Monday, October 20, 2014

Close Enough To Perfect For Me

     My brother and I ease our bass boat through the cool shade of flooded cedar and cypress trees. The water is an inky black with green sprinkles of duck weed dotting the surface. The symphony of cicada rise and fall in the backdrop of a beautiful spring morning on Santee Lake.

     My cell phone buzzes then rings and I marvel at the coverage in such a remote area. "Hello?" I answer as I slowly pull in my fishing pole. I am careful. One phone in the bottom of the river has taught me a lesson.

     My wife answers and it's easy to detect the panic in her voice, "Garry, I took Earl to the doctor with his back problem. The doc gave him a shot and I brought him home. As soon as I put him on the ground he gave a yelp and started dragging his hind end like he's paralyzed!"

     Let me explain, Earl is our then eight year old dachshund with a history of back problems. An ailment to which this breed is very susceptible. When he was just a puppy we noticed he whined a lot and was very stiff when we picked him up. He sometimes looked like he was walking on tiptoes. The pain was not constant as best we could tell, but periodic. Under a vet's care we had managed his condition and most times he seemed to be a happy, healthy, active doggy.

     "Where are you now?" I ask. "Back with the vet. He's saying Earl probably has spinal cord damage! Garry I don't want him to suffer!" was her choked reply. She knew I felt the same way having discussed the matter in the past. 

     "Then we should put him to sleep. What does the vet think?" I ask. I hear her talking to the vet in the background. "He wants to give Earl a few days to see what happens and then decide" she states in a trembling voice.

 I didn't think I could endure putting him through that. I wanted him out of pain.  He was taken to the vet that morning after wailing and panting in agony from back pain the entire night. It seemed wrong. In the back of my mind I feared he would never again be out of pain. "Tell the vet to put him to sleep." I coldly reply. This was a time to be humane and decisive, or so I thought.

     "Are you sure?' she asks. And in that question I hear a heart breaking. I feel the blood drain from my face as I reply, "Yes".  And with that she hangs up. Silence on the line. Birds sing cheerfully in the trees all around, in sharp contrast to the weight, the very heavy weight of regret that drapes from my shoulders.

     Ten minutes go by and I have played out the scenario of what is taking place at the vet's office over and over. The phone rings again. "Hello?", my voice is a little shaky. This time it is the booming voice of the vet that answers. "Mr. Rackley your wife wanted me to call and explain a possible option for Earl. There is an animal hospital in Charleston that treats spinal cord injuries but it is critical that he get there within the next 4-5 hours." Now I am silent, wheels turning furiously in my head. What to do?

     "And the chances of him being mobile again?" I ask. "The hospital says possibly seventy percent but they can't be sure until he gets there. And he needs to get there immediately.  I've already called them for you." he replies. Even through the phone I can feel the veterinarian rooting for Earl. He wants me to agree and I wonder how much my wife has influenced him.

     "Then lets go for it." I say with reluctance overpowered by relief that today my dog will not perish by the hand of his master. "Tell my wife I will meet her there!" I exclaim. Renewed hope surges and I am ready to do battle with the little fellow.

     That was 5 years ago.....I glance down at my now 13 year old double dappled dachshund, Earl. He lays stretched out contentedly at my feet as I write this. Earl, a bona fide member of our family. The source of much happiness and not a little grief to the lives of my wife and I.

     Unlike many Hallmark movies that portray the perfect happy ending to a near tragedy, this is real life. You see, the operation was not successful. Earl can only walk a few feet before he has to drag his rear end around. But due to his paralysis his back pain is gone. What a blessing! And you know what else? I don't think he minds dragging around one iota. I think he would say it's a small trade off for living nearly pain free after long years of suffering. He now has a custom built handicap doggie cart made just for him and he can fly in that thing!

     To this day I occasionally look back on that initial decision to end Earl's life. A few people have told me they would have done the same thing, though for selfish reasons, such as cost and inconvenience.  My response was based on love, on that I can assure you. So what unseen forces were in place to save a little dog's life that day? That, dear reader, is for you to decide.

     Recounting the event brings me back to a song performed by the group  Alabama from the mid 80's. The song entitled Close Enough To Perfect For Me. The title delightfully describes that dog and this ending.

I've got my eye on you!