of vitamins, I drink alcohol rarely, and exercise like crazy to keep my weight down. I hand wash excessively and am a germphobe because I am afraid of getting sick and needing antibiotics, as studies show the link of them breast cancer. In fact, I have only had to take antibiotics maybe once in five years and now taking an entire month of them is causing big dissonance for me; I feel like I am taking cancer tablets. I avoid radiation exposure like the plague, and here I am with multiple views of my leg being taken, asking for an extra lead apron. I never had plastic surgery to reconstruct because I am afraid of infection, because I am so done with hospitals and needle pokes, and because I am uncomfortable with the notion of foreign bodies inside me. The thought of dead rabies virus inside of me has made me unable to sleep or eat. I am afraid to hug my kids. I don’t know how I will ever hurdle that mentally given my mental makeup. The repeated hospital visits ahead for the series of rabies shots alarm me on many levels: germs, MRSA, more needles, flashbacks.
I drive the cancer car with my eyes on the road, alert for obstacles and potholes to avoid. It has given me some semblance or illusion of control to have my hands on the big wheel. Now, I feel like someone in the backseat has reached over my shoulder, grabbed the wheel and is making me careen into every pothole and over every cliff I have so carefully avoided, for at least five years.
I feel like a victim. That is so not me.
My life motto has always been this Joan of Arc quote, “I am not afraid, I was born to do this.” But I was not born to do this. I am afraid. I have still not been able to walk Scout alone, and have insisted on having one of my kids with me. I can’t talk about any of this without crying; I am still in shock and feel so sick.
I don’t like being afraid, it is not me either.
I don’t know if I will ever forgive myself for what I perceive as my failure to protect Scout. I look at him today with his shaved muzzle and wounds, and think, “I was supposed to drive his car, and keep him safe while he rode in the backseat and I didn’t do a good job of it.” He is scared and different. Friends came in the house yesterday and he ran from them to under the table; I have never seen him do that in eleven years. Last night on a walk, as Scout readied to do his business, the wind blew and trees rustled and he stopped and began looking all around him in a frightened way.
I did too.
He doesn’t trust that anyone (me included) has their hands on the big wheel anymore. I don’t trust my ability to drive either. This makes me stuck and unable to move forward. I am looking over my shoulder, fearful of what is rustling back there; afraid that it is someone who could reach over, grab the big wheel and take us over a cliff.
It never occurred to me that could happen…until now.