RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: August 2014

My Mezuzah

 

A mezuzah is a totem, a sort of anti-goblin device slash symbol of Jewish identity that Jewish people are supposed to place on our doorways. The mezuzah itself is a rolled up parchment inside of a decorative case and the parchment comes from the bible and basically reminds us to love God, and believe in God, and keep the commandments, and pass it all on to our children.

It's pink!

It’s pink!

You’re supposed to kiss the mezuzah – or kiss your fingers and then touch the mezuzah – every time you enter or leave the room, but I don’t have the patience for that. I have my one mezuzah at the front door, and I notice it when I walk in, and it gives me a feeling of familiarity. I happen to think my mezuzah is pretty.

The only other thing we have in front of the apartment door is a red welcome mat that almost always has a few pieces of kibble on it. So, welcome, dogs live here. We also have a table out in the hall with plants on it, and there are plants outside the front door of our building, and a turtle made of painted rocks. So we have a few things that announce who we are – Jewish dog people with lots of plants and an interest in turtles.

Turtle guards the garden.

Turtle guards the garden.

When my brother’s family came to visit, my niece Lilah, the black lab, who had only been here once before, raced up the stairs and went straight to our door without anyone reminding her where to go. She knew which apartment smelled right. Eau de kibble sends the message.

Lilah!

Lilah!

Lilah in the snow.

Lilah chasing Cricket in the snow.

But a mezuzah shouldn’t just be a sign to other Jews, as if only Jews should feel welcome in my home. I feel more like the mezuzah announces who I am, so that you will feel more comfortable telling me who you are.

I like symbols. An idea is elusive, but a physical symbol is visceral and concrete, and makes things easier to remember. I’ve considered dog related symbols for our front door too. The shelter where we adopted Butterfly gives out huge paw magnets that you can put on your fridge, and car stickers, and sweatshirts, and blankets, and on and on. But, by the time you get close enough to my door to see a sticker, you will have heard Cricket barking at you from inside, so the sticker would be kind of irrelevant.

I’m not comfortable wearing a star of David necklace. I had one, but I kept yanking at the chain until the chain broke, two or three times. Maybe the necklace felt too reminiscent of the yellow stars Jews had to wear during the holocaust, or maybe it’s just that the necklace I had came from my father’s mother, and she grossed me out.

I wear my Koru instead. It’s a New Zealand/Maori symbol of new birth – an unfurling fern – and I wear it to try to remind myself that I can start again every day. I don’t have to be stuck in the past, even if the past is the bad day I had yesterday. It’s not a religious or spiritual symbol for me, it’s a reminder, like a rubber band on your wrist (I tried the rubber band idea first, but it hurt too much).

Koru and hair.

My Koru, and hair.

I’m afraid to post this now, given the current situation in Israel. I feel vulnerable when I watch the news. When I heard about mass protests against Israel in Europe, and anti-Semitic slurs on college campuses, I couldn’t help but feel frightened.

To me, having a mezuzah on my door means that I feel safe telling people that I am Jewish and I don’t live in a place where being Jewish makes me a target. Putting a mezuzah on my door, or writing about being Jewish in a blog that is largely about dogs, is my way of saying that I know I’m safe and I don’t have to hide who I am in order to reach out to new people.

My girls, and Ducky too.

My girls, and Ducky too.

Advertisements

A Post about Sleep

 

When Butterfly sleeps on my bed, instead of on the floor, or the bathmat, or the rug, etc, she sleeps next to my head, stretched out against her pillow, kicking me in the face. She may have restless paw syndrome.

Here she is, getting ready to kick Cricket in the face.

Here she is, getting ready to kick Cricket in the face.

Cricket is less of a kicker and more of a body blocker. She prefers to sleep either on top of me, so I can’t move, or squashed up against my back and gradually pushing me off the bed. I don’t (quite) believe that her intention is to do me bodily harm, she just doesn’t like to wake up and find even a whisper of space between us, so she keeps encroaching until I have nowhere left to go.

Cricket is a very good sleeper, as long as she's attached to a person.

Cricket is a very good sleeper, as long as she’s attached to a person.

There was a spate of articles recently about how having a dog sleep on your bed makes for bad sleeping. It is, actually, possible that having Butterfly kick my head interrupts my ability to sleep well, but I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never slept well. I take Benadryl or Tylenol pm every night just to get to sleep, and I seem to fling myself around a lot while I’m sleeping. I gave up on using a top sheet because it always ended up wrapped around my feet or dumped on the floor.

As a kid, I would stare up at the ceiling tiles and follow the swirls with my eyes, like walking a labyrinth, trying to put myself to sleep, but it didn’t work. Then I’d start counting down from a hundred and then down from a thousand. I spent a lot of time counting small, fluffy sheep, which might explain why I have two small fluffy white dogs now.

Counting fluffy puppies.

Counting fluffy puppies.

I feel better knowing the girls are nearby, either on the bed or next to it, because I imagine they could protect me from harm, or at least wake me up in time to protect myself. And it’s a relief to know that if I’m up at 3am, one of the dogs will notice and come to visit.

I sleep better during the day. I would be much happier with a series of naps throughout the day instead of one long sleep at night. My dreams during the daytime naps are usually less ferocious than night time dreams. The light in the room seeps into the dream, and other noises like lawn mowers and traffic and fire engines, seem to make lighter dreams as opposed to the deafening silence of the nighttime.

It’s probably fair to say that I am afraid of the dark. I’m not particularly frightened by rats or spiders or even snakes, but any one of those things crawling near me in the dark could give me a heart attack. Though puppies never scare me, no matter what time of day.

Even this face couldn't scare me.

Even this face couldn’t scare me.

My ideal of sleep would be that I could put my head down on my pillow and feel cozy and comfortable, and with no effort at all, and no long list of anxieties for the next day, I could just fall asleep. And then I would remain asleep and maybe dream of some pleasant vacation where people are smiling and happy, and everyone likes me, and I like everyone. And then I’d wake up, after a full night’s rest, and I’d feel refreshed and comfortable, not in pain, and I’d be happy and looking forward to the day to come.

I’ve had that once or twice, so I know that it’s possible. It’s just not especially probable.

There’s a computer in my brain that keeps track of the unconscious work that needs to be done overnight, and either its processors are not working at full speed, or, more likely, there is too much work to do in the allotted time, so I often wake up exhausted and feeling like there’s something I was supposed to do, but I have no idea what it is. Luckily, that’s when the dogs come to tell me it’s time to go outside, and then it’s time for treats and playing, and by then I’m awake and things are looking up.

 

"Are you up yet?"

“Are you up yet?”

The Language of Tails

 

Cricket’s tail was docked in puppyhood and the bit that’s left is about two inches long, maybe less, but she uses what she has to her fullest ability. If she has a poopy issue left over after a walk and I manage to catch her and carry her into the bathroom, she uses her stub of a tail to protect that poop from being removed. Slam! Tail down. If she’s angry and barking at intruders, she lifts her tail and shakes it like a fist. If she’s excited, her tail spins around in a tiny circle, like a propeller lifting her off the floor.

Cricket's little nub

Cricket’s little nub

Cricket’s groomer, the one we like, decided to give Cricket a puffy poodle tail one time, like a cotton ball attached to her butt. It made it very difficult to understand Cricket for a few days, until I took out the scissors and trimmed it down so she could speak clearly again.

Cricket is very bright and she can think and express opposing ideas at the same time. She can be waving her tail in great excitement, and barking as if the world is about to end. She can wag her tail, but rest her head on her paws like she’s bored. She wants to make sure that she has expressed every dimension of how she’s feeling instead of just a simple, Hello, or I hate you.

Cricket's tails says, "I've got my eye on you," and, "I'm seconds away from giving you a thousand kisses."

Cricket’s tail says, “I’ve got my eye on you,” or, “I’m seconds away from giving you a thousand kisses.”

The only time Cricket’s tail and head and whole body are in full agreement is when Grandma comes back after being a way – for one minute, ten minutes, ten hours. Cricket’s little stub is wagging in circles and she’s crying and jumping and licking. She tries to jump into Grandma’s arms and fly herself across the room. I’m sure she’s had minor tail strains from these greetings, because the whirling little stub gets an amazing work out.

I read an article that said a docked tail can limit a dog’s ability to communicate; that dogs who approach a dog with a docked tail will be more circumspect, because they have a harder time reading the docked tail for signs of aggression or submission. I wonder if this has been an issue for Cricket. Maybe she senses the other dog’s apprehension and interprets that as aggression, and so she’s aggressive right back. Would her life have been completely different, and better, if they’d never docked her tail?

I wonder if, having a full tail to swing around, Cricket wouldn’t have to bark so much to get her point across. Maybe she feels like she has to scream because part of her voice has been muted and dampened.

Is there such a thing as a tail prosthetic?

To be fair, I think her little tail is cute and at this point I wouldn’t recognize her as Cricket with any other tail. This is who she is and its an integral part of her identity. But who would she have been otherwise?

I know a Golden retriever with a long, bushy tail, and she uses it not just to express happiness or outrage, but to bar her little poodle brother from passing by. She can swing that thing like a bat and knock all the chotchkes off the coffee table, or she can carefully tuck her tail out of the way, to be polite and demure. But Cricket doesn’t have those options.

Look at that glorious tail! (not my picture, because Cricket would not let me take such a picture).

Look at that glorious tail! (not my picture, because Cricket would not let me take such a picture).

Butterfly makes more simple sentences with her tail. Her tail goes down when she’s resting or concerned. When she’s excited and happy her tail swings full out – she makes circles in the air to announce her happiness. She waves her tail as a way of saying, Yes, I want a treat, Yes, I want to go outside, Yes, I’m the cutest puppy in the world!          When she’s a bit more sedate and formal, her tail sits up on her back like a plume and you can tell she is proud. She walks her girliest walk at these times, with her hips swinging gently from side to side. She’s not inviting interaction so much as walking the cat walk, to be admired from afar.

Butterfly's curly tail

Butterfly’s curly tail

I’d like to have a long fluffy tail, like a Golden Retriever. I would love to wave my tail back and forth and be giddy and free in telling people that I’m happy to see them. I’ve never been good at unrestrained expression; I tend towards understatement and reserve. But there’s something so wonderful about a dog waving her tail when she sees you. I’d love to be that person. I’d love to feel so secure in myself that I could tell people how much I care about them.

The happiness blur!

The happiness blur!

I wonder if we’d lose our capacity for denial with a tail so earnest and open and easy to read. Because I think these tails, this earnestness in dogs, is a big part of what we love about dogs. Even the angriest dog, because he’s honest about his anger, is easier to love than a human who masks what he’s really feeling.

I remember hearing about all kinds of human body modification surgeries that were becoming popular over the past few years – pointy ears were the most obvious, or the ear lobe expanders. I wonder if anyone has come up with a way of adding a tail, to be more like a dog. You’d probably have to take classes (from a dog?) in how to express yourself with your tail, and, knowing humans, we’d probably add a lot of complicated nonsense to get in the way of what we are trying to say. But it’s an interesting idea. On the down side, you’d have much more trouble finding clothes that fit, or a comfortable place to sit down.

 

The Big Bad Headache

 

I missed a week on the blog, but I have a good excuse. Thursday, July 31st, I went into the city for a Lumbar Puncture (AKA Spinal Tap). My neurologist wanted the LP to rule out all kinds of scary diseases he doesn’t think I have. I had to run around (or slowly traipse around) this huge hospital for blood tests and nurse visits, with aides walking me from one place to another. Hospitals should seriously consider Golden Retriever guides instead of humans – much more comforting, and just as capable of answering any questions I might have.

Delilah, my preferred Golden Guide.

Delilah, my preferred Golden Guide.

For the test itself I was placed face down on a table, with a pile of pillows under my stomach. The Novocain shot in my back hurt the way it hurts at the dentist (meaning, a lot, but over pretty soon), but then I was tapped like a keg. I felt like a maple tree with a spout hammered into my back. Then the table tilted until I was almost standing up, and the cerebrospinal fluid started to drip out. Then the table was flipped forward, like a see saw, to check the pressure of the fluid. Then back for more dripping and forward for another pressure, then finally flat, tap removed, and transferred to a stretcher to be wheeled to recovery to lay flat for an hour.

The explanation for the hour on my back was that it would help avoid a leak of spinal fluid that would lead to a bad headache. I assumed the headache would come on soon, if it was going to come at all, so when the hour passed I began to think that (for once!) I’d fallen on the good side of the percentages and wouldn’t have a bad reaction to the spinal tap.

All day Friday I rested with my puppies at my side, because the doctor had told me to avoid too much activity and because I was exhausted. I felt a bit dizzy, but I was still congratulating myself for not getting the terrible headache.

Cricket was supposed to be my foot rest here. Hmm.

Cricket was supposed to be my foot rest here.

Saturday morning, Cricket woke me at five AM I felt a bit odd, but I usually do at five AM. I tried to go back to sleep, but with each hour my head started to hurt more, until I tried to stand up again and the world exploded.

I couldn’t walk much further than the living room without extreme pain, but I still thought that if I took Tylenol and drank caffeine, as recommended, the headache would pass.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, I tried to stand up and the pain was crushing. That’s when I started to panic. It felt like an alien creature was crawling through my skull and sticking its rhinoceros-tough fingers through my eyes and ears and down my throat. I took pain pills and Pepto Bismal and drank caffeinated tea and tried not to listen when Mom mentioned the emergency room.

At some point, I don’t know when, I started to throw up, a lot. There was a pink puddle on the tile floor of the bathroom, with little islands of white pain pills floating in it. I went back to my room to lie down and the puppies piled on top of me, but I had to move them to get to the bathroom and throw up again, and again.

Mom called my neurologist and his colleague said to call an ambulance and go to the emergency room, for a procedure called a blood patch, where my own blood would be taken from my arm and put into the epidural space, to stop the leak of spinal fluid. Somehow they had forgotten to warn me that the headache would come on after a few days, and that it would be a positional headache, meaning that any time I lifted my head, bombs went off.

The paramedic came with two police officers, and I could barely get out of bed and into the wheel chair, where the vomiting continued as they carried me down the stairs and out to the ambulance. Everything was blurry because I couldn’t wear my glasses, but Mom told me later that the towel that magically appeared in my hands came from our very kind downstairs neighbor.

There’s something about extraordinary pain that makes you lose all vanity. You do not care that vomit is dripping from your face, or that you’re still in your sweaty pajamas and you never brushed your hair. Who gives a fuck, just help me!

At the hospital, eventually, something was injected into the IV in my arm that calmed the nausea, and Fioricet and constant fluids were prescribed for the headache. Then the pain management specialist/anesthesiologist came over to tell me that the OR was closed on Sundays, so I would have to stay over night for observation until he could get me scheduled for the blood patch on Monday. Bye.

The ER doctor explained, in the aftermath, that I was better off staying in the hospital because if I tried to go home I was very likely to destabilize and end up back in the ER.

Mom went home to walk the girls and to bring me some things, and by the time she came back I was much more coherent. She brought me a picture of Butterfly with a sock in her mouth, because Butterfly had run into my room, picked up one of my dirty socks from its home next to the laundry basket and then ran to the front door with it. Because she missed me.

"Mommy forgot her sock!"

“Mommy forgot her sock!”

One thing I noticed about being in the hospital: no matter why you are there, every nurse, doctor, aide, and PA asks about bowel movements. Some of them press a stethoscope to the belly to listen for interesting noises. I had to apologize to them for my quiet belly, and explain about the amount of vomiting I’d done, without much subsequent eating. I felt like an underachiever; though I was peeing constantly from the fluids, so I wasn’t a complete disappointment.

My neurologist called from the city on Monday to tell me that the results from the LP had come in, all clear. So, sorry, but you seem to be going through all of this for nothing.

More blood was taken, for some unexplained reason, and a surprise CT scan, and blood pressure checks every five minutes, so I was kept busy until it was time for my procedure in the afternoon.

The anesthesiologist came by before the blood patch to explain that this would be more painful than the original LP, but hopefully successful at patching the leak, and ending the headache. Hopefully. For this procedure there was a pre-op nurse, two OR nurses, a post-op nurse and a few other people who didn’t introduce themselves. The head operating room nurse had pictures of Butterflies on her cap and Mom took that as a good sign, that my puppies were with me in spirit.

"Where's Mommy?"

“Where’s Mommy?”

The operating room was very bright, and huge, and intimidating, especially with my face down and half my butt sticking out. One of the nurses held my hand and patted my head, while the doctor shot me with Novocain and started to dig into my back with a needle. Then he was taking blood from my arm to insert into the epidural space, and decided to tell his colleagues about the guys who first discovered that shooting cocaine into the spinal column could cause such pain relief that you could hit each other in the legs with baseball bats, and squeeze your gonads with pliers, and not feel a thing.

Then he went back to sticking needles in my back and hitting them with hammers and squeezing lemon juice and razor blades under my skin, or whatever it was he was doing back there.

When it was finally over, I still felt like there was an axe embedded in my lower back, but after the required hour of lying flat I was eager to sit up and prove that the headache was gone and I was ready to go home. I felt like a pin cushion and didn’t want to spend another night in the hospital and risk more surprise procedures. It took until 9:45 PM for the discharge papers to come through, but I finally got to go home to my puppies and my own bed.

Cricket can make anyone into a pillow.

Cricket can make anyone into a pillow.

I was proud of myself for managing well, for communicating clearly and talking to a million people and doing everything I needed to do, but having Mom with me made all the difference. Everyone should have a Mommy like mine. But I still think there should have been puppies at the hospital. I don’t know what they’re thinking not having puppies on staff.

Wouldn't they be great as hospital greeters?

The new hospital staff!