On the twelfth day taking muscle relaxants for back pain that won’t let me sit or bend, I find myself in a caregiver role once more. It is between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the climax of the stressful holiday season, and all I want to do is escape to see a movie. But I am dog-sitting for a friend’s ancient dog who needs to be taken outside every other hour. And I just brought my cat home after having his broken tail amputated.
Leaving Veterinary Care of Ithaca, I’d been given painkillers and a list of instructions. I drove away shell-shocked, transported back to the time I brought my daughter home from the hospital after her first chemo treatments, after life-threatening seizures and respiratory failure. Then and now, I doubted my care giving abilities. I look at the drugged cat wedged into his carrier wearing a stiff plastic Elizabethan-type collar. This was my daughter’s cat and I’d failed to protect it. It is now my job to confine it and nurse it back to normal.
Little Hobbes, the dog who has been sixteen years old for the three years I’ve known her, sleeps most of the time. Deaf and partially blind, when awake, she is right under my heels. She trips me and gets bumped every move I make. All the carpeted areas of the house are barricaded because Hobbes thinks these are perfect places for dumping.
My own dog, Suki, also inherited from my daughter, follows me closely as well, squeaking her toy that she always wants me to throw for her.
I spend most of the night hobbling with my bad back over barricades, feeding and watering the cat with an eyedropper, and opening and shutting various doors to keep in or let out pets.
“My cat isn’t eating or drinking and he hasn’t peed or pooped since I brought him home,” I wail to the vet over the phone the morning after the chaotic night.
Then I can’t find the cat. With his huge collar, he’s gotten stuck under a bed. I dislodge him and, conscious of his sutured tailless butt, carefully carry him to the bathroom where I have put out a special meal of shredded turkey leftovers. But Hobbes is standing over the empty bowl wagging her tail.
I yell at the deaf dog. Then I sit down with the squirming cat and cry.
Hobbes waddles over. With reeking breath she licks my face.
Then I have to wonder: who is the caregiver here?