Friday, January 29, 2010

All Dogs Go To Heaven

Have you ever stopped for a minute and given serious thought to how much, in dollars and cents, your pet is worth to you? My husband and I are mired in just such a sticky moral/ethical dilemma this very moment. I am sure there are plenty of people out there who would spare no expense in order to save a sick pet, and I know they would quickly chastise me for not being one of them. It’s not that I’m completely heartless, though some in my family may disagree. I simply can not justify spending thousands of dollars for surgery on a six year old dog who does nothing more than spend her day lounging under the bed, barking at the wind, and growling at our other dogs for looking at her funny. Our dog’s saving grace right now is that I know there is a little boy living in my house who will be heartbroken to see her go.

We have three dogs, and for me, that is approximately three dogs too many. The irony is that I am the reason they are here. A few years ago, while riding the delusional high from my short-lived stint on Happy Pills, I decided that saving shelter dogs was my new favorite past time. I spent countless hours on reading sad stories about dogs left abandoned in the Wal-Mart parking lot, litters of puppies with parvo found huddled under dilapidated trailers, and puppy mill rejects saved at the last minute from the gas chamber. I was hooked. I wanted to take them all home, give them expensive doggie treats, and let them romp without a care in my backyard. So, I did just that - three times. I didn’t realize that once I stopped the medication, I would be back to my old self, someone who really doesn’t want three dogs under foot and making a mess in my house. I have to admit that they have all grown on me, and it genuinely saddens me that we are now in this predicament of having to make a life or death decision. After five years, these hapless mutts have become an integral part of our family.

The timing of this doggy healthcare crisis is quite ironic. As I am healing from my own nasty back injury, our smallest dog, Pippy, has succumbed to one herself, yet again. She is a dachshund/Chihuahua mix, and has endured several debilitating back injuries due to her obsessive need to forever be curled up on top of the closest human or dog – any warm body will do. She is needier than Jennifer Aniston. She has jumped and climbed beyond her abilities one too many times, and now the damage is done. There will be no self-healing this time. Only medical intervention will bring her back.

So, what do we do now? She is paralyzed from the “waist” down. She is incontinent and not interested in food. Surgery to correct the injury would empty the ol’ bank account to the tune of $4,000. I keep thinking how I’m certainly glad I wasn’t “done away with” when I was down and out with my own back pain, but then again, I add value in some small way considering that I am gainfully employed, can operate the washing machine, and I cook up a mean batch of lasagna. I hate that I have to play God, but I also hate that I have to look at her in this condition. The sight of her sad face melts even this Ice Queen’s heart. (I can’t believe I admitted that…)

We’ll have to decide her fate soon. It is not fair or humane to let her linger this way. If we have to put her down, I can’t even comprehend the great wailing and gnashing of teeth as we break the news to our kids. Boy, it’s times like this when being the grown-up really sucks.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I coulda been a contender...

How could I have been so stupid? I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I realize that being confined to a chair for seven days lends itself to negative thinking. Maybe I should just chalk it up to my fiercely competitive nature instead of stupidity. I will be the winner. I will beat you at any cost. If I can’t be the champion, then I’m taking my ball and going home. I should have known that one day, my flair for “dogging” everyone would catch up with me, and catch up with me it did. It found me, beat the hell out of me, and left me for dead, crumpled in a heap on the floor.

My dedication to/obsession with exercise is fairly common knowledge. It’s as much a part of my life to run six miles, as it is to brush my teeth. I don’t need your silly motivational tricks to get me off the couch. The drive inside of me to be strong, fast and skinny is so powerful that it borderlines unhealthy. So when the president of the company I work for proposed a fitness challenge to hold folks accountable and keep them motivated to exercise, I had to chuckle a bit.  I thought, “Yeah, sure…go on with your little contest because I’m certain most everyone will have dropped out by the fourth week”. Without a doubt, January athletes are one of my pet peeves. The world is on fire to get in shape on New Year’s Day, but by February 1st, they are all back in the drive through line at McDonald’s, eating their Big Macs and loosening their belts. I have no tolerance for lazy.

I planned to sit back and observe this challenge from afar, basking in my athletic superiority. My manager, however, felt very strongly that everyone in our department should participate. I agreed because I knew the challenge would be a breeze for me. The premise of the challenge is that each activity carries a point value (running = 20 points per hour, walking = 10 points per hour, and so on). The participant with the highest number of points at the end is the winner. There was no way that I wouldn’t emerge victorious at the end of the twelve weeks.

The first week, I stepped up my workout routine just a bit. I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a person competing that would even come close to my points total. I was right. I was the leader the first week, and the person second to me, a guy who is an accomplished athlete, was nearly thirty points behind my total. The second week was the same story. Feel free to call me Wonder Woman. Would you like me to flex my biceps for you? Prepare to be amazed, people.

At the end of the second week, my Tower of Glory came crashing down around me. Staying true to my “How dare you call me weak” mentality, I decided to rearrange my daughter’s bedroom furniture…solo. As I wrestled alone against an unruly dresser that was balking at my attempt to move it across the room, I felt a sensation in my back, a horrible, painful sensation. That dresser was staring at me, and I could have sworn I heard it say, “I just kicked your ass, Wonder Woman.”

As a general rule, I continue to exercise when I have pain. I know it isn’t wise, but I would much rather be slim than wise. This time was no exception. I strapped on a back brace and soldiered on through. I figured that fast-walking nine miles would be just fine, sort of “taking it easy”, instead of my usual running. After a couple of days, I tried a little light jogging and some yoga along with the fast walking for good measure. I had this whole “back pain” thing under control, you see. No piece of furniture was going to get me down. Plus, I had to maintain my fitness challenge points lest some unseasoned exercise novice try to unseat The Master.

After three days of what I call "rest", I awoke in someone else’s body. I couldn’t get out of the bed. I couldn’t brush my teeth. I couldn’t lift my arms. I couldn’t even look down at my feet. It was official: I lost. This trash-talking, badass wannabe couldn’t even put on her pants by herself. Strong? I don’t think so. Invincible? Maybe in my dreams.

So, here I sit on day seven of Chair Prison. The Queen Bee finally got her come-uppance. I had been thinking about writing to make this down time productive, but until the last day or so, I could only type with one hand. To say that I have been humbled by this experience is an understatement.

It’s going to be a long road back to the top of the food chain. I no longer know this body of mine. I will certainly never trust my back - that shrill harpie - again. I’m not quite ready to give up on my quest for Fitness Challenge greatness, though. I will eventually climb out of this chair, toss the heating pad into the closet, and get back on the street. I’m counting on the fact that most of the other competitors will soon be settling back into their old routines of potato chip eating and “American Idol” watching. Come April, I will be back in form and pumping my fists in victory. It will play out like a movie with me, the aging has-been overcoming tragedy to claim the prize. And somewhere in the background, over the din of my adoring fans, I’ll hear the theme from “Rocky” softly playing in my honor.

Now, if only I could tie my own shoe…

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The World: Dangerous and Scary

I am tired of being scared. I am so tired of being a prisoner of my own irrational (and sometimes rational) fears. Mostly, I am just tired. That is what you get when you slink out of bed each morning in your combat gear, fists up, always expecting the worst and actually getting it some days. A stinging realization came to me yesterday: fearing everything has caused me to live a diminished life, a life without chance or exciting memories. My constant fear of the “what ifs” has led me to a life of “ho-hum”. I wonder now if it’s too late to change, and if it isn’t, am I even capable of updating into Me - Version 2.0?

I have always lived vicariously through other people. Lately, I have been following the madcap adventures of a twenty-three year old blogger that I stumbled upon by accident. She wants to be a writer, but she’s filling the meantime by being a nanny, watching movies, and, most recently, being an English teacher in Thailand. It’s that last part that intrigues me. This young girl left her parents’ comfortable home in Richmond, Virginia, and boarded a plane that took her across the globe. She did this all alone, all by herself. I couldn’t imagine traveling to Bangkok even if the President offered me Air Force One and his security detail, much less solo.

One of the glaring details that sets me apart from this girl (and oh, my friend, there are too many to mention here) is her ability to bounce back when bad things happen. Instead of being afraid of it, she rolls with it. She recounts a time when she was planning a weekend excursion to a remote beach in Thailand. (Note: remote beach + Thailand = SCARY) A few days before she was to leave, she contracted a raging case of swine flu. She dragged herself out of bed with a temperature of 104 and onto a city bus to see a doctor. I can only imagine how terrified I would be to wake up sick in a foreign country. I can only imagine how terrified I would be to wake up healthy in a foreign country, knowing that, at any moment, illness could befall me. And I wouldn’t even ride a city bus in Charlotte.

To make a long story short, she left for the trip still not well, her train crashed, she got back on the mangled train that hobbled its way to her destination, and then became even sicker upon arrival. Do you think she panicked like I would have if I was inexplicably in this situation? No, she just decided to leave her friends, get back on the train alone and head to Bangkok to pamper herself and recover for a few days in a luxury hotel. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

I can’t help but feel pangs of jealousy when I read about her life without fear. It makes me understand how much I have missed. Is it just her youth? Maybe she is too na├»ve to be afraid. Maybe her life has been about a big house with loving parents, a good school, lots of money and no hard times. Maybe in her life she has never experienced sickness or the death of loved one. Maybe she doesn’t realize that awful and scary are just around the corner waiting for the right moment to pounce. Or maybe, unlike me, she pushes those thoughts away and lives her life to the fullest, the way I wish I could.

There is so much of this world to see, and I get nervous just driving into downtown Charlotte. I get antsy and anxious at being a mere four hours away from home on vacation. What if the car breaks down? What if a pipe bursts and our house is flooded while we’re away? What if the kids get sick out of our healthcare network? What if there is a rogue Atlantic tsunami and we’re all washed out to sea to our deaths? (Hey, the thought has crossed my mind a time or two.) But then again, what if I relaxed for a change? What if I reconciled myself with the idea that bad things happen to everyone, and life goes on for most people? What if I channeled a little bit of that girl’s optimism and tried on some fun and adventure for size?

Yeah, right. When pigs fly…

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Winter of My Discontent

I’m sitting here with chattering teeth, slathering my alligator hands in moisturizer, and trying to find some sort of redeeming value to winter. Since I’m not the wealthy owner of an oil well, a ski resort, or a Snuggie factory, this is proving to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated.

I’m done with trying to hide my unbridled anger toward winter. I hate snow. I also hate that my skin looks like a cheap leather wallet, slowly being cooked each day by the heated zero-percent-humidity air relentlessly blowing from every vent. I hate that I have become a walking, talking semi-conductor in skinny black pants, sparking and popping each time I touch a door knob or give my kids a kiss. I hate that Static Guard is the only way I can keep my hair from looking like I just crammed a fork into an electrical outlet. And do you know how hard it is to run when you are bundled head to toe like you’re off to man a research station in Antarctica? Let’s just say that I won’t be setting any personal records this season.

This winter isn’t even a month old, and we are already breaking low temperature records. My son, noticing that a bank thermometer read 12 degrees, announced with confidence, “That sign must be broken.” Oh, don’t I wish. Obviously, hell has frozen over as well, because I left the house this morning in thick socks, a heavy coat and a scarf. Me? In socks? This is an unmistakable sign of the coming apocalypse, my friends. I am a true daughter of the Confederate States of America, wearing slides and Capri pants year ‘round. The only reason I even own a winter scarf is because a relative made it especially for me. (Probably on a July afternoon as a desperate attempt to distract her from the boiling summer heat, no doubt) And the socks belonged to my mom. Even the dogs are balking at doing their business outdoors lately. Each time I open the door they look at me as if to say, “Um, let me get this straight. You seriously want me to go outside without pants on and do what?”

I have found myself fantasizing about the day when the temperature breaks 40 degrees, and I can prance around in nothing more than corduroy pants, a wool sweater, and a pea coat. To hell with gloves, I say, let’s get crazy! I may even run in bare feet to the mailbox as if I was a middle-aged Laura Ingalls skipping through a field of wildflowers in braids and a flowing dress. A girl can dream can’t she?

Unfortunately, reality has returned like a slap in the face. Snow is in the evening forecast. I’ll grit my teeth, do a quick bread and wine check, then turn up the heat. I will don my tank top and shorts and strut around barefooted in proud defiance. Old Man Winter will not get the best of me this time. I will not go gently into this cold night.