For those of us who have kids or pets -- or God help us -- both, there is one thing we know for sure. Illnesses, accidents and other misfortunes happen on the weekend or a holiday.
Instead of sleeping in last Saturday morning, I quickly sat up in bed because "that sound" pierced my dreams and shoved me into consciousness. Our 70-pound Goldendoodle, Mac, was making noises you hear two seconds before a dog pukes on the bed. I had just enough time to grab a blanket and throw it under his mouth. (This is probably how they got the name "throw blankets.")
Mac was at the beginning of a days-long stomach problem of unknown origin. The good news is that the vomiting and loose stools were minimal. The bad news is that Mac, who I compare to a Muppet both in adorable looks and goofball personality, was in pain. So much of it. And we had no idea why.
We thought through everything he'd eaten the day before he got sick. We'd been attempting to upgrade his dog food and had given him a can of the new stuff along with a bone-shaped chewy treat. Was it the canned food? The treat? A virus? Something worse? We didn't know, and our furry patient wasn't talking.
He also wasn't moving. He lay perfectly still, panting hard, licking at the air, and quivering in pain. My daughter and I lay next to him, feeding him ice chips and then a dog-safe antacid. He slept through that night without incident and seemed somewhat better by Sunday morning.
But later that day as the sun went down, the pain went up. More panting. Quivering. And an absolute refusal to move an inch.
Because it was the weekend, I couldn't call our regular vet for help in deciding what to do next. My Google search of Mac's symptoms indicated it was likely a stomach ache that would resolve. But there were other possibilities, too. Scary ones that required immediate surgery. What if I guessed wrong and lost?
Finally, even though it was a weekend and I hated to bother her, I texted my kind-hearted doctor friend and asked what she would do under the same circumstances. Wait until morning when the vet reopened? Or sprint to the emergency animal hospital where wait times are longer and prices are higher?
She said she'd go to the ER. So Tom gingerly hauled our 70-pound fur baby into the backseat, and we flew down the road to the 24-hour vet. The parking lot was full Sunday night. The vet assistant took Mac to the backroom to check his vital signs but wouldn't let us go with him. They said we could wait in our car for a doctor to call with news.
So we waited. And waited. For hours. And while we did, I watched other families go in and come out those doors. I prayed for all of us. We had one important thing in common -- love. A love too important to wait for Monday. A love so big that it makes us feel small and helpless when we witness pain. A love beyond price tag or common sense or practicality.
When strangers came out of those doors crying, I cried, too. Having had pets all my life, I know how it feels to get the worst news from a vet. I know what it is to feel your heart break as a pet slips away.
When the phone rang, I nearly levitated off my seat. The doctor wanted us to come inside. We left the purgatory of our car and headed in. The veterinarian pointed to X-rays which thankfully didn't show evidence of our worst fears. After a thorough exam, she concluded that Mac likely had a painful stomach ache caused by a sudden change in food. He'd need nausea medication, IV fluids and antibiotics, but he'd likely be OK in a few days.
I marveled at how such huge emotions could fit inside that one small building. Love and agony. Hope and devastation. Heartbreaking goodbyes and soul-lifting relief. So many different people getting different outcomes.
We're beyond grateful to have been one of the lucky ones that night. And thankful, too, for the people who work there -- one of whom called it a "typical Sunday night" when I remarked at how busy they'd been.
For all the people out there working in emergency rooms of any kind, I don't know how you do it. You manage to adapt to environments flooded with stress and intense emotion and turn it into a normal workday. The rest of us stand in awe of how you do this, over and over. Thank you -- and please don't take this the wrong way -- but I hope we never see you there again.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.