There’s a woman in my neighborhood with a couple of dogs. She’s friendly, and we chat about the dogs when we see each other. A few weeks ago, her dogs had a bug and I thought mine was injured, so we stayed clear of each other when we encountered each other. For the last week or two, she seems to have been avoiding me— if the pup and I are outside basking in the sun, she mutters an oath under her breath and does an abrupt about-face.
It occurred to me to be offended, but the truth is that I don’t have the energy for it. If she doesn’t want to exchange mild pleasantries with me anymore, mazel tov. If she does? Even better.
Today, she crossed our path, and then we ran into her and her pup as my boy searched for an appropriate pile of snow on which to defecate. (I don’t know why it’s better to do it in the snow, but he believes fervently that it is. And with the weather at 70, we’re having to look a little further for the good piles of snow.) We talked about her dogs and she observed my dog’s gimpiness. In fairness, he does look like an old, arthritic dog, despite being not quite 13 months old. His forelimbs are deformed and painful, and he’s got the “bad” back leg that is basically the only normally functioning limb beyond his tail, at the moment.
And it’s something that I need not to be too sensitive about. She couldn’t have known that it would hurt me to hear it, even though it’s true. But I was just starting to feel hopeful. We know, now, what we’re up against. We have a plan for treating it. It might not cost me tens of thousands to treat for surgery alone. He’s started the physical therapy process and she gave me things I can do from home. I’m supposed to do them three times daily and I had just done the third set with him since we got the “prescription.” I gave him the recommended fish oil when we got home last night. My neighbor’s exclamation of “My God, he can hardly walk!”—it came at a point at which I needed to feel like the things I am doing have value. Because these things are expensive and sometimes emotionally draining.
It hurts to watch him struggle to stand. It bothers me that he’s taught himself to army crawl because the alternative is sometimes too much for him. Watching him climb or descend the stairs is an emotional thing. He’s nearly 70 pounds, and I lift him into and out of the car just to spare him the pain of jumping down. But the last few days, when I get home, he’s not laying morosely in his crate, he’s standing and waiting for me, or laying in the sunshine by the back door and happy. I’d just spent my lunch hour enjoying the sunshine with him. I got him to play a little, and to walk around a little more than I managed yesterday. He’s mostly content, which is a blessing that I know to count, these days.
I was sick with a mystery virus a couple of years ago, and I went through periods of high fevers, then about a week of joint pain, then mysterious swelling. It helped me to understand and have more compassion for people who struggle with their health in a way that I, thankfully, normally do not. Now, I think of the people in my life who struggle with a loved one’s chronic illness. I see how fragile that hope is, when it comes, how exhausting it is to not-know, or to be hedging against worst-case scenarios, and how the objective gaze of even a friendly face can sting.
In a very Catholic way, I’m working on offering up my struggle with this and his, to the extent that I have the right to, for the relief of suffering for others. Whether in prayer, or more practically through sharing our story about this, I need to believe that the painful parts of this, for him and for me, are just parts of the story— not the whole thing or even the most important thing.