It was 6 o’clock in the morning, my husband was out of town, and I was in the bathroom toweling off from a shower. I heard a disturbance in the hallway, an unfamiliar sound that I knew had something to do with our 13 year old golden retriever. I heard what I thought was a slipping, a scrambling for traction, a fall, and then silence.
I stepped from the bathroom into our hallway, onto the admittedly ultra-smooth engineered wood flooring, to see Chester standing, quivering, just inside the office door, claws safely secured in the plush carpeting. His eyes met mine as if to say, “Mom! Where were you? Didn’t you see what just happened?”
I looked him over, and urged him to come see me, but he wouldn’t step off the carpet. In fact, when I tried to guide him off, I saw that he was very unsteady on his feet. He could barely stand, let alone walk.
I got dressed and went to the basement where I found a couple hallway runners we had brought over from the other house. They weren’t exactly the decor I was looking for in this house, but they might just help Chester get his footing so that he could get to his water dish and outside one more time before I had to leave for work.
I made a path from the office to the kitchen where the aging rolled linoleum floor provides a little more traction. I guided/supported Chester to the kitchen and out the door where he stumbled and careened to the backyard.
This whole time my brain was in panicky problem-solving mode. Was his hip broken? Golden retrievers have all kinds of hip problems. If it was broken, wouldn’t he be crying? He was quiet, but unsteady. Maybe his hip was displaced. That might explain why he was careening — he really couldn’t walk a straight line.
What could I do? It was the second week of classes. We were (are!) still short-staffed and didn’t have a sub to cover me if I stayed home to take him to the vet. I decided I would have to put him in his crate where he sleeps whenever we leave the house, contact the caregiver who stops by during the day and let her know to take special care today, and phone the vet as soon as they opened.
Driving to work, I was stressed. Because of caring for Chester, I was running later than usual, and he was on my mind. What might the vet say? I imagined worst-case scenarios where I would have to call a family Face-time conference to make a tough decision at the end of a long work day. In all our minds, we know the day will come eventually. We’ve had thirteen amazing years with this nearly perfect pup. We know he can’t live forever, but guys, look at him!
The vet said I could bring him in at 5, and Chester’s caregiver said she would report back as soon as she was with him. I had done what I could. Now I had to compartmentalize my concern about Chester and attend to the three sections of seniors who would be coming to my class over the next several hours.
I taught the first two classes then checked my phone. Our caregiver had just arrived at the house. She acknowledged that Chester was wobbly and that she had to support him while he ate and drank. My heart sank. Surely this is serious; surely the vet will have nothing but bad news for me.
I thanked her for taking such good care of him, and regrouped before my final class stepped into my room.
When that block was over, I packed up my things and hurried to my car. I sped home, changed my clothes, put down some blankets in the back of our vehicle, and carried Chester to the car.
We got to the vet’s office, just a couple miles from our house, and I carried Chester in.
“Hi, this is Chester,” I said. “I’m sorry, I’m so worried that I forgot to bring his collar and leash.”
“Ok,” the receptionist said, “as soon as we have a room ready, we’ll get you in.”
I sat down on a bench with Chester on my lap. The fact that he just sat there, letting me hold him, added to my panic. He is typically very active at the vet — he sniffs and paces and checks out all the other animals — but on this day, he rested quietly on my lap as I worriedly held his lanky body.
When another dog walked in, he couldn’t be bothered even to look over at it.
Gloom descended on me. Why now? Our daughter, who hasn’t see Chester is almost two years, had finally gotten permission to take a few vacation days and fly home. She actually purchased her flight on this very day. Certainly Chester would be ok, and she would be able to see him. Right?
After several minutes of waiting under the weight of my sweet doggo, we were moved into an examination room. I was texting with my husband, giving him the blow-by-blow report.
Our once very fit pup, who in the days when he ran several miles each day with us weighed in at 54 pounds, was now just 44. Gasp. In June he had been 46.
My emotions were right at the top of my throat when the vet, a woman I had never met before, came in. She knelt next to Chester, examining him thoroughly, listening to his heart, feeling the muscles in his legs, and gingerly massaging his hips.
I braced myself for her to say something like, “We are going to need to get an x-ray,” or “His hip is displaced and at this age, it is unlikely we will be able to relocate it,” or “Is there anyone you can call?”
But instead she said, “I think he has probably strained his muscles in this fall. I don’t believe anything is broken. I’d like to give him an additional medicine for pain, have him rest for a few days, and see how he does.”
“Really?” I practically cried. “I love that plan! That’s amazing!”
“Yes,” she said, “If he doesn’t improve in a few days, then we can do an x-ray.”
Relief washed over me. I hugged and kissed sweet Chester, gladly paid for his medicine, and drove him home.
Over the last several days, he has improved bit by bit. Yesterday I was putting on my walking shoes and he got that excited “can I come, too” look in his eyes. “You wanna come?” I asked. He looked me in the eye and did a little foot stomping routine.
“Ok, Buddy, but you’re not going far.”
I put on his collar and leash, and he happily walked down our street. At first he was sniffing and walking a straight line, even prancing a little bit, but before long, he looked up at me and started slowing, so I turned him around and headed back to the house. He’d made it about a quarter mile — not bad for a guy who couldn’t really walk down the hallway a few days earlier.
Last night, he labored to crawl up onto the futon to lie next to me as I watched TV. I put my hand on him and drank it in.
Tomorrow is not promised, so I treasure today.
For from His fullness, we have all received grace upon graceJohn 1:16