I’m writing to you this week from my cave of mentholated wretchedness.
I’m surrounded by soiled tissues, saline nasal spray, a half-full neti pot, orange juice, and a twenty-dollar tincture of stinging nettle—a last-ditch cure I found while researching cures for allergies on the People’s Pharmacy website.
I sent my boyfriend to the local organic grocer, commanding him to get it, get anything, get everything that might help—get a fucking witch doctor if you have to.
On most days, I’m a generous and compassionate sort who tries her best to radiate positivity. On the rare days when I’m sick, however, I make sure that the entire world is aware of my pathetic state. I want them to feel it. I want them to experience my misery in 3D with Smell-O-Vision (or AromaRama, or even Odorama, John Waters’ second-rate scratch n’ sniff contribution to the realm of sensory immersion).
Maybe that’s hyperbolic—the truth is, I can’t smell anything, including myself—but I hate being sick. I hate being sick almost as much as people hate hearing me bitch about it. Almost.
My boyfriend is weary, and my work deadlines are shot. Everyone around me seems to be losing their sympathetic steam with me. This is the kind of time when having a dog comes in handy—someone to lie at your feet and lick your face when it’s covered with snot. A friend who never tires of your moaning and Project Runway marathons and Benadryl-fueled rants.
Regular readers know that I have such a beast, an 85 pound mutt named Garbo, who’s been at my side for eight long years of sickness and health.
This time, though, she’s taking a sick day of her own.
Last week, Garbo got a bite on her hind end. It was small, red, and fairly harmless looking at first. By day two, she’d begun picking at it and it had grown a bloody red color. By day three, what had started as a pea-sized spot had become an inflamed, pussing wound the size of a tennis ball. The poor gal just couldn’t leave it alone, even though I slept on her rank-smelling hairball of a sofa all night so I could stop her from chewing on it. Even though I had given her extra treats and some very stern talking-tos.
Don’t make me cone you, dog. I’ll do it, too. Don’t test me.
Those preposterous inverted lampshades about the necks of suffering animals, as if Alexandre Dumas had envisioned a punishment for being the life of the party. They’re formally known as Elizabethan collars, which is odd, because the oversized collars worn by Queen Elizabeth I—and, more recently, circus clowns—were actually known as ruffs, and no dog has the heart to go ruff when sporting one; to quote Dug, the dog from Pixar’s Up, “I do not like the cone of shame.”
I threatened Garbo over and over with The Cone, but had no intention of actually forcing her into one.
As a person who suffers from mild claustrophobia, I can’t imagine what it must be like to have my head wrapped in what is essentially a tiny room. I’ve seen dogs on the street wearing them and always had a moment of disdain for their owners. Sure, it had to be done, but it seemed like such a cruel thing to do. The dogs looked miserable and humiliated, hanging their heads and letting Postal workers walk right on by.
I would pat myself on the back for being such a good owner to a contented, cone-free dog.
Smugness is a circumstance of luck, and my luck ran out with Garbo’s festering wound. I found myself surfing the various cones on Amazon, settling for a model that had the word Comfy in the name. One owner described this product as a “dream come true”—an overstatement, I assumed, but one that made me feel like I was making the least horrendous choice.
Garbo, unaware of the torturous old-school plastic cones, didn’t think it was a dream come true. The moment I unwrapped the box, she ran to the kitchen and hid behind the dryer. She didn’t know, of course, what I was unwrapping. When not terrorizing UPS delivery people and passers-by, Garbo’s so skittish that the sound of scissors on cardboard can cause her to flee, so you can imagine that being wrestled to the ground and having her head wrapped in a padded foam cell was a bit frightening for her.
She spent the next hour in the kitchen petrified, too confused and afraid to move.
For the following days, she rejected treats and butt rubs and backyard romps. Her best friend, a mini-mutt by the name of Buttons, ran under her legs, nipped at her heels, and chomped down on Milk-Bones right in front of her, but got not reaction. Buttons tried to actually climb into the cone, something I was sure would piss my big beast off.
Buttons, who lives to irritate Garbo, began to feel sorry for her. She stayed by her side, hoping she’d pull of out her funk and chase stray cats and eat shit from the backyard again.
So here we are, the two of us, trapped in the house and feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s hard not having Garbo at my feet as I operatically hack up slimy chunks of phlegm. My boyfriend walks away, an attempt at self-preservation that, I hate to say, is wishful thinking at this point. My friends aren’t too interested in hearing me cough and blow my nose over the phone, and I don’t make much sense in my doped-up state, anyway.
I even called my mother, naively thinking that she might drive an hour and a half to bring me vegan noodle soup and some DVD’s. What the hell do you want me to do about it, she said. What are you, five years old?
After this maternal lovefest, I had nowhere left to go. I took Garbo’s cone off and let her run around the backyard. After a few minutes, she disappeared behind a bush. She didn’t come when I called her, so I ended up traipsing barefoot through the wet lawn to find her hiding place. In just a few short minutes she had gnawed a sizable gash into her healing wound, leaving her skin a burning hot pink, a trickle of bright red blood seeping into her muted yellow fur.
This time I had no compassion. I wrestled her down right there in the dirt and fastened the velcro straps around her head. Her eyes cut up to me with a look that said, I’ll get you for this. I don’t know how or when, but it’s coming, bitch. Just you wait.
I didn’t have time to explain to her that I was doing it because it was good for her. That if I didn’t trap her in this ridiculous collar, she might get an infection, she might literally chew herself to death.
Humans have dogs to protect us, to look after our safety and well-being. Dogs have humans to do the same thing. Who knows how many long dead, worm-covered bird carcasses dogs would eat if we weren’t there to stop them? Who knows how many fights they’d get into with small but ferocious Jack Russells?
But I didn’t have time to explain all this because I was on my way to spin class. It was, given the violent coughing fit caused by the backyard throwdown, a bad idea. I hadn’t taken a day off from intense physical activity since I got sick. I was respectful enough to do my snotty workouts at home (inversions were a very bad idea), but I was determined to stay on track, to soldier on. It hadn’t served me very well.
If anything, it had served only to make me sicker.
Before I went into the house to start the coffee and put on spandex, I looked back at Garbo. She was sitting in the grass, surrounded by a flock of birds like a beast of the African plain. She was too pathetic to pursue these birds, too pathetic to move at all. I thought of her, flesh intact, romping with Buttons at full throttle. I wanted to tell her that she’d be back to it very soon, that now was a time for healing.
I went into the house and made tea instead of coffee. I put my gym clothes back in the drawer and spent the morning meditating, giving my five-year-old mind and my worn out old body a break.
Garbo even sat down beside me.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise