I kept smelling a bad smell in my car, and couldn’t figure out what it was. Finally tonight I rummaged around in the back until, startled, I found the source – the blanket I wrapped Sunny in, to keep her insides from falling out. It was the smell of two-week-old blood in a hot car.
Now that you’ve lost your appetite, I’m afraid it’s time to tell the whole story. I keep having these flashback-like bits of memory from that horrid day; the visions haunt my days and my dreams. Maybe telling will make it better.
It was a Monday. I had dropped Ry off at school. When I came home, I let the dogs out in the yard while I got ready for work. They’d been out 10 or 15 minutes when I went to let them in. I stepped out onto the cement porch, into the sun, and something at the foot of the steps caught my attention. Blood, lots of it. Aww shit, I thought. My eyes quickly followed the trail of blood, a few feet down the walk, into the middle of the yard, to Oh God
[the first vision] the body of my small yellow dog, unmoving, on its side in the grass. Dead.
“OhSunnySunnySunny” I breathed as my feet flew down the steps and over to her. She was alive, eyes open. She was covered in blood and there was a hole in her belly and Oh God her guts were coming out of her, the size of a fist out of that hole.
I have many character flaws. Some of them are pretty serious. I have one trait, however, that makes up for every one of my faults. I am very good at saving lives.
In an emergency, when everyone around me is screaming and all is chaos, I see only one path – the right one, right now. I gathered Sunny up in my arms, cupped my hand under what was spilling out and carried her quickly into the house. I set her down briefly on the kitchen floor, put the puppy in her kennel, grabbed my keys, wallet and cell phone, gently but quickly gathered up my dog and dashed for the car. [Second vision] I lay her on her back in the back seat and wrapped a blanket around her to keep her in that position, and to keep any more of her belly from spilling out. It was a Guatemalan blanket lent us years ago by our Austin friend Bobette. It had come in handy many times.
I could have gone to our regular vet office; they’re not that far away, but I knew she might not make it. Instead I turned right and drove two blocks to a closer one I’d seen. “Hang on, Sunny, hold on baby, just hold on…” Her breathing was labored, and her eyes were glazed from shock. I pulled in and ran inside, told the desk tech “my dog has a stomach wound, she’s bleeding to death” and raced back to my car. I gathered Sunny and the blanket up; a male vet tech in blue scrubs met me at the door and took her from me gingerly. I don’t remember feeling any weight in my arms, any of the times I carried her.
I followed him into the back, bypassing the waiting room, and no one told me to do different. He laid her on an examining table and gently removed the blanket as the veterinarian, a tall, middle-aged man, came around the corner. They were both shocked to see her belly. His manner belied how grave her condition was. Her gums were totally gray. She couldn’t lift her head. He felt under her back leg: “I can barely feel a pulse.”
I knelt and stayed at her head, stroking her soft fur and talking to her while they asked me questions and prepped her, and the grief and fear finally rolled out of my gut. I sobbed quietly, holding her face close to mine, whispering to her. “I love you, oh Sunny, I love you so much, it’s all right, I’m here, I’m here, I’m so sorry.” [Third vision] This is it. My sweet friend is going to die here.
I called in to work. Then the desk tech apologetically told me I needed to come put a deposit down for surgery. As I left the room, Sunny’s eyes followed me, widening with anxiety. “I’ll be right back, Sweetheart.” I filled out the paperwork with shaking hands, handed her my credit card and rushed back to my dog. She registered my reappearance; her eyes stayed on my face as I signed the consent without reading it. Finally, they picked her up and took her into the surgery room. I stayed at her head, talking to her, while the sweet blue-scrub tech put a mask over her muzzle. “Anesthesia?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “It put her to sleep, for surgery.” He had a lovely Central- or South American accent I couldn’t place. After a few minutes, when it seemed she was out, I left the room. In the exam room I lowered myself onto a rolling chair, wrapped my arms around myself, and let the grief settle in my heart like a boulder.
When I looked back into the room a few minutes later, [fourth vision] they had cranked her jaws open with some sort of instrument and were inserting a tube. Her eyes were open and looked scared. I got back out of sight of it and hugged myself harder, telling myself it only looked like she was awake. The vet, Dr. Raybek, came to tell me I could feel free to wait in the waiting room. I sat still for a few moments. “Is it my choice, or would you prefer that I go to the waiting room?” “I’d prefer that you wait in the waiting room.” Well okay then.
When I last looked in, against my better judgment, she was positioned on her back in a pool of bright light, completely knocked out (I hope), with her little paws extended, a tube down her throat and a wire attached to her tongue. Probably something like a pulse monitor. Though at the time that was too much, for some reason that image doesn’t bother me now. Maybe because it seems so unreal, so over the top. It had to be TV.
Cyrus, the blue-scrub tech, gently suggested that I use the bathroom to wash up. I looked down at myself – covered in blood. I scrubbed my arms to the shoulder, and ran a damp paper towel over my face as well. I was pale, and the blue eyes that looked back from the mirror were more blue in contrast to the tearful redness. There was blood soaked into my work clothes and blood and hair on my jacket, but I didn’t care.
In the waiting room, I left Melissa several texts and voicemails. I left Mom a tearful message. I texted my Facebook status in, a request for prayers. Then I began to pray. But I suck at traditional praying, and my stomach was cramping painfully, so instead I closed my eyes and tried to get comfortable.
Pretty soon Mom called. She was awesome, of course, though I don’t remember the conversation. Melissa called, and all I remember was telling her I’m okay, and her reply: “I’m not okay.” My pal Deana called, and she was awesome, too.
The desk tech came over and offered me a cup of water, which I gratefully accepted, though I couldn’t drink more than a few small sips. I wanted to be left alone, then, but she felt she was helping by telling me a story about her beloved cat getting away during a move, never to be seen again. “They’re like family,” she said. I was grateful for her effort, and thanked her, though I honestly didn’t give a shit about her cat at that moment.
I don’t know how long I waited, but I don’t think it was more than an hour before the desk tech told me she had gone in to check, and they were almost done – they were just closing Sunny up. So she’s still alive. I texted Melissa an update. The blue scrubs tech, Cyrus, came in to tell me they were finished, and I could come back when they had her cleaned up. While I waited I read the Facebook comments that had come in, responding to my status update. Each person offering a comment of prayer and support made me feel more peaceful.
Dr. Raybek came out in his scrubs and led me back to the exam room, where Sunny was knocked out in a kennel, her bruised tongue hanging out. They had to remove her spleen, he explained, and had done some repair work to damaged arteries. You can live without a spleen, he told me, and no vital organs appeared to be affected. “Is she going to live?” “So far, so good.” Infection was a major concern, his said, and though he looked everything over, there was still the possibility of internal damage that he had missed. “I’m very concerned with the amount of blood she lost. She’s in severe shock. We’ll just have to wait.”
The cage door was open. I got down on the floor with Sunny and stroked her fur. Eventually she began to wake up. I stayed with her all day, camping out on the floor at her kennel entrance, as she regained consciousness, as she made her first attempts to raise her head, as she took her first drink of water. Maggie called, and made me laugh at morbid jokes only she and I would think are funny. “Sunny’s like, ‘what the fuck? Why do I feel lighter?'”
When Sunny was stable, I took the doc’s advice and went home to investigate what happened. I was scared. What if Rayya’s pup, grown up and food-aggressive, had done it? I was sick with the thought I couldn’t voice, the only safe solution. I entered the house. I couldn’t bring myself to go see the puppy. There was Sunny’s blood on the kitchen floor. I went to the yard. I followed the blood trail – it made a perfect zig-zag, showing that Sunny had been weaving, with a pool of blood every two feet before she wove back the other way. Twice she had stopped and lay down – large pool of blood. I found a small bit of her subcutaneous layer on a walkway step. The blood trail disappeared in the grass, but was easily seen again where she had finally collapsed. I can’t imagine how much of her blood was lost there, and soaked into the ground, in the ten or fifteen minutes before I found her.
I followed the blood trail back the other way. Around the other side of the steps. Alongside the base of the tall cement step encasement. Finally, back to the last bush. There it was. Those fucking dead bushes, pruned too far back, pruned to stubby branches, the last bush back at the base of the highest part of the step ledge, where Sunny liked to sit. She fell off the seven-foot ledge, and was impaled. Her blood and fur and skin were the evidence, plain as day, on the branch, the stab the length of my index finger, tip of the finger to back of the third knuckle. Good god.
I went and opened Sugarpaw’s kennel, and hugged and hugged her, and praised her up and down for being such a good dog. Our good, good dog.
So that was all two and a half weeks ago. People’s kindness and concern has been heartwarming, to say the least. The vet, Dr. Raybek, took Sunny home with him two nights in a row, because he “couldn’t leave her, not knowing how she was doing …”. The vet staff welcomed us every day, and didn’t seem to mind that we were camping out (Rayya and I sat on the floor by Sunny that first day and worked on craft projects). When we brought Sunny home, Melissa’s mom came for a visit, bringing Saltine crackers for “Little Sunshine”. My mom sent a get well card: “Dear Sunny, Bark bark, woof, grrr. Love, Grandma. P.S.: say yip yip yip to Sugarpaw for me.” Everybody at the vet calls Sunny the Miracle Dog. When we thanked him for saving her life, he replied, “It was all her. She’s got a lot of heart.”
It looks like she’s going to make it. My tough little Texas street dog.