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The Dailiness of Things

 

For my vacation (I had about ten days off between the end of my internship and the beginning of fall classes), I scheduled all of the doctor/dentist/haircut and groomer appointments I could, for me and for Cricket.

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“Mommy, I don’t need to go to the groomer.”

First, Cricket had to go to the vet to get the hair pulled from her ears. Poodles, and part poodles like Cricket, need to have the hair in their ears removed because they are at risk of ear infections, and Cricket had been rubbing her ears on the floor a lot more than usual lately. The vet, in his inimitable way, raised an eyebrow at me when he showed me the amount of hair he’d cranked out of her first ear. I told him that Cricket’s sister had been sick and we’d been preoccupied and waited too long, and he answered, fair enough, and then proceeded to Cricket’s other ear.

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Look at that beautiful ear!

The poor vet tech had scratches down her arm because Cricket kept trying to climb higher and higher to escape the torture. When the vet finished applying the medicated lotion to soothe her poor ears, Cricket practically flew across the room and into my arms.

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“I barely survived.”

I went to my dentist and doctor appointments, and gave Cricket’s ears a few days to recover, before she had to go off to the groomer.

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“Nope.”

We still have these moments when we come across people who don’t know yet and look around and ask, where’s Butterfly? The groomer was one of those people. We’d made the appointment with her assistant over the phone, so she didn’t realize that Cricket would be coming in alone this time. The fact is, Butterfly was the magic ingredient that made grooming manageable for Cricket. We’d tried different groomers, and added doggy Xanax, but nothing really improved until Butterfly came along and was able to whisper into Cricket’s ear that everything would be okay. So the groomer had two things to be upset about: the loss of Butterfly, and the ratcheting up of Cricket’s bad-client status.

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I’ve always hated waiting at home while the girls were at the groomer. I hate that no-dog-in-the-house feeling. But this time, knowing that Butterfly would not be coming back to help fill the void, made the wait so much worse. And I’ve been more anxious than I should be about Cricket’s health. She’s very healthy, but I worry that she won’t wake up in the morning, or will choke on something in the backyard, or won’t come home from the groomer at all.

I know it’s an exaggerated fear because of Butterfly’s death and it will pass. And I know that I had years with Butterfly, and they didn’t pass in seconds, the way I imagine it now. But time keeps rushing past me and I keep losing things and people that I want to keep. I want the bad things to be temporary and the good things to last forever. Is that so unreasonable?

 

Cricket has gotten back into the habit of giving me the stink eye. Either that, or she’s been doing it all along and I couldn’t tell until she finally got her hair cut. She gave me the stink eye the day after her grooming ordeal, because we dared to leave her home alone for a few hours while we went for haircuts and food shopping. Either her separation anxiety has reemerged at full power, or she really hates what they did to my hair. It’s hard to know.

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Butterfly’s Last Illness

 

Four weeks ago, on a Wednesday night, Butterfly vomited white foam until she was empty. We had no idea what set it off. She’d been wheezing for a few days, instead of her regular coughing, but otherwise she was in the pink of health; especially since her hernia surgery two months before. Suddenly she was panting all night on the pillow next to my head. We were able to get her an emergency appointment at the clinic the next day and ended up seeing a doctor we’d never met before. She asked if Butterfly had eaten anything strange and we couldn’t think of anything she’d had access too, so she took an x-ray, and did blood tests, but she couldn’t find any explanation for the vomiting. She didn’t seem especially worried, though. She had the vet techs give Butterfly subcutaneous fluids and anti-nausea meds on the spot, and then sent us home with more meds in liquid form. She said, as we were leaving, that we could come back in if Butterfly vomited again, and then she sent us on our way. I was surprised. I was used to Butterfly’s previous vet, at the same clinic, who was much more thorough. I didn’t know what else should have been done, but it felt like something was missing.

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Butterfly didn’t have much of an appetite for the next few days, but she didn’t throw anything up. We managed to get her to eat two or three small pieces of chicken at a time, hiding her pills in those small pieces, because she wasn’t up to eating peanut butter. She wouldn’t even eat her chicken treats. By Monday, though, she was eating more chicken, and even ate a few pieces of kibble, unprompted. So when I heard her retching in the hallway at two am I was surprised, and when I turned on the light to clean up after her and saw a puddle of red, I was terrified. I Googled dogs-vomiting-blood and found what I expected to find – go to the hospital immediately. So I woke up Mom and wrapped Butterfly in a towel and we drove over to the emergency veterinary hospital a few towns away.

A vet tech scooped Butterfly out of my arms as soon as we arrived and took her into the back to be examined. I tried to watch the TV on the wall, but the chipper early morning news anchors got on my nerves quickly. Eventually, two doctors came out to speak with us in the waiting room, a man and a woman. They said that Butterfly was dehydrated and her blood pressure was very low, too low even to take blood for testing, so the first step was to put her on fluids and plump her back up. They asked again if she’d eaten anything strange and we tried to think of anything she could have gotten into, almost a week earlier when the vomiting started in the first place. My first and most persistent fear was that this was all aftermath of Butterfly’s hernia surgery, even though she had healed well and seemed to have bounced back beautifully. I just couldn’t make sense of a life threatening illness coming up out of nowhere. Maybe she got into some dirt, or licked a slug or a splotch of bird poop on the walkway? The female doctor smiled occasionally and took notes. The male doctor seemed to be incapable of making eye contact, but fully capable of giving us worst case scenarios about Miss B not surviving the night. When I asked my follow up questions he answered them like he was taking an oral veterinary school exam, rather than talking to a worried Mom. For the subsequent consultations throughout the night we only met with the female doctor, which was a relief.

By five am we were able to go home for a few hours of rest while Butterfly continued to receive intravenous fluids and wait for the internist to come on shift. Cricket was in a panic when we arrived home, and I took her out to pee immediately so that her shrieks wouldn’t wake the neighbors. As soon as she’d finished her business she raced back inside to see Grandma and attached to her side like Velcro. They were at least able to sleep for a few hours. Me, not so much.

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Later in the morning, the internist at the emergency veterinary hospital did an ultrasound and more blood tests on Butterfly, but the findings were still nonspecific. We were allowed to pick Butterfly up around noon, in order to transfer her to her clinic, where we hoped for more personalized, and much less expensive, care. The plan was for her to keep her IV catheter in place and go back on fluids as soon as we arrived at the clinic, but somehow the message got garbled between the hospital and the clinic and we had to sit in the waiting room for two hours, with my panting dog on my lap, her IV catheter bandaged and waiting for a fluid hook up, and the staff behind the desk telling us they had no idea what we were talking about and they were very very busy.

Eventually we were sent into an examination room, to wait again. The expeditor, or maybe just the nicest person on the staff, came in after a while with apologies. He brought us stools to sit on, and water to drink, and even offered coffee and chocolate if we needed it. The vet came in soon after, another doctor we’d never met before. She was a very young woman with long black hair and a piercing over her lip, and she was kind to Miss Butterfly and even laughed at my strained jokes. Butterfly was skinny and listless, and when the doctor tried to stand her on all four feet on the table, she was shaky. The doctor said that an overnight stay would be necessary, and she’d probably have to be there for a number of days, in order to stabilize her symptoms and do more diagnostic tests to see what was causing all of this.

This is when I started wishing I’d invested in a vet tech course, so I could take care of Butterfly at home – administering fluids, cleaning her IV, and doing whatever else necessary. A full-on veterinary medicine degree would seem like overkill, just to take care of my own dogs, but then again, maybe not.

We went home without Butterfly that afternoon, and worried. Cricket was upset. She would only eat really special food (aka anything but kibble) to help manage her anxiety-induced nausea. She spent most of her time attached to Grandma in one way or another, except when I took her out for a walk, during which time she kept turning back to our front door, looking for Grandma.

By the next day, we were told over the phone, by yet another doctor, that Butterfly was able to eat her dog food, and even licked the bowl clean. But she would not be coming home yet, because none of the tests were clarifying the cause of the problem. We were allowed to visit Butterfly at the clinic for a fifteen minute scratchy massage and a few kisses on her head.

We went for another visit with Butterfly on Thursday, after finding out that she still wasn’t ready to come home. This time I had to go after work (internship), still in my dress clothes, starving and exhausted (I have a tendency to skip lunch at work, which is very stupid of me), and then we had to sit on a hard bench for an hour and a half, overwhelmed by the smell of pee. For a few moments I thought I should just leave. What was the point of visiting with Butterfly for a few minutes if we couldn’t take her home? Would she even notice, or care? It was a bitter, apathetic sort of feeling, and it worsened when we finally got to the visiting room, because Butterfly was not herself. She was in self-protective mode, hiding her real self in a far corner the way she’d learned to do growing up at the puppy mill. She almost seemed like a stranger, and I found myself wondering if she even knew who I was. But once I had her in my arms, she was my baby again, and I had to clean out her one waxy ear, check her lumps and bumps, whisper to her, and sing the Jewish prayer for healing to her like a lullaby.

The latest theory was that Butterfly was on too much insulin, creating a rollercoaster reaction in her blood sugar that led to the gastro-intestinal difficulties, so they cut down her insulin to see if that would help. They also gave her anti-biotics and a B-12 shot, just in case.

We went to visit again on Friday and I finally remembered to bring Butterfly’s doggy comb with me. Her tongue was pink, and her muscle strength was much improved, and she let me comb her hair until it shined. But she still wasn’t coming home. I was starting to doubt the clinic in a way I never had before. Why were we talking to different doctors every day? Why couldn’t they figure out what was wrong? I wanted to take Butterfly home, but I also wanted her to be healthy, and those two desires seemed to be in conflict.

When we asked one of the secretaries at the front desk why everything was such a mess, we were told that the clinic was in transition, with some doctors leaving, other doctors arriving and many doctors on vacation. They had new students rotating through, and the office staff was in transition, and they were building a new wing for the cats. None of that information made me feel better, still having to leave without my baby. The apartment was so quiet without Butterfly. She was supposed to be the quiet one; Cricket was the barker. But we were all so anxious and distracted, there wasn’t much playing or joy, or even barking, going on. I almost felt like we were practicing for when we wouldn’t have Butterfly home at all anymore. But I couldn’t think that.

We were finally able to take Butterfly home on Saturday afternoon. By then she’d been away from home for almost five days. Butterfly sat on my lap in the car, but she still seemed distant and not quite herself. I was worried that I’d been wrong to leave her in the clinic for so long, retraumatizing her with memories of her life at the puppy mill. But when we got home and her paws hit the walkway at the back of our building, she lifted her tail, smiled, and began to jog towards our front door. She was herself again and ecstatic to be home.

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She raced towards the food bowls as soon as she got inside the apartment and ate a handful of kibble, which she threw up on my bed ten minutes later. I was instantly worried that we’d have to take her back to the clinic, and I really didn’t want to do it. She hated being there. And I hated her being there. She was still lively and energetic and looking everywhere for food, so I tried not to think about any possible complications and fed her one kibble at a time, by hand, and gave her all of her meds in their proper order and crossed my fingers.

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With each day, she seemed happier and healthier, and able to tolerate more kibble at each small meal. Her bark was as bit off, kind of high and squeaky, maybe from damage to her throat from all of the vomiting. I went to work on Tuesday morning, confident that Miss Butterfly was on the mend and had overcome whatever had set off the vomiting in the first place. Even her blood sugar seemed to have stabilized, with four blood tests in a row landing in the same range, instead of the ups and downs we’d been used to for years.

Her smiling face greeted me as I came in the door that afternoon and she put up with all of the medications and kibble by kibble feeding with good humor. On our way out for the last walk of the night she coughed a little bit. We’d stopped giving her the medicine for her cough, because she hadn’t been coughing in the hospital or at the clinic and they took it off her list of medications, so I made a note to myself to check with the vet to see if we should add it back in, or wait for her follow up appointment on Saturday. It was such a relief to have her home and acting like her usual self, pausing ever few steps on her walk to listen to the katydids or a low flying plane, and then jogging to catch up with her sister. She was still a little skinny and easily tired, but otherwise she was recovering beautifully.

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We went through our usual bedtime routine, with scratchies for Butterfly and an extended period of digging at the end of my bed for Cricket, and then Cricket was off to Mom’s room and Butterfly ambled down her doggy steps to survey her territory and find the perfect sleeping spot.

And then, at six thirty in the morning, Mom brought Butterfly into my room, because she’d heard her making strange noises. Within a shockingly short period of time, stretched out on my bed, Butterfly died. There was nothing I could do, no medicine I could give her, no magical spell to say or song to sing. She was just gone.

I still wake up every morning wondering where she is. The grief still hits me in waves, the bargaining, the denial, the anger, at the doctors but mostly at myself. The reality is that we did everything we knew how to do to keep her alive, and so did her doctors, but she still died. I didn’t have the power to save her, and that’s what sticks with me most, the powerlessness. It’s so hard to accept that there was nothing I could do for her in the last moments of her life, except to be there and witness her last breath.

In Jewish custom, the first stage of morning is a seven day period of intense visiting and sitting with the grief, called Shiva. We made it through that process with the help of the blog and messages of comfort and kindness from strangers and friends and family. The second stage of mourning is called Shloshim and is thirty days of still remaining somewhat separate, but beginning to integrate the loss into everyday life. This is the stage I’m in now. I’m not sure thirty days will be enough, though. It’s going to take a while to accept that all of this is real.

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Cricket and Platypus.

The Waves of Kindness and Grief

 

I want to thank all of you for your wonderful words of kindness and support since Butterfly’s death. It feels like you came to virtually sit Shiva with me this week, to mourn for the loss of Butterfly, and to celebrate her life. My rabbi even dedicated a poem to Butterfly at Friday night services, two days after she died, about the sacred nature of animals and our great good fortune at having them in our lives.

I wasn’t sure, when we first adopted Butterfly, as an eight year old rescue with heart problems, if I would be able to bond with her, or if I was just going to take care of her in her old age and learn generosity of spirit. But she became my baby, my heart and soul, my inspiration to become a better person, and a person more capable of joy.

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I still have an essay about Butterfly’s last illness, and the roller coaster of doctor visits and hospital stays, but I haven’t been up to editing it yet. The first draft was written before she died, when I expected her to recover, and figuring out how it needs to change, now, has been too hard.

Cricket has shifted in some essential way, internally, as if she needed to make room for part of her sister’s soul. She snuggles with me more than ever before. She eats enough kibble to rival her sister’s moniker of the super pooper. Just this morning, Cricket left two pieces of kibble of the rug again, right where Butterfly would have put them. She’s even giving licks, on occasion. And a brown and yellow tortoise shell butterfly has taken up residence in our bathroom, one of Butterfly’s favorite places to hang out, do her bathmat art, and find peace. Mom set out a cap full of water and a piece of kibble, just in case.

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I don’t usually, or ever, advertise products or companies on my blog, and that’s not my intention now, but I have to tell you a story. The day after Butterfly died, a bag of her diabetic dog food arrived from Chewy.com. We had a regular order with them, every few months, and it was already on its way when Butterfly died. Mom wrote to them right away to cancel future orders, and explained why, and they immediately sent us a condolence note and refunded the cost of the last bag of food, telling us to donate it to a local animal shelter.

A week later, we received a bouquet of red and white roses from Chewy.com, and Butterfly’s ashes from the clinic, on the same day, at the same time. I had forgotten about the ashes. Mom couldn’t even open the shipping box through her tears, so I put on my bravado and opened the box, removed the paperwork, and then the paper bag with the order form stapled to the front. The process became harder with each step. There was a white box inside of the paper bag, and then gold tissue paper wrapped around a decorative tin with flowers painted on all four sides. This was the end, inside of the tin were the ashes. The decorated tin reminded me of a jigsaw puzzle I once had, stored in a similarly decorated metal tin.

I was overcome by the reality of Butterfly’s ashes, devastated by it, really. We’d never asked for ashes of a pet, or a person, before. It seemed right on the day she died, when the clinic offered us that option, but seeing that tin made me feel sick, and overwhelmed. I didn’t want to scatter her ashes in the backyard, the way we’d originally planned. The idea of it turned bitter in my mind as soon as I saw the tin, as if we would be throwing Butterfly away.

The only comforting thought I could muster at the time was to bring her to my grandfather’s grave, and let her rest there with him. Because they would have loved each other.

We still need to put the bag of dog food in the car and schlep it over to the shelter – which will be hard. And then make the journey to my grandfather’s grave as well, which, for now, feels impossible. The ashes sit behind Butterfly’s picture, which is surrounded by condolence cards, and those red and white roses. And this is where they belong, for now.

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Goodbye, My Butterfly

 

Three or four hours after Butterfly’s death, Cricket did something she never does: she brought a mouthful of kibble into the living room, dropped the pieces onto the carpet, and ate them kibble by kibble. Did she mean to mimic Butterfly’s favorite way of eating? Was she consciously honoring her sister’s memory? Or did Miss Butterfly find a way to join with Cricket for just a moment to visit us and say goodbye?

I don’t know.

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Cricket and Platypus, after.

I didn’t expect Butterfly to die, not yet. I counted her age from the day she came home, almost five years ago, and tried to ignore the eight years in the puppy mill that came before. Yes, she’d been in the hospital, but she was getting better. She’d coughed a bit the night before, but no more than was usual for her over the past year. Her bark was strained, yes, but I thought it was from a sore throat and it would pass.

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Miss Butterfly

Mom came into my room at 6:30 in the morning, carrying Butterfly in her arms and saying, she’s making strange noises. Just the way Butterfly was limp and awkward in Mom’s arms told me that something was very wrong. She made some sort of wet hiccupping noise as Mom put her down on my bed. And then blood poured out of her mouth, and her eyes rolled back, and more blood poured out of her nose.

She was gone, but I couldn’t believe it. I checked for her pulse and couldn’t feel anything. Mom said she could feel a faint movement in her chest, and then nothing.

I kept my hands on Butterfly, petting her, only because Mom told me to do it; I couldn’t think at all for myself. I could see Butterfly’s hair move as I rubbed her back and I thought, she’s not dead. If I just keep contact with her I can keep her from leaving me. Her pulse is just hiding. It was a lot of blood, yes, but she has more. Doesn’t she?

My mind was split in pieces as I sat there watching her die. No, she was already dead, but part of me didn’t believe it. And part of me was trying to come up with a to-do list (laundry for the bloody sheets, go to the clinic to have her cremated – but she’s not really dead! How dare you even think of killing her! There were all of those meds we hadn’t given her yet, and the diabetes testing supplies, and the diabetic dog food, and the doggy steps next to my bed. She would need them.

I couldn’t move forward in time. I just stayed in that loop, sobbing, and hoping, for forty five minutes. Time was barely creeping by, but then each time I checked the clock, time was galloping past me.

Cricket hid under my bed. Even when Mom went to talk to her, to console her, she hid further under the bed and growled.

I asked Mom for a wet wash cloth and washed Butterfly’s face, but I didn’t want to push too hard, and hurt her.

We put her in her doggy bed on the living room floor and covered her with a piece of soft gray fabric from Mom’s stash. I wanted Cricket to have a chance to say goodbye. It took Cricket a while to come over and sniff the hidden Butterfly, though. I lifted the blanket so she could see that her sister really was under there, and she looked at her face for a moment and then ran under the couch to hide again. I could understand that; I felt the same way. But I re-covered my baby and lifted her bed onto the dining room table, with a towel underneath because the bed had become damp. Mom said that the body lets go of its fluids after death, but I couldn’t think about that. I couldn’t think that she was dead. If I only looked at her back, her tail, her paws, she could be sleeping. But if I looked at her face, I knew she was gone. And I kept reliving that last moment of terrible release, her twisted tongue, her blood flowing onto my bed.

We had to wait until nine o’clock in the morning to call the clinic and ask them what to do, so in the meantime I stripped my bed and took everything to the laundry. I needed something to do, something practical and concrete.

When we went to the clinic, I stayed in the car while Mom went inside to make arrangements. I sat in the back seat, next to Butterfly, and uncovered her tail and her back. Her hair looked normal. As long as I didn’t look at her face it was alright. But then a vet tech came out to the car and reached in for Butterfly. She picked up the doggy bed like a folded piece of pizza and I wanted to yell at her, that’s my baby in there! But I couldn’t speak.

I spent all day Wednesday reading the beautiful comments left on the blog, honoring Butterfly’s special soul and her ability to reach out and spread love wherever she went. All day I forced myself to remember that she was gone. She didn’t need her doggy steps anymore. No more blood tests and insulin shots. No more pills wrapped in peanut butter. No more barks of outrage in the morning when she wanted to go out. No more sous chef resting her chin on the tile leading into the kitchen.

But I didn’t really believe it. She would come back. The clinic would call and say that we made a mistake, Butterfly was awake and needed to be picked up. I didn’t care what was real or possible, I just wanted her back.

I feel like I failed her, like there was something else I should have known to do for her. But most of all I miss her. She brought out the best in me, the kindest, warmest, most compassionate parts of me. I liked myself more when I was with her. I liked everyone more, because I had her with me. And I want her back.

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The Baby Squirrel

 

When we went out last Thursday morning for our too-early first walk of the day, Cricket found something. At first I thought it was a dead mouse. Cricket has found dead mice a number of times, because we have feral cats on the property who are allowed to stay because of their great mousing skills. So, I thought it was a dead mouse and I yanked Cricket away from it quickly. It was curled up a few feet away from one of the huge trees on the property, up in the lightly wooded area where we are encouraged to walk the dogs. Butterfly did her usual standing around and listening to the raindrops thing – oh yeah, it was raining, lightly by then, after a night of heavy rain – and it was a lovely sound, the way the rain drops hit the leaves far over our heads. But I was still getting wet. The girls both did their business, and we were on our way back out of the woods when I thought I saw the dead mouse move an arm. I stepped a little bit closer, but I’m afraid of dead things so not too close, and that’s when I realized that it was a tiny squirrel and not a mouse, with a big head, and grey and white fur, and not only was one arm moving, the tiny squirrel was breathing. It was alive.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I had to take the girls back inside, out of the train, first and foremost. I left them standing in the hallway while I went down to the basement to throw away their bag-o-poop, and I looked through the pile of Amazon shipping boxes outside the garbage room. I like ordering things, but I am nothing compared to my next door neighbors (with the new baby) who have ordered so many things that they now have to move into a house to make room for all of it. I chose a small, shallow box, with the new-fangled air-pillow box-filler stuff, and I popped the pillows to use it as a squirrel grabber, in case it really was dead and only seemed to be moving because of the wind and rain, but also as a temporary blanket, in case it was actually alive.

The girls watched me through the glass front door of our building as I went back out into the rain, and up the hill, to where Cricket had found the baby squirrel. It was still there, and still getting rained on, and still faintly breathing and moving an arm, but just barely. I picked it up carefully, all the time worrying that I should leave it there, to die a natural death, or to be found by its Mom after whatever calamity had sent her away. But it was alive, and I couldn’t just leave it there to die.

I took the box of baby squirrel inside to the girls, and we walked up the stairs and into the apartment, and that’s when I realized that I had to wake up my mom. She’s not a fan of early mornings, and I would have let her sleep through the drama, except that I knew I’d have to leave for my internship in less than an hour, and I needed her help.

 

As soon as Mom saw the baby squirrel, breathing in the shallow box on the dining room table, she was wide awake and in Mommy mode. She took the baby out of the box and wrapped it in warmed up towels and held it while I googled. There are surprisingly specific and comprehensive baby squirrel manuals online. One was long and alarmist – with the basic gist being that I should have left her out there in the rain to die. The other manual was shorter, simpler, and more hopeful.

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Then Mom called our vet’s office to ask them what to do. The woman who answered the phone said that they’d stopped working with their wildlife specialist and had no other recommendations, and, really, the baby squirrel was going to die. Mom persisted, though, and looked up other wildlife groups she’d heard of in the area, and left messages for them on email and voicemail. In the meantime, we prepared the rehydrating solution recommended in the baby squirrel guide and then and I used Butterfly’s supply of liquid medicine syringes to start bringing the baby back to life.

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By the way, I am not an expert at identifying baby squirrel genitalia, but we later found out that she was a girl, so let’s just pretend I knew that from the beginning. We set her shallow box on a heating pad (on low), and filled the box with fabric from Mom’s quilting closet, because the baby squirrel guide said that regular towels could unravel and choke her.

I took care of Cricket and Butterfly’s morning routine, and made sure they got extra treats for all of their patience, and then I got myself dressed for work, charged my cell phone, and reluctantly left Mom to take on the burden of keeping the baby squirrel alive while I was away.

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Cricket sniffing the baby

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Butterfly, worried I’m giving her peanut butter to the baby.

I tried to talk about the baby with a fellow intern, but she looked non-plussed. “You brought a squirrel into your house?” She asked, looking at me like I’d slathered bloody entrails on my door posts. So I focused on being nice and pleasant and helpful all day, and tried to put the baby squirrel out of my mind. The room we work in is filled with windows, and I could see as the rain got heavier and heavier, so I thought, maybe, I’d done the right thing by taking the baby into a dry place. But my mind was still racing, telling me that I’d made a mistake bringing her inside, and she would die and it would be my fault. She had a fractured arm, and probably other injuries, she was cold to the touch, and her mother had abandoned her; who was I to think I could save her?

When I got home, Mom was sitting on the couch and the baby squirrel on her chest, squeaking away. Her eyes were still closed, but she was much more alert, climbing on Mom and grabbing her fingers with a paw. The baby had survived eight hours in our care, against all odds, and the next job listed in the baby squirrel guide was to move from rehydration to actual feeding. The guide said we needed Esbilac milk powder for puppies, and we should mix it with water and heavy cream to mimic squirrel mommy milk. I asked Mom if she wanted to go out and have a break from baby care, but she didn’t, so out I went again, in the rain and rush hour traffic, to find the puppy milk powder.

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“Squeak!!!!!!!!!!”

When I came back, it was my turn to watch the baby. Her body temperature kept cooling down between feedings, despite the heating pad under her box, so Mom told me to hold the baby in my hands and try to keep her warm myself. I had to keep Cricket from sniffing too close, but Butterfly was largely uninterested in the baby; as far as she was concerned, there was no squirrel in the house.

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After another few hours of rehydration, we mixed up a batch of the new squirrel baby milk, and watered it down according to the mathematical formula in the guide, and warmed it in the microwave until it was just right. The baby squirrel swallowed her milk through the syringe dutifully, only pulling her head away a few times.

I woke up every few hours overnight to feed her, and to check that she was still breathing, and when I woke up again at eight o’clock the next morning I realized that she’d survived more than twenty four hours with us. She even seemed to be a little more energetic, though that could have been my wishful thinking. Mom said, pointedly, that we shouldn’t name her and risk becoming too bonded, but she knew it was already too late.

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We were still waiting for call backs from the wildlife groups a few hours later, when a friend on Facebook recommended calling other vets in the area, to see if they could help. The first one we looked up had the number of a local wildlife rescue, and when we called, they told us to bring the baby over right away.

By noon on Friday, we were on the road, the squirrel baby in her box on my lap, on our way to the rescue hospital. I kept my hand in the box to keep her warm, and she decided to crawl into my hand and snuggle.

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When we reached the Wildlife center, I filled out forms about where I’d found the baby squirrel and the assumed circumstances of her injury (a fall from the nest in the storm seemed the most likely cause, especially when I found some of the nesting material a few feet away from where I found the baby). They gave me her rescue ID number and their email address and said that I could write to them for an update whenever I wanted, and then they took her away.

I was devastated, but also hopeful. I knew that the rescue hospital would be able to do a much better job than I could at treating her wounds and feeding her correctly. Giving her up was the right thing to do, but it was also awful, and painful, and I was starting to have trouble breathing. I was giving her the best possible chance to survive, though, and I had to hold onto that.

I waited a couple of days to give the wildlife center a chance to do their work, but then I got impatient for good news, and wrote to them.

This was the email I received from them on Monday morning:

Unfortunately, we had sad news about the baby squirrel. We brought her to our veterinarian right away who confirmed that she did have a fractured humerus (one of the bones in her arm). In addition to the fractured arm, she also had lung contusions caused by trauma from the fall. We began treating her right away for the fractured arm and respiratory issue, but sadly, she was so badly injured that she passed away overnight that night.

While not the outcome we had hoped for, we are glad you brought her to us so she was able to get treatment and passed away in a quiet and peaceful place rather than outside in the wild.

Thank you again for caring about her and bringing her to our center.

 

I read it over again a few times, to take it in, because the words were not making sense at first, and then I just cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.

On Tuesday Morning, Cricket found another squirrel, this time a full grown adult, and this time, it was dead. My first, and enduring, thought was that this must be the baby squirrel’s mother. Maybe they both fell in the storm on Thursday morning, and it took the mother longer to feel the effects.

We dug a hole for her, and covered her with dirt, to keep her safe from predators. I couldn’t think of a prayer to say, all I could think of to say was, “This is for baby squirrel.”

And it was.

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p.s. Many of these pictures were taken by Naomi Mankowitz (AKA Mom)

Christmas Movies

 

I have been gobbling down Christmas movies for the past few weeks. Partly because my regular TV shows are on hiatus, but also because the world is so upsetting and dark lately that a little true-love-wins-out is necessary.

I’m exhausted. I can’t quite tell if it’s about the political noise, or the news, or the end of my first semester in social work graduate school, or the endless disappointment of getting my writing rejected that’s wiping me out. I just feel like my motivation tank is getting close to zero, and these movies are keeping me from scraping the bottom.

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Exhausted puppies.

Sugar helps too. I did my own Chanukah Cookie Jamboree, but I only got to four types of cookies before I ran out of space in the freezer. There were the triple chocolate cookies, chocolate chip with Macadamia nuts, almond thumbprints with lemon curd filling, and fruitcake cookies (surprisingly yummy!). I gave away a lot of cookies, but there were enough left over to help smooth out some of the anxiety.

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Cricket likes to bake.

I didn’t realize that taking one graduate class at a time, online, would wear me out so completely. I thought I’d have energy left over to get my own writing done, but I’ve just barely been able to keep up with the blog this semester, let alone work on the other ten projects piled on my night table.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the school work, for the most part. I like the feeling that I’m really starting to understand something about this country I live in, and how social policy actually works, and more often doesn’t work. I feel more grounded because of the reading I’ve done on social justice. I feel like I understand the news better, and understand more of the history that shapes today’s issues.

But instead of feeling inspired and energized, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. And then I eat a cookie and watch one of these Christmas movies, which are more about love and family and magic and hope than they are about religion, and I feel a tiny bit better.

Mayim Bialik (a more Jewish girl you could not find) was in a Christmas movie this year. They explained away her very Jewish looks by making her mother Jewish and her father Christian, so she went to Hebrew school but the family still celebrates Christmas every year. Her movie was one of my favorites, because there was only a little bit of magic, in the form of a Santa Clause-esque man who helped her find her plane ticket and nudged her in the right direction. She wasn’t the perfect, blond, success story, she was just an interesting, hardworking, grumpy woman with bad taste in men. And she got a happy ending. Falling in love didn’t land her a great job, or a good friend, or a loving family, because she already had those things. Falling in love only brought her love.

I’ve watched almost all of the Christmas movies, no matter how silly, and there seem to be more than ever this year, with different channels competing to flood the air waves with hard luck stories and plucky heroines. I try not to get too angry about how easily the undiscovered writer/artist/musician finds success before Christmas, and it helps that a lot of these movies are made in Canada and have lots of Canadian accents to cut through the bitterness.

My favorite message in these movies is to slow down and open your eyes to what you already have. Listen to the music. Play in the snow. Laugh with a friend. That’s where the meaning of life has been hiding all along. It’s simplistic, yes, but it’s still true. When I wake up to Cricket’s doggy breath in my face, or watch Butterfly bring her kibble into the living room so she won’t have to eat alone, I feel so much better. These are the moments that save me.

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Cricket’s doggy breath. Can you smell it?

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“Hey Mommy, I have doggy breath too!”

Though I wouldn’t mind if Santa, or the Jewish equivalent, would perform some magic for me this winter and nudge me in the right direction to find a publisher; validation that a lifetime of work really can pay off would be a nice way to start the New Year. And more cookies.

Miss Lichtman

 

Miss Lichtman’s hair was dark blond and curly in a way that her wig would never be. She’d have to settle for a coarse, honey colored sheitel that fooled nobody, so for now, in her last days as a single woman, she was vain about her curls. I imagined her standing in front of the bathroom mirror in the Brooklyn apartment she shared with two other orthodox Jewish girls. She’d spend hours wrapping the curls around her ring finger, just to feel the hair as much as she could before she had to shave most of it off.

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Miss Lichtman looked sort of like Cricket’s old friend Coco, but, you know, human.

I envied those curls. My hair was stick straight, bangs rubbing between my eyelashes. I wanted to be thin like her too, no hips. Everyone liked her, even the cool girls, even the girls who were Born Frum, born into religious families, unlike me. Miss Lichtman played basketball with the senior girls and giggled with the sophomores after class. I was too young to giggle with her, at twelve.

She was twenty-four years old and had gone on too many shidduch dates before deciding on the right man to marry. How else explain being 24 – so old! – and unmarried and still teaching Jewish Law to teenage girls.

I sat in the back of her class and listened to the list of rules I was supposed to live by, the rules she seemed to take in stride as if it were not humiliating to have to shave your head and wear a wig, as if it were not intolerable that boys had to do no such thing. And then I was crying. I cried quite a lot at home, but usually not in school, and definitely not at my desk where people could see me.

But Miss Lichtman could see me. She stood in front of the blackboard in her modest blouse that covered her elbows and collarbone, and her knee length skirt that cinched at the waist, and she raised her eyebrows and finger waved me outside. I followed, with my head down, and leaned into the brick wall while she stared at me.

I probably told her that I was having trouble with my best friend, who wasn’t talking to me that week. I could have safely told her that I hated school, and didn’t fit in with the other girls, and didn’t like most of my teachers, except for her, of course, which would have made her roll her eyes. But I couldn’t tell her the truth. She stayed with me for most of her next class, offering me her phone number and asking if I’d like to visit her brother’s house for Shabbos. She knew something was wrong and she stared through the back of my throat as if she could see the words piling up there.

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Butterfly has lots of words piled up in there too.

And then she cuffed my shoulder and told me to go back to class, and pushed her curious sophomores back into their classroom down the hall, and disappeared with them.

Our school provided a bus to take all of the interested girls to go to her wedding. It was awful to see my teacher all in white and looking terrified and not like herself. It wasn’t an arranged marriage or something she was being forced into, and most likely it was exactly the life she wanted for herself, but I was devastated. And then she disappeared altogether. From school. From New York. To Israel and her life and her husband and her own children.

Cricket has certain people who imprinted on her from her puppy year, especially a neighbor she hadn’t seen for years, who happened to be on the boardwalk at the beach one day. Cricket recognized her from thirty feet away and tried to break my hand pulling at the leash to get to her, long before I ever saw or recognized her in the distance, or remembered her name.

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“Hi!”

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“Hi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I took each of my teachers so personally that their limitations and flaws broke my heart, or enraged me, but even their smallest kindnesses stayed with me for years.

If I saw Miss Lichtman today, she’d be in her fifties, and wearing a wig, with who knows how many children, and maybe grandchildren too by now, but I’d still recognize her voice, or the rhythm of her speech, I think. I hope.

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“Do you remember me?”