I have never had a problem keeping calm, staying rational, taking action and gracefully handling potentially embarrassing personal needs with a cheerful attitude when the “patient” is human. However, let one of my pets get sick, and I simply can’t cope.
When I took care of my grandmother, I only lost my “tough as nails” composure on two occasions: the first time she fell down and produced copious amounts of blood from a scalp laceration, and her first night after she collapsed. The first was a vicious blow because I only just brought her home from the rehabilitation facility and already I’d managed to break her! The melt-down didn’t last more than 5 minutes, though. The second was a sleepless 48 hour marathon when she became confused and combative. A tiny lie (that her physician had ordered bed rest and that’s why I wasn’t letting her get up) restored her composure and my own. I was sad when she died, but never got hysterical.
And then this past Wednesday my oldest Yorkshire terrier, Mickey, displayed a non-bloody, non-combative yet worrisome symptom that had me sobbing uncontrollably. I got myself calmed down enough to get him to the vet, but my lip was quivering and my heart was breaking. Composure? Never heard of it! More like hysterical emotional wreckage on a roller coaster; I was positive he was dying.
Now, Mickey is nearly 14 years old, has lost all but his front lower teeth, has a heart murmur and an enlarged prostate, and is pathetically thin and bony from the illness he (along with fellow Yorkies Chrissy and Holly) suffered when he stayed with my step-mother while I was taking care of my grandmother. Now he has an inoperable tumor growing inside his left nostril with a secondary infection. Not the best news, but he’s not racing to the Rainbow Bridge just yet. Phew!
I seriously had to ask myself WTF? So I brushed my teeth and had a go at self-analysis.
My pets and their care are my personal, forever, no shilly-shallying responsibility, they’re children that will never grow up and take care of themselves, and I feel an inordinate amount of guilt and despair when I fail them in the slightest (and even non-existent) way. So, even though I didn’t cause any of his problems through abuse or neglect, his total dependence on me for care and protection triggers my mothering instincts when he gets sick (and this is mine and his first shared bout).
But mothering instincts shouldn’t bring on an emotional crisis, thinks I.
My mothering instincts while caring for my grandmother didn’t escalate out of control the way they did with Mickey because, duh, dogs can’t talk.
Communicating with my grandmother was critical to my caring for her, even when her responses were reduced to non-verbal. Mickey has yet to answer a single question about how he’s feeling or what he’d like me to do for him, even non-verbally. My only clues are observational and prone to misinterpretation: He’s eating, he’s not eating, is he starving or just not hungry; he’s active, he’s lethargic, is he about to die or just plain tired; touch here and it hurts, is it broken or is it just sore; panic or don’t panic. This is what drives me over the edge of sanity. Without input, I can’t think, I can’t formulate a plan of action, I can’t be rational; I totally lose it!
Neither he nor my other Yorkie, Mindy, who is only four or five months younger, are going to live forever and, like my grandmother, the beginning of their end has started. I’m going to have to grow some tough nails in a hurry, so I can make their passing as pain-free and comfortable as I did for my grandmother. After all, there is nothing I can do to stop the passing of those I love. The best I can do is enjoy and be grateful for the time we have left together.
So here’s my epiphany for the day: Drama Queen, thou art banished forever!