NOTE: Since this blog was written I have substantially recovered my spirits. Yay! Please take the following as a PSA on behalf of “shelter in place” friends and family members who live alone.
Midway through the second day of “stay home, stay safe” time here in Washington State, I got lost. On Wednesday, with twelve and one-half days to go of isolating myself at home, I lost all sense of worth, of who I am, of what I can do.
Midway through the third day of isolation, as I write this, I am still lost and I am getting angry. Because truth is shifting as people act either in fear the pandemic or with the presumption that they can control it. I’ve wanted to cry before now, but couldn’t. This is what finally made me cry.
A simple thing, an appointment at the vet to get Doc’s claws trimmed. Bruce and I used to do this at home, once a month, but Doc is too wiggly for me to both hold him and clip his claws without injuring him. This is because the “quick” in his claws is very close to the point. If the claws go untrimmed the quick advances even farther. If you cut a dog’s quick it bleeds and causes the dog pain.
I started taking Doc in for monthly claw trims after Bruce died. One time I spaced out how much time had elapsed and didn’t get him in for two months. I received a kind but firm lecture about how once a month was essential for Doc’s health and mobility; in two months, the quick had extended and it had only been possible for the vet technician to clip the point at the very end.
Since then, I’ve been diligent, and was extra-sure to get him booked for his monthly trim when restrictions in response to the Covid-19 outbreak were announced by Governor Jay Inslee. Yesterday morning, when we arrived for our 9:15 AM appointment, cautionary signs were taped to the veterinary hospital door. Only one person in the waiting area at a time. If there is someone ahead of you, wait in your car. Only one person per family, please.
I appreciated these precautions and peered through the glass. The waiting area was empty. A vet tech I’ve known for 13 years was behind the counter. I gladly adhered to additional signage inside: Please stand to the right for service. A ubiquitous pump bottle of hand sanitizer was to the right of the sign.
The vet tech looked up, greeted me by name, and said, “Just so you know, after today we won’t be doing claw trims or other unnecessary procedures until further notice.”
She said this in a perfectly polite way, the same delivery she’d used last year when she told me Doc really needed to have his claws trimmed every month. The disjunction hit me instantly. My eyes teared. Another tech came out from the back to take Doc for his trim. By the time Doc came out again, tears were rolling down my cheeks.
“Strange times,” the vet tech at the counter commented as she handed me back my credit card and a printed receipt. She said something else, probably meant to be reassuring because she laughed a little bit after she said it. Whatever she said didn’t reach my brain. By the time Doc and I were back in the car, I was bawling my head off. He crawled onto my lap and remained there for the drive home.
In the fifteen months since Bruce died, I’ve learned that small, unexpected things trigger tears more than the big things I can prepare for in advance. There are so many layers to grief, and fear, and the feeling of isolation. It’s hard to know where the triggers lurk. Here’s what I think happened at the vet’s:
A year ago I was told a truth: the monthly frequency of Doc’s claw trims was essential. Yesterday, I was told that claw trims were considered an unnecessary procedure until further notice. The change in what was presented as truth, by the same person after a 12-month interval, felt like a lie, a betrayal. Who can I trust if I can’t trust this vet tech, someone who has been professional and firm but kind ever since I’ve known her?
This betrayal may not have been such a blow, but unfortunately it happened after some very sad hours of reflection about our new reality. For the past four months I’ve been surviving emotionally by reaching out and putting myself out in the world, growing my new, solo life and rediscovering things that bring me joy. I’ve been reaching out to friends and family during the pandemic through cell phone and social media, but people don’t respond like they used to.
I realize that many people’s lives are more complicated than mine right now, with all the adjustments required to move their work from office to home, or face the worry of being temporarily out of work all together, or going to essential jobs and exposing themselves to dire health risks. Worry in taking care of children, home from school for an indefinite length of time. Worry about the most vulnerable in our families who may not fare well if the anticipated terrain of medical triage comes to be.
All of these things are hard and stressful. It is also hard and stressful to be isolating by myself, seeing people and things I’ve come to rely on trickle away under the weight of mandatory precautions. Right now I feel like I can’t depend on anybody or anything.
Yes, you are, Lily, and thinking about you is making me cry again.
We have to do this for now. You know that. It’s for everybody we know.
It’s a good thing you put me in charge of the Bowl game this round. “Lily Bowl” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Today we’re on the hook for #6. Puzzle! As in jigsaw puzzle? Let’s get lost in that for a while instead of chewing on the rest of it, okay?
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