By Debbie Kalata
At my collegiate cusp, I agonized with that nebulous thing called the rest of your life. I wanted it all, everything from architect to artist, doctor to designer, lawyer to linguist, right-brain, left-brain, definitely whole brain. While I ended heavily invested in finance and economics, it took Mac to foster growth in areas I lacked confidence.
He was barely two when the story began. An innocent lick here, an excessive scratch there, then overnight he had inflamed ears and swollen paws. Suddenly, I faced brutal facts. Everything I’d read was true. My Westie was a victim of his gorgeous white coat.
We stood before his vet. Listened to the words I feared one day would be relayed. Shaking his head and wagging his finger, that healing man spoke of special diets, assorted medications and pathogenic organisms. A new chapter was being written, one of endless doctor visits and fleeing money. I accepted my responsibilities. It was my job to care and protect.
While Mac suffered more during spring and summer, the battle waged year-round. Most weekends found us occupying our second home, the vet’s office. Mac confronted white coat syndrome more that first year than most do their entire lives.
Three years passed. Back at the vet’s but seeing one newly ordained. Seemed my money was funding a fabulous vacation for his primary. After perusing Mac’s thick file, the intern swallowed hard. A sweat bead glistened on his forehead. A case like none he’d ever encountered. Suddenly, his eyes lite-up, a smile formed, he threw his index finger skyward and shook it as he proclaimed a diet rich in lamb, the better protein for dogs like Mac.
I cooked then watched my little Westie guzzle his lamb mix; the coveted people food he so desired. Within two months, Mac could best be described as, well, starkly put… naked. From the middle of his back to the tip of his carrot-like tail, not a hair could be found. He wore a goofy smile, bright red skin and a bad case of doggie acne.
We stood before his vet. He spoke of drawing blood and expensive allergy tests. I solemnly nodded my agreement. My wallet gently wept. Two weeks later, clutching the results, that healing man cleared his throat and recited Mac’s diagnosis. He articulated an avoidance of beef, potatoes, wheat, beets and numerous grasses (like that was going to happen). Was there a beacon to such a dim proclamation? Of course, lamb topped the list.
Those years required knowledge without medical school. I could toss terms with the best of them. My vocabulary included skin mast cells, woods lamp tests, pruritus, chronic otitis, malassezia pachydermatis, atopic dermatitis, nutritional dermatitis, infectious dermatitis and, well, basically all dermatitis. I knew my way around antibiotics, corticosteroids, antihistamines and cyclosporine. I diligently monitored Mac’s responses to the vast medication, ointment and shampoo arsenal used to wage a relentless chemical warfare. I felt the quasi-veterinarian.
Now, I was asked to step-up my game. His vet offered me a job. Mac required a battery of allergy shots, gradually reducing to monthly. I could give them or he would, for a fee of course. I stood tall at five-two and took the challenge. My wallet applauded. Medicine had made my high school short list of, oh, about twenty disparate occupations. It seemed easy, piece of cake. Fill the syringe, gab the scruff, give it a shake, stick the needle in then push the plunger. I left dreaming of career possibilities.
We stood before his vet. After nine months, a revolution had ensued. There was a coup d’état. Mac seized control. The firing was abrupt. I was now subservient to his despotic rule, no longer his serum giver. His vet broadly grinned and openly rubbed his hands together, probably dreaming of a new, expensive two-seater sports car; preferably in white.
A few years passed. Back at our weekend home we encountered a new intern. Obviously, his primary was on yet another Mac funded vacation. After the forklift delivered Mac’s file, it was déjà vu. However, there was no miracle protein proclaimed. The “ah-ha” recommendation was a canine dermatologist. Seemed the newbie didn’t realize the golden Westie wasn’t to be shared.
We stood before his specialist. The visit was a consultation miles from home. The fee made my wallet hyperventilate. The follow-up detailed a special serum, building up Mac’s immune system, slowing down the party, hardy bacteria. The dermatologist spoke of bi-weekly shots building to monthlies. My mind wandered, amnesia set in and my wallet spoke on my behalf. I volunteered, forgetting the despot I served.
A series of senior moments overruled Mac’s alpha dog ideologies. The build-up period was an uneventful memory. I had even begun reading up on medical schools again. Each month, I gathered my paraphernalia, collected Mac then did the “grab, shake, stab then plunge” like a pro.
The year came to a close. Fall was in the air, Halloween two weeks away. I plopped Mac down, grabbed the syringe, the scruff of his neck, gave a quick shake then stabbed. My thumb pressing when, unexpectedly, he grumbled under his breath, raised his head and violently shook it then swerved in my direction. I lost focus. The needle left his skin and sunk into mine as my thumb pressed the plunger. I screamed. The tyrant was back.
I called his dermatologist. She relayed the serum was safe for humans but recommended I call my primary the next morning. Only precautionary, she claimed. I stared at my index finger. It was red, hot, swollen and throbbed.
I immediately called my primary. His concern was less for the serum and more for the canine bacteria the needle undoubtedly had imbedded within me. He spoke of an infectious disease doctor, setting an appointment. He would make arrangements. I was to call first thing.
I sat before my disease specialist. He asked what prompted the visit. I relayed the prior night’s mutiny, the subsequent stabbing. I handed him an internet article I had printed declaring the serum was fit for dogs, horses and, yes, even humans. Once he finished rolling on the floor, wiped the tears from his eyes, he prescribed an anti-inflammatory, an antibiotic and sent me home to be pack leader.
It was game on come November. My Westie cowered before my authority. The medicating was successful. The kingdom was mine once again. I shouted. “Long live the Queen of the Scotland Terriers.”
It was December. I was heading to Houston for Christmas. Mac’s injection was due the day before an extended (read expensive) stay with his primary. I gathered my paraphernalia, collected Mac and it was October once again. Only this time, the needle plunged deeper, stayed longer.
I skipped his dermatologist, disregarded my primary, my attitude “been there, done that.” I went straight to my disease specialist. He was vacationing so I left a message. His partner called back. I relayed my tale of woe, mentioned the previous prescriptions and gave him my twenty-four hour pharmacy.
No can do, he countered. He wasn’t the original attending.
I whined about flying out in two days.
He laughed. Said call tomorrow for an appointment.
I complained my finger throbbed.
He quipped. Take two aspirin.
I sassed back. “Okay, let me get this straight doctor. I’m to take two aspirin and call you in the morning. Correct?”
I got my appointment the next afternoon. I got my prescriptions too. We both got a good laugh. Actually, make that three. My original disease doctor rolled on the floor a second time when I arrived for my follow-up.
The New Year dawned full of resolutions. Mac’s vet would forever more fulfill his hypodermic needs. I hung-up my stethoscope, put away my syringes, stopped playing doctor. I accepted my fate. I had named him Laird Angus MacGreggor, granted him the right to lord over me.
Years later and just six months before Mac passed, a paw shy of sixteen, my mom was hospitalized with pneumonia. She, my dad and I sat drinking coffee and reading the morning paper while we awaited the endless round of doctors who checked her progress, nurses who drew blood. Heads buried in the local news, a knock sounded followed by footsteps. I slowly lowered my pages and stared at the familiar, though older, face of my infectious disease doctor. He laughed, asked if I was the woman who kept giving herself her dog’s shots. It was too late to claim it had been done in the name of science. I sheepishly nodded my embarrassment. He assumed I’d come to my senses since I no longer graced his office, paid his fees.
I sit humbled but wiser. While not the notoriety within the medical community I’d fantasized, my intentions were honorable, born from obligation and parsimoniousness, not ego. Well, maybe a little ego, okay, a lot. Though, cognition should have restrained me from plunging that second time. Precognition would have stopped the story altogether.