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The Christmas the Wheels Came Off

 The Christmas the Wheels Came Off



“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

– Wayne Dyer

We have a saying in my family when we just know a situation is building to a blow-out of some sort…when it begins to feel inevitable that “the wheels are gonna come off.” When, how and what the fallout will be simply remains to be seen.

Such was my Christmas “Vacation” – a misnomer if ever there was one.

I worked really hard last fall – too hard, in retrospect – and was looking forward to a much-needed break over Christmas, spent doing not much at all: relaxing, reading, watching movies, going for walks, seeing the lights at Butchart Gardens…

The universe, however, was so not on the same page.

For back home in Calgary, my elderly mom – in dire need of a hip replacement – was requiring a lot more help to stay in her home. So my family were making her meals, getting her groceries, helping care for her cat, running errands, taking her to appointments and so on. They really needed a break, so I agreed to have my mom out to my place for the two weeks over Christmas.

Momma Pope, Christmas Day 2013
Momma Pope, Christmas Day 2013

Now even though our mother, a.k.a. “Momma Pope,” is 88 years old and down to 5’2” and 107 pounds, it is a testament to the sheer strength of her spirit that she can still manage to bring a fully functioning home (that would be mine) and the residents in it (that would be me and my thirteen-year-old dog, Soda) to a grinding halt.

Correction: Soda came to a grinding halt. I, on the other hand, was soon in overdrive, literally running back and forth between the kitchen and the bedroom (my bedroom!) delivering meals to my mom and retrieving dishes. Since the hip-pain rendered her pretty much immobile, my caring for her was to achieve two goals: 1) fatten her up a little before surgery and 2) give her a much-needed rest.

Me not so much.

For Momma Pope required five meals a day: two breakfasts (yes, like a Hobbit), lunch (soup, sandwich, fruit, veggie and dessert), a late afternoon cup of tea and pre-dinner snack, and then dinner (on a heated plate). Leftovers were occasionally accepted but not encouraged. Plus, of course, there was the grocery shopping, the never-ending dishes, the serving of meals, and the stopping and listening to stories while delivering said meals.

Soda opening Christmas stocking, 2013

I managed to make it through Christmas with only one minor meltdown. But then, two days after Christmas, the precariously attached wheels of my supposedly fully functioning life fell right off. And, as is usually the case, it was a seemingly small bump in the road – that had nothing to do with my mom – that set me off. So I vented to my mom about what was bothering me and felt much better afterwards.

Soda, unfortunately, did not. When she went to stand up that evening, she couldn’t. When I managed to help her up, she staggered a few steps then fell down. I got her up again and she stumbled out of the house, down her little ramp and into the backyard where she collapsed. I called the emergency vet hospital and told them the symptoms. They told me to get her to emergency NOW – easier said than done considering she weighs over a hundred pounds.

I still don’t know how I did it but once I managed to get Soda to her feet, it was almost like little angel wings helped carry her from the backyard to the car. She wouldn’t be able to walk on her own again for nearly a week.

She spent the next four nights in emergency and was diagnosed with “Old Dog Vestibular Disease,” which is an inner ear imbalance – similar to vertigo – possibly brought on by a stroke. Interesting…since my stress level was in the stratosphere.

At any rate, regardless of the cause, the effect on Soda was that she was completely off balance, extremely dizzy and nauseous – and her head titled to one side at a rather rakish angle. From an emotional perspective, it was heartbreaking to see her like this. From a practical perspective, now my days were spent feeding and watering Momma Pope at home AND driving the half hour back and forth (twice a day) to the animal hospital to visit Soda, hand-feed her (because she wouldn’t eat much for anyone else) and help the staff take her outside to do her business (it took three people to do this).

When we were outside on the fourth night, Soda managed to take a few staggering steps on her own over to the fence to lean against because she was still so dizzy. Still, the vet phoned me the next the morning and told me they were sending Soda home.

“Because when you’re with her,” said the vet, “she at least tries to walk on her own. But when you’re not here, she won’t even try.”

And so it came to pass that now I had two pretty much immobile 107 pound charges to care for in my little bungalow by the sea: one in my bed; the other in my yard – for Soda had decided that her recovery would best take place in the great out of doors versus, say, somewhere a little more convenient like the living room floor.

I thought I was busy before. Hah! Now I was feeding my mom five meals a day AND trying to keep a rather large and very sick old dog from freezing to death. To this end, my mom suggested I put the sheepskin rug under Soda and pile wool blankets on top, so she wouldn’t get pneumonia. Though a lot of work to get the sheepskin under Soda, this worked…until she got to her feet, stumbled a yard or two and promptly collapse again. So I would repeat the process.

Oh – and did I mention Soda also now needed to be hand-fed five small meals a day?

So this went on for a few days and honestly, I just didn’t think Soda was improving enough. And was I really being fair to her? Around dinnertime on New Year’s Day, I got an answer – albeit an indirect one. I was trying to fish Soda out of the bushes at the side of the house in the dark, when three teenage girls appeared in my driveway.

“I’m over here!” I called out.

One of them turned on her flashlight and pointed it in my direction. I was, at this point, halfway out of the bushes, trying to hold up Soda’s back end.

“Are you okay?” one girl asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I’m getting kinda used to this. My dog’s been really sick and she just needs a lot of help.”

Soda – head still tilted to one side, slowly lurched towards them…probably looking more like a small black bear that’d just been shot than an old dog.

“Gee,” said another one of the girls, “she doesn’t look so good.”

“I know,” I said.

Soda proceeded to stumble past them and flop on the front lawn. It was starting to rain.

I sighed and turned to the girls. “So what can I do for you?”

It turns out they were Mormon missionaries.

“Do you believe in God?” one girl asked.

“Yeah,” I said, rather suspicious of their timing.

Then, I kid you not, the same girl asked me, “And how does God appear in your life?”

“Well,” I said, “call me crazy – but it seems like this situation might be a good example.”

I had no idea how right I was. For after they left, I sat on the front lawn beside Soda. She was sound asleep again – except that now, I couldn’t leave her alone because she was three feet away from a busy road. And it hit me: the time had come to let Soda go.

So after yet another good cry, I went inside and, with one eye on Soda, took a deep breath and called the mobile vet on call. A woman answered right away. I told her Soda’s situation – and that I thought it wasn’t right to be keeping her in this state.

“I think it would be best,” I said, “if you came and put her down.”

“I hear what you’re saying,” said the stranger on the other end of the line, “and I understand your concern. And believe me, it is under very rare circumstances that I would disagree with a pet owner because you know Soda; I don’t. However, Old Dog Vestibular Disease is one of those rare circumstances where I am going to strongly encourage you to reconsider. Soda is eating and drinking and able to walk on her own…those are all signs that she is healing. She just needs time. Keep her warm and safe and let her rest and there’s an 80% to 90% chance that she’ll fully recover.”

I hung up the phone with a completely different attitude and a newfound sense of hope.

Maybe Soda was going to pull through? Maybe I just needed to have faith in her ability to heal – at her pace – and my ability to provide the conditions in which she could. And furthermore, maybe the vet was an example of how Divine Intervention can appear in our lives: someone to give us hope when we are no longer able to find it ourselves.

At any rate, that vet saved Soda’s life – and she probably inadvertently saved mine, too. For let’s be honest here: if my home and the residents in it had truly been “fully functioning” prior to Christmas, then merely helping out my mom for two weeks wouldn’t have caused the wheels to fall off.

Rather, my mom’s visit turned out to be a much-needed catalyst that, once the dust had settled and the dog was on the road to recovery, forced me to take a good hard look at my work-centred life. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that Soda’s symptoms were that of a creature totally off balance?

So I asked a friend – a massage therapist – if she thought it was possible that our issues can manifest in the health of our pets.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Soda is picking up on your energy…she’s your canary in the coal mine. That’s what stress will do to you.”

Then, a couple of weeks later, I told another friend how concerned I was that Soda, though doing much better, was now spending all of her time outside…away from me.

“Well,” he said, “she’s either preparing to die out there – or she’s resting where she’s most comfortable. She knows what she needs.”

True enough. For it is now February and Soda has made a 100% recovery. In fact, I would say she is more mobile and alert than she was before Christmas – because she lost some weight!

Maryanne & Soda, Sidney, BC, January 2014
Maryanne & Soda, Sidney, BC, January 2014

As for Momma Pope, she’s doing pretty well, too, although her cat, Buster, died in January 🙁 But she is booked for hip surgery next month – and she called the other day to tell me the doctors are happy because she gained 14 pounds thanks to the feeding frenzy at my place!

As for me, well, I’m learning to live and work at a slower pace and enjoying the time I have left with Soda. Day by day, I’m figuring out how to lead a more balanced life because I finally realized that if I can’t do this for myself, then the least I can do is do it for the ones who are closest to me. I suspect I might be on the right track, too, because Soda has moved back inside 🙂

“The way you look at things is the most powerful force in shaping your life.”

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara; A Book of Celtic Wisdom

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakeningthe upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams and the play, SaviourMaryanne is the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund and the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc


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8 thoughts on “The Christmas the Wheels Came Off”

  1. Well said Pope! Glad to hear Soda, your mom and you are all persevering and getting some balance!

    Hope to see you soon.


  2. This comment came in via e-mail:

    “Just finished reading your x-mas article and was shocked by the whole thing. Thank God for your wonderful sense of humour! I think I would have gotten in the car and not come back if it had been me. Momma Pope and Soda are so lucky to have an angel like you in their lives! I’m so glad that they are both feeling better now.”
    EK, Courtenay,BC

  3. Here’s another comment that came in through e-mail:

    “The Christmas the Wheels Came Off” is beautiful…so engaging and powerful. I loved the message about the dangers of a work-centered life and the need for slowing it down. Everyone I know needs this reminder! The way you wrapped this message around Soda’s trauma this Christmas was perfect. And the way your stress connected to Soda’s, was a perfect example of why we need balance, humans and pets alike. Lovely.

    Side note: I LOVED the photo you included of your Mom! Oh my…just picturing her asking for warmed plate meals, tea, biscuits, two breakfasts, etc. and then this photo with her all set by the Christmas tree (with the plate of goodies and tea nearby!) was priceless! It really draws the reader right into your living room and that Christmas trial you experienced.

    And too fricken funny your little line: “Leftovers were occasionally accepted by not encouraged.” I was laughing my head off picturing Mamma Pope letting you know this desire of no leftovers!!

    SH, Calgary, AB

  4. This comment just came in via Facebook:

    “You are absolutely correct…I totally did enjoy your article. I have been told that my horse reflects who I am and what is going on inside of me. I so believe this. So glad Soda is doing well and you were able to accomplish said feat in assisting your mom over Christmas. What a gift to your mom. Now praying for the rest and recuperation you need for yourself.”
    DM, Calgary, AB

  5. Another comment via e-mail:

    “I am so happy to hear from you via your pink gazelle newsletter — of course the photo of you and Soda is fantastic! The Christmas the Wheels Feel Off is so great — I read it so carefully and looked at the pictures for ages. Both your mother and Soda are so lucky to have you (and vice versa, I can hear you thinking!).”
    GM, Victoria, BC

  6. Another comment in through e-mail:

    “Just read the Christmas story – what a time! Glad to hear your mum is on track for the hip op and loved the photo – but did you lose 14 pounds with all the haring about?! Also poor Soda – bizarrely one of our neighbours had the same thing last year and spent 6 months crawling around because they had no balance. Very debilitating and they needed loads of carers to help them (cook, feed, help to the loo, look after the house) so I have lots of sympathy for Soda (note the neighbour had lots of carers – not just one!!). But am glad all turned out well. I suspect you were ready for a break!

    I had a week looking after mum about 6 months before she died – it was hard work and even though they look very frail and skinny, it is very hard to lift someone who can’t really move themselves – I battled for half an hour to get mum back into bed one morning until (fortunately) a carer appeared and did it as if by magic. It really gives you respect for people who do caring day in and day out – I don’t know how my sister coped to be honest – so hats off to your family (and you) for rallying round.

    You are also so right about taking time out when things gang up on you to tell you that you should! My back has basically told me that enough is enough and it is time to look after myself and also look after my husband better. It has also forced the issue of getting a dog (or two!!) which we have ummed and aahed about for years!”
    AS, UK

  7. Another comment in through e-mail:

    “Okay, Maryanne, I just finished reading about Soda, and I have to say how glad I am that she’s doing well (and your Mom, too).

    I also have to tell you a quick reaffirmation that pets do indeed reflect their ‘parent’s’ health. My Dad had mild MS and in early winter of 82, just before he died in January 83, he lost control of one side of his face, as though he’d had a stroke. He wore an eye patch and had a facial droop for his last Christmas.

    Shortly after the droop started, his Golden Retriever, Dusty, lost control of the same side of his face, as though HE had had a stroke. Very bizarre. Dad died of a heart attack in hospital without any change in his condition, but Dusty’s condition continued for a couple months after Dad was gone, then it reversed itself over the course of a few weeks and he was fine. There was never any explanation for Dusty’s condition, other than the master-dog link.

    My Yorkie, Phoenix… we’ve almost lost her twice, and this second time was because of MY stress, as it manifested in HER health. When they refer to animals as ‘familiars’, they really aren’t kidding, are they?”

    TR, Calgary, AB

    My Yorkie, Phoenix… we’ve almost lost her twice, and this second time was because of MY stress, as it manifested in HER health. When they refer to animals as ‘familiars’, they really aren’t kidding, are they?

  8. Yikes. Sounds like a full time job there! I did not know about Buster too! Good to see Soda doing well again though

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