I have contemplated what the "best case scenario" might look like from the vantage point of someone in a motorized wheelchair, and though there are days when things are far from perfect, I do realize that I am incredibly lucky. I have a better emotional support system than I probably deserve, I live in a beautiful and accessible house, I own an accessible van, and I have found a number of excellent caregivers. What I do not have however, is a dog friendly dog. And what makes my dog even trickier is that she is completely inconsistent. She is angelic with my mom's two little dogs, she is great with my brother's goldendoodle, she adored my old dog walker's little Chihuahua, and despite a minor snafu (which resulted in a small amount of bloodshed once), she was best friends with my old roommate's pit bull mix, Sadie. However, despite her occasionally saintly behavior, she has sent more than one dog to the vet's office, has been kicked out of more than one dog park and would never, ever, even on her best day, be considered trustworthy.
So what to do about the fact that my girlfriend owns Truman, the most precious Boston Terrier in the history of Boston Terriers? It took months, but Kelly and I thought we had a solution: get the two used to each other while Izzy wears a muzzle, keep them separated, and always, always keep an eye on both of them. After a few weeks, Izzy graduated from a muzzle to a snoot loop and shortly thereafter from a snoot loop to just her collar and leash and eventually to no leash. Kelly and I always kept a sharp eye on them, but it seemed that my dog respected Kelly enough that she was remarkably tolerant of Truman. Fast forward to the last weekend in February. Izzy and I had just arrived at Kelly's house and Izzy was quietly chewing a stuffed snake. Truman walked over, sniffed the snake and unknowingly incited chaos. Before Kelly or I could even say stop (or no, or leave it, or any command type of word), Izzy's teeth were attempting to pulverize 15 pound Truman. Kelly descended upon the two dogs with the speed and direction of a superhero and managed miraculously to protect Truman from any serious harm. I cannot provide any sort of detailed account of what happened from that point forward, because I think I went into a semi-conscious state of shock, anger and fear. All I know is that at the end of the attack, Truman was fully traumatized yet miraculously uninjured, Kelly was bleeding and Izzy, completely unfazed, returned to peacefully chewing the stuffed snake (I am pretty sure such behavior qualifies her as a legitimate sociopath).
Things I never again want to hear out of my partner's mouth include: "Look Kate, you can see my muscles moving under the skin" or "Wow, I think that is a tendon". How would able–bodied Kate have responded? Hopefully I would have gone into triage mode and put Izzy the crate downstairs, checked Truman for any puncture wounds and drove Kelly to the hospital. As it was however, all I could do was stare in shock and disbelief, tell Kelly that we had to get to the hospital and try to stay as calm and still and un-needy as possible.
This was completely new territory for me. I am unfortunately used to dealing with the limitations of my disease and its effects on family, friends, caregivers and of course myself. I am not, however, used to seeing its effects on my partner. I have no idea how to reconcile my vision of the partner I want to be with the partner I am. I want so thoroughly to be helpful: to do the dishes after she cooks, to vacuum after one of the dogs pulls all of the stuffing out of a toy, to help her fold the sheets or do the laundry or clean the toilets. And above all the routine duties I wish I could help with, I want desperately to take care of her when she is sick or, in this particular case, when she is suffering a ligament–exposing bite wound imposed by my dog.
But, I cannot. Instead I remained quietly in the wheelchair, and watched as she took Izzy to the crate downstairs. She checked Truman over for bite marks and eventually, once convinced that he was okay, we headed slowly to my van. En route, I tried carefully to stay on the ramp despite a treacherous coating of ice. Right before reaching my van's slightly less slippery metal ramp however, I felt my back wheels start to spin out and slide, in slow-motion into the snow. So much for my attempt to be unneedy, I thought as Kelly struggled to push my almost 400 pound wheelchair out of the snow and onto the sidewalk with one hand (her second superhuman behavior in a 10 minute span). Once safely in the car we proceeded to the hospital's emergency room to begin our Friday evening of waiting. Hopefully, I suggested we might still make it to the Cornell hockey game at 7:30.
Sitting in the waiting room I felt the subtle but insistent need to pee. As I'm sure I once mentioned in an earlier blog, I do not pee like a normal person. I had a fancy surgery in 2010 that used my appendix as a conduit between my bladder and my belly button and now I can catheterize through my belly button whenever I have to pee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitrofanoff_appendicovesicostomy). Unfortunately though, without functioning hands, someone else needs to set everything up and with Kelly's hand still bleeding profusely I did not want that someone to be Kelly. So I pushed the urge to the back of my head and decided to wait until we were finally out of the hospital's lobby and in an actual treatment room. Of course, once that happened I was more focused on whether or not Kelly needed stitches or had any broken hand bones and completely forgot about my need to pee. As it turned out, ignoring the urge was easy to do because unbeknownst to me, my belly button had taken matters into its own hands and leaked all over my tank top, my sweater and even my scarf. My entire torso was soaked in urine, as well as the waistband of my jeans.
I cannot emphasize enough how angry I was with myself (I should have known by now not to hold it) and with my body (my belly button is supposed to function as a continent stoma, not as an incontinent stoma). Despite my protests, Kelly insisted on changing me out of my saturated sweater in the small treatment room while we waited for a radiology technician. Her intentions were good, she wanted me out of my urine soaked clothes, but pulling the sweater over my head while I was holding a rapidly filling urinal proved disastrous. When she leaned me forward I proceeded to dump the entire half full urinal all over the floor of the hospital room. At precisely that moment, as I sat in a pool of my own pee, wearing only a bra and urine soaked jeans, the male radiology technician entered the room to escort Kelly to her x-ray. Awkwardly, he glanced between Kelly and me, nervously checked his clipboard and mumbled, "Umm, let me give you guys a minute." My brain was somehow able to bypass embarrassment and go straight to guilt.
I felt like typhoid Mary. Unknowingly destroying everything in my wake – first with my dog, then with my wheelchair and finally with my bladder.
Clearly we never made the hockey game.
Thankfully Kelly suffered no broken bones and avoided an infection.
Izzy was quarantined for 10 days by the Ithaca health department. Rabies free, it has been unofficially concluded that she is a psychopath.
Izzy will likely never again spend time with her little brother unmuzzled.
Truman will likely never again be able to relax or enjoy his life with Izzy in the vicinity.
Considering the size of my dog, I realize that things could have been much worse. But I am left with one vital question: how can I properly protect and take care of the person I love? Thinking back to the blog I wrote months before embarking on my first serious relationship in over a decade, I wonder if my decision to be someone's partner was fair. Kelly once told me that people make decisions out of fear or out of love and that I should always choose love. I did. And I would do it again. But when Kelly is heaving my wheelchair out of a snow bank with one hand I cannot help but wonder once again, is my love enough?