When Life Hands You Lemons

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade. We’ve all heard the phrase.  But how many times do we put it into practice?  Do we throw our hands in the air when things go sour, or do we use those hands to take action?  Lord knows I fall short of the mark; I’ll be the first to complain when I feel like c-r-a-p. But occasionally I manage to make use of what the Big Guy has given me.  And these times, above all else, are the true triumphs of my life.

I am someone who has been dealt both a fabulous as well as difficult hand, not unlike most people. Although blessed beyond measure with an amazing family and friends, fed, clothed and most days happy, I struggle with a disease that often has no rhyme or reason. When I was diagnosed with Meniere’s 6 years ago and put on a salt free diet, I thought okay. I will deal. But that acceptance quickly dissolved into anger, frustration and resentment. I felt as though I’d been cursed.  Thankfully, instead of giving up and accepting LIFE WOULD SUCK, I sucked it up and spit it out.  I already had the skills to solve the problem, I just had to DO IT.  And thus this blog and its twin (The Daily Dish) were born.

When my dog Max died a month ago, it was like I’d aged 10 years overnight. My world seemed fractured. I knew before he passed how much his loss would eventually affect me, when it came, but until it actually happened I’d never have expected its depth. In the past weeks I’ve tried to figure out where to go from here. It can never be the same, but should we get another dog? We tried. I’ll spare you the gory details, suffice it to say, we adopted an adult dog who was with us a mere night before return, leaving me to accept we’ll have to get a puppy if we get another dog at all. My kids & their safety, no matter what, come first.

Do you ever feel like you’re trying to squeeze a cantaloupe into a coffee mug?  No matter how hard you try to make it fit, it ends up exploding in your face, sending seeds and soggy pulp everywhere.  So you clean it up.  And try again. and again.  Regardless of how impossible the task is, you don’t give up.  Friends, I’m here to tell you to PUT THE F*CKING FRUIT DOWN ALREADY.  Sometimes it isn’t meant to be.  And other times, you can’t see the answer staring you in the face b/c you’re too covered in melon guts.

The past few weeks have been like that.  Trying to shove a big ole melon into a tiny glass.  I spent hours glued to Petfinder.  Checking Craigslist.  Cruising websites looking for the PERFECT DOG.  But you know what?  He’s dead.  Gone.  I know, I know.  Cut myself some slack already, but it’s true.  I was so intent on finding the way out of my grief, I failed to see what I was doing wasn’t helping.  It just made me miss Max more.

Two nights ago, I found the answer.  I guess I shouldn’t fault myself for checking Craigslist obsessively, b/c that’s where I found it.  I saw a post about a puppy and automatically clicked it.  But it wasn’t about re-homing said puppy (and trust me, this whole ‘re-homing’ business & its accompanying fees is another blog post altogether) but rather about finding this puppy a SITTER.  Hmmm.  If you can hear the gears turning, then BOY ARE YOU RIGHT.  This person has a young puppy and needs to find someone to watch said puppy during the week while they are away at work.  Said puppy is cute, and small, and furry, and loving and Oh By the way, You get paid to watch the puppy.  CHA-CHING!

As someone who is home full time, needs money and is in desperate need of dog, I wiped the melon pulp from my face and replied.  And guess what?  They wrote me back.  And said I sound perfect.  And you know what?  I wrote them back and hopefully this (now clean and illuminated) soul sitting before you will be squeezing lemons and soon, making lemonade.  With a puppy on her lap.

Max

My dog Max died two weeks ago.  Although his legs had begun to fail, he was otherwise in good health and spirits, and his passing was wholly unexpected.  We’d taken a long walk the day before and he’d been so full of joy!  Rushing ahead, leading the charge, till finally he was so spent he’d practically collapsed.  He woke us early the next morning, about 3:30 am, crashing around downstairs.  My husband rose to let him out, thinking he had to go to the bathroom.  Max went out into the yard and laid down in the grass.  He wouldn’t get up, even after John called him several times.  His breathing was labored, his tongue hung to one side and his lips felt cold. Something was seriously wrong.

John came and got me, and together we went outside and rolled Max onto a blanket and carried his heavy (150 lb.) frame inside.  We placed him gently on the rug, then fetched blankets and pillows for ourselves.  We laid, side by side, as if on a camping trip.  Petting him, speaking to him, sensing – somehow – that this was the end.  Just shy of 4:30 his breathing became almost imperceptible, punctuated only by a few deep gasps. He didn’t seem to be in any pain. John woke the girls in time for them to say goodbye. And then Max was gone.

His swift departure has left a hole in the heart of my family.  Max lived with us his entire life, from 7 weeks to almost 10 years.  He grew up side by side with our daughters, and neither can remember life without him.

We miss him terribly.  But even in death Max remains a steadfast presence in our lives.  I see him when I walk the woods, I feel him beside me at the beach.  Each morning as I rise, I meet him in the hallway where we parted, and every meal I fail to finish I take out to his yard.  2 weeks ago, Max died, and we buried him under the apple tree.  And next year, when flowers bloom from his grave, I will think of him all the more.

A dear neighbor gave us a book of poems to help us through our loss.  Many are consoling, some difficult to even read, but the one which has touched me the most was written by Rudyard Kipling and is entitled Four-Feet.

I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.

Day after day, the whole day through —
Wherever my road inclined —
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.

Now I must go by some other round, —
Which I shall never find —
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.

March 2, 2010

Max and Blackie.

So unlike each other and yet, so fundamentally the same.

A year ago, Blackie survived an interstate move.  He spent hours bouncing in the back of an unheated UHaul truck, in a broken waterless aquarium.  6 months ago he survived a second move, one which claimed the life of his tank mate Sunny.  We tried finding him some new friends and instead gave him a parasitic anchor worm infection.  Poor Blackie underwent extensive treatment over the course of weeks and somehow managed once again to triumph.  But even heroes have their time.  Blackie the miracle fish, who had given us his all and then some, passed away overnight without drama or fanfare.  It was a gentle death.  The most any of us could ask.

Much like Blackie, this year Max also rebounded from a horrific infection which nearly claimed his life.  He’s always suffered from acute allergies (to what, we don’t know) but 7 months ago, Max was in the worst state he’s ever been.  He’d lost nearly a third of his body weight, and his body appeared to be breaking down.  I’ll never forget taking him to the Portland Dog Wash, a self-serve facility, just before we moved into our new house.  As we gently bathed him, blood literally poured from his sides.  His back half was nearly bald.  The vet put him on steroids & antibiotics, we switched his food for the MILLIONTH TIME, and we prayed for the best.  I don’t know if it was a combination of everything – this beautiful yard, the new allergen free food, the steady low dose of steroids, sheer willpower, love, but over the past 6 months, Max has RETURNED.  Our friends and family who saw him at death’s door and see him now simply marvel at this beast.  None of us expected him to live, let alone thrive.

Today is March 2, 2010.  Max’s 9th Birthday and Blackie’s “death day.”  I am not quite sure what the great cosmos is trying to say, taking one life as we celebrate another.  So I will close with Happy Birthday Max.  And happy trails, Blackie.  Here’s to you both.

When bad things happen to good fish

Months ago I related the tale of my daughter’s MIRACLE GOLDFISH, Sunny & Blackie.  Who, though small in stature, survived hours in the back of a bouncing UHaul truck in a cracked aquarium w/out water.  Who, though shaken and scarred, not only escaped the icy grip of death but went on to thrive & grow.

sunny and blackie

Until 4 weeks ago, when we moved.  In order to get the fish from our apartment to the new house, we had to drain their hefty tank and transport them in a modest glass bowl.  The fish seemed fine the first day.  We cleaned their tank and got it filled, but during the next 48 hours, they began to struggle.  Days later we woke to find Sunny gone.

09-06-09-1

15 minutes after a proper burial in the yard, our younger daughter was READY TO FILL THAT VOID.  By evening, my husband had whisked her off to the nearest pet shoppe for replacement/s.  They quickly returned w/ three tiny goldfish, and by bedtime they were swimming in the tank with Blackie.

The following morning we knew something was wrong.  One of the new guys appeared to be sick.  He’d developed some sort of spot on his side.  It didn’t look good.  In fact, it looked seriously bad.  My husband scooped him out and placed him in the quarantine bowl, and for good measure, added his two comrades.  By the next day, all three were exhibiting signs of the same illness.  ANCHOR WORMS.  Neither nice nor pretty, Anchor worms are seriously nasty parasites.  They burrow into fish and expel their eggs out through their sides.

anchor worm

We were horrified to think we’d not only brought home fish that were infected, but had also exposed our own (mourning) Blackie to the disease.  My husband took the 3 fish back to the pet shoppe from whence they came.  After explaining that he’d just purchased 3 parasitic fish from their store, and that he expected a refund, they very grudgingly gave him back the money, but were not going to take back the “merchandise.”  John stated firmly that he was NOT leaving the store with the fish.  After several iterations of I DON’T WANT THEM< YOU TAKE THEM, the manager finally took the bag.  Mostly b/c other customers were beginning to take notice.

In the ensuing days, we have watched Blackie develop one lesion after another.  We have seen the sprouting of at least a dozen anchor worm egg sacks, trailing from his sides and tails like streamers on a newlyweds car.  This morning I resolved to take photos and write this post, in an effort to spread the word.  FISH OWNERS TAKE HEED!!  Do not make the same mistake we did.  When purchasing new fish – even from a reputable pet store chain – never EVER put them directly into your established home tank.  Sure, we waited for the water temps to equalize, but we didn’t quarantine the new fish.  Being fairly new to fish ownership, I didn’t know this was customary.  But that is no excuse.  Please, don’t let THIS happen to your pets.

blackie

blackie2

We have been trying to treat Blackie for the infection.  First (and unsuccessfully) w/ an over-the-counter remedy from the pet store – Ironically – the same pet store that sold us the infected fish.  We have attempted to cure him by NOT FEEDING HIM & subsequently, not feeding the parasites living off & on his flesh.  No Luck Yet.  Tomorrow my husband is obtaining some Potassium Permanganate from a chemist at the university where he works.  It’s a poison, and is supposedly a foolproof way of treating the disease.  Historically it was used to disinfect drinking water.  I will keep you posted as to the results.  Till then, send Blackie your well wishes.  The poor guy needs them.