10 May 2017

Red Returns To The Manson. Healing Time, For Him, For Them

Red's Reunion

I defied the doctor's orders again – I was told firmly Red had to be still and rest – and brought him to the Mansion after we learned his illness not not cancer. I thought Red needed to see those people, and I thought they needed to see him. The staff came rushing out to see him (Katie, Morgan and Mandi) kneeling in front of him, Julie Smith standing up behind them.

He was so glad to see them, he was trying so  hard to do his therapy stuff, but did not really have the strength. We brought him back to see Connie and Peggie and Jean and Barb – they needed to see him, and then he looked like he was out of gas, so I brought him home.

I believe work for a dog like Red is powerful medicine, it lifts his spirits, gives him strength and purpose. I won't over do it – no running or active sheep work. I heard one of the staffers say they were following the blog closely, "I don't know what we would do without Red."

And many of the residents were upset, they needed to take a look at him, they understand only too well the struggles of illness and the limits of medicine. There was enormous love and empathy for them, there are many big hearts in there. I have come to love the place, and honestly, I don't know what I would do without it.

Me either, I said. Time to figure out how to make him well and strong again.

Posted in General

At The Mansion, Your Letters Mean So Much

Your Letters

It is a beautiful ritual for me to see. When Maria visits the Mansion, she sits on the floor next to Connie and they chat like school girls, they are so easy and open with one another. Connie does not know what to say about the letters and gifts she has received, I'm not sure she quite believes it.

She treasures the beautiful cards and letters she gets, she shows each one to Maria and they take turns reading them – sometimes Connie's eyes fail her, and she can't read the smallest print. She saves all of her letters in a pile, reads and considers each one, and wants each of us to see them and read them.

They are quite beautiful, some of them hand-made or painted, many are simply art, the art of beautiful letters, a rich custom I thought was dying, but is very much alive in the letters to the Mansion.

These messages connect the residents to the outside world, and remind them that they are loved and not forgotten. They read them, share them, keep them. Your messages are like angels of light, they enter the space and souls here and bring light and love to them, just like a fairy with magic dust.

How fortunate I am to have readers like that on my blog. If you wish, you can write Connie c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

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See What You Did: Connie’s Air Conditioner is In And Working

See What You Did

As soon as Red's ultrasound test was finished, I knew we all had to get over to the Mansion and bring Connie's air conditioner and let the residents see that Red was all right, some of them were getting upset. The air conditioner was heavy, we got it into the car and drover to the Mansion.

I could see that Connie was a bit nervous, her room was about to get turned upside down again. It was humid and warm in her room, a good day for her new Honeywell Floor Air Conditioner, purchased with your donations, and thank you. The first thing Connie did was to show us some of the beautiful and wonderful letters she has been receiving.

She reads each one carefully and keeps them right next to her chair. Connie has been  unable to work in the warmer weather, she is, as she put it, "sidelined." When the new Honeywell, set to 72 degrees, she will be back at work knitting shortly. The baskets of beautiful  yarn sent to her are arrayed in a ring all around her chair.

Maria and I are going back to her room in a day or so to help her get organized and clear out some of the things she doesn't need or want and has little room for. It is, life in a room. The painting that Marilyn Brooks donated to her room is hanging on the wall on the right, Connie loves it.

Kevin, the operations manager at the Mansion, hooked up the Honeywell (it is the top rated portable air conditioner by Consumer Reports) and was extremely sensitive and thoughtful about dealing with her and asking her where she wanted things to go. He is a competent and warm-hearted man.

I was delighted that Red does not have cancer, but this great act of generosity from so many people touched my heart and brought great hope to my soul. The Army of Good is gaining in strength and purpose. We do not argue about what is good, we simply do good. There is nothing much for the left or the right to say.

The nastier the outside world gets, the stronger we are, the more good we are doing.

The new printer is up and running, I'll put up a photo in a day or so. This is one of the best things I have been associated with, and I hope I have conveyed in words the bigness of the deed. Connie cannot work in the heat, she does not have enough oxygen or energy.

She will be able to work now, and resume the knitting of her beautiful mittens, caps, scarves and sweaters. If you wish, you can write her c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.  She treasures every one of your letters.

You can write the other residents of the Mansion as well: Bruce, Allan, Sylvie, Jean, John Z, Tim, Ben, John R, Alanna, Peggie, Reggie, Ellen, Joan, Brenda, Connie, Alice, Madeline, Mary, Barbara, William, Brother Peter, Diane, Helen, Jane, Dottie, Anita, Richard, Gerry, Charlotte, Arthur, George.

Posted in General

Red’s Longest Day: No Cancer. Empathy And Listening

Red's Longest Day

Red does not have cancer.

He stoically spent several hours on his back in a special mattress on the floor of the Cambridge Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Jen Steeves running a wand over his lubricated and shaved stomach and chest for a thorough ultrasound to try to determine the source of his continuing illness.

Cassandra held his legs, Maria holding his head. Typically, he did not struggle. Red is never any trouble.

I am sorry Red has had to go through so much this week. I was greatly relieved to hear that Dr. Steeves found no growths or tumor, no cancer, the thing that Dr. Fariello (and me) feared might be present.

Dr. Steeves found some swollen arteries near the pelvis, and some "sludge" in his gall bladder, possibly caused by whatever illness he has. She said she found "nothing nasty" in the very detailed examination of his organs, stomach and heart. It was quite riveting to see the ultrasound, it is an amazing tool for veterinary doctors, as it is for human doctor and surgeons.

Red's liver, heart and kidney were fine.

This shifts the focus of Dr. Fariello's diagnosis of Red and her treatment of his illness. She still doesn't know precisely what is causing his suffering, but she is closing in. She is methodical and intuitive, blending traditional science with alternative medicine. am impressed.

She called to say she was putting him on a regimen of amoxocillin until all the tests are in,  and continuing his anti-nausea medication. She is waiting for some advanced blood work results, due Thursday or Friday, she suspects they will lead her towards an infectious disease, probably tick-borne.

Lyme disease is epidemic up here, especially  with dogs, the ticks are everywhere. Infectious diseases like Lyme can cause the symptoms Red is experiencing – fever, nausea, vomiting and exhaustion. Usually, there is not this kind of fever.

Dr. Fariello is concerned about the fever, and his appetite is spotty, he is eating little and not very often. His temperature was over 103 late this afternoon. I tempted him with a new recipe of sweet potato, hamburger, white rice and chicken broth. He ate a little of it and has been sleeping since. He looks better than he did yesterday, but is still weak and confused.

So we know what it isn't, but do not yet know what it is. We seem to be zeroing in on some kind of Lyme, and we'll see if the antibiotics can knock the fever down. If it is Lyme, we go to much more powerful anti-biotics at the end of the week.

After the exam, we went to the Mansion to deliver Connie's air conditioner, which arrived yesterday. I decided to take Red with me (I hope the good doctor is not reading this) because the residents were so worried about him. I took some photos, it was powerful to see their relief and love for him, we didn't stay too long.

So anything that is not cancer is good news for a dog, and I understand that Red could be sick for quite a while. Infectious diseases take their time. The ultrasound was a big step towards figuring this out, and thanks to all of you for hanging in there with us. We are a community, after all, and I am opening to it all the time. Red can do that kind of thing.

It was so touching to see Maria hold Red's head in her hands throughout the procedure. I cannot get down on the floor like that for that long, I stayed where Red could see me, but he gave his trust to Maria and lay still for all of that uncomfortable and I'm sure frightening time.

I think Red's message to me yesterday was true – he is not ready to move on and leave his work, I saw that very powerfully at the Mansion, he was so happy to see everyone, and they were so happy to see him. He is family there.

I am exhausted, I see, mostly spent. I got a fascinating tour of Red's insides and was holding my breath for some of it. He is sound and strong, he will be fine. Loving a dog or cat is an emotional thing, everybody reading this knows that. Every dog I have had has made me a better human being, to have a dog like Red or Rose or Lenore or Izzy demands patience, commitment and understanding.

I often fail, I sometimes succeed. As the trainer told me, if you want to have a better dog, you have to be a better human. I must be doing something right, because animals don't like and I have been lucky to have some great ones.

At many times in my life, I have not been able to muster those better human traits. This week, I made a practice out of listening to Red, not just looking at him, but listening.  He talked to me and gave me strength and direction. I knew  yesterday he would stay with us.

Everything is a gift, if I am self-aware and honest and open to learning and change. Red is a gift all of his own, but his illness was a gift as well. I am learning to listen and to trust myself, I am not telling lies to myself.

I thought of Erich Fromm's famous thoughts about the Art Of Listening and understood from Red what he wanted and needed, and that was the turning point for me, when I gained control of my feelings rather than following them in fear and confusion.

I offered Red my complete concentration.

I cleared my mind of fear, anger, worry and selfishness. I summoned a freely-working imagination and concrete thoughts that could be expressed in the correct words. I called upon my capacity for empathy, hopefully strong enough to feel the  experience of the other as if it were my own. I turned to my capacity for love, the mother of empathy. To understand another means to love him in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing myself.  For understanding and loving are inseparable.


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Defying Authority: Red And Work. Will This Harm Him?

Defying Authority

If there is one single and unyielding characteristic in my life, it is a defiance of authority.

I never had a teacher who liked me that I know of, or that I liked. I quit countless jobs because people told me what to do, and because I never fully accepted the authority of bosses or authorities. I am not a team player, I am notoriously difficult.

I believe Maria, and perhaps Red (and lately, my daughter) are the only living creatures who could stand me for long periods of time at close quarters. My friend Scott says he loves me, and maybe that is true. In America, we are often cowed by lawyers and regulators and the worried hordes on social media. Everyone is telling us what to do. Everyone is warning us about everything that we do.

This week, I'm butting heads with authority again a bit, with Red and his illness.

I was yelled at repeatedly yesterday for letting Red do an outrun in the pasture. Maria agreed with the vet people, Red needed rest. Absolute rest, no work at all.

I know this advice is generally good and true, but on some level, I disagree with the totality of it, and will disregard it. This morning, I took Red out to the pasture and let him hold off the sheep while we opened the pasture gate. I didn't let  him run or exert himself.

This was absolutely prohibited while he was sick, but I know this dog well, and I know how important it is to him to feel as if he is doing some work and keeping those sheep in check boosted his confidence – which must be rocky this week – and I believe, boosted his health. When he works, even for a minute, I see his eyes brighten, his posture improve, his spirit revived. It makes him feel good, and that cannot be bad for him.

I believe this gives him focus and strength and encourages his strong will. Border collies are fighters, they will do anything to work, and so I do not believe it could possibly be unhealthy for him to stop work completely because he is sick. He is getting plenty of rest.

I am careful about my authority issues here, I don't want to resist something just because I have been told not to do something.

But to me, this is the right thing to do for Red, I want to keep that part of him alive and in the fore of his consciousness as he struggles to get well. It is demeaning and bewildering for Red to submit himself to the poking and prodding, the head cones (I took it off the minute we got home), the catheters and the temperature taking and blood drawing.

A minute or two of work gives him his pride back, his sense of who he is, a proud and  strong working dog and a healer.

Maria and I rarely disagree, but we part company on this one, and I expect to catch hell at the vet's again. I can take it. I have a strong sense of being right on this, I trust the vet and listen to her, but I also have come to trust myself and listen to me.

I absolutely trust the veterinary healing process, but I don't want to completely lose myself in it, either.

Posted in General