"Happy Birthday," said the doctor as he stood next to my hospital bed looking over my chart.
"Next year you really need to do something a lot better than this for your birthday."
"Next year you really need to do something a lot better than this for your birthday."
Let me back up a little.
Joe had been out of town for a few weeks (since before Annette's death) and was supposed to come home on July 1st, but his return was delayed by three days. On Sunday, July 4th, after discovering that two of our three little chicks had been eaten by something during the night, I made the 400-mile round trip drive to the airport to pick him up. We arrived back at the farm after midnight and finally got to bed about 3am.
Sometime Monday morning, what we now know was a black widow spider bit Joe while he was asleep. Twice.
On Tuesday morning, we drove 60 miles to the dentist's office where I had my teeth cleaned and Joe had a bunch of his pulled out. The teeth pulling had been planned, but it probably wasn't such a great idea to have it done so soon after the spider bites. (The poor guy put up all that hay last month while on extremely nasty antibiotics for an infection because the hay was ready to cut, and Mother Nature doesn't care about excuses.)
By Wednesday afternoon, Joe's entire body was covered with a rash from the bites, and I decided I would take him to the clinic on Thursday to get checked out.
On Wednesday evening, I found my 13½ year old, sweet beagle Robin sleeping in a patch of daylilies in the front yard, covered with blowflies—the ones you usually only see on dead things. When I tried to get her to stand up, she toppled over.
I carried her into the shack, set her on a towel on the living room floor, and fed her as many little pieces of homegrown beef salami as she wanted. Then I sat on the floor with her in my arms, holding her as tightly as I could and telling her over and over how wonderful she was and how much I loved her. By this time poor Joe was already in bed.
About 9:30pm, Robin had perked up and wanted to go out. She prefers to be outdoors, except during winter when she spends 18 hours a day snoring in a cat bed next to the living room woodstove.
We slowly circled the farmyard together as she did a condensed version of her route, sniffing, smiling, and investigating. Those of you who have been lucky enough to spend time around a beagle will know what I'm talking about. When Robin was younger, her daily route was several miles long.
Just before going back into the shack, where I planned to curl up on the daybed with Robin for what I was pretty sure would be her last night, we stood next to the big water dish in the front yard while I waited to see if she wanted a drink.
Then a poisonous copperhead snake bit me on the ankle. Twice.
Joe made the 40-mile drive to the hospital in record time (because of our remote location, it was actually the fastest way to get me there), and after checking me out in the emergency room and puking my guts out, they started the first of six anti-venom treatments (at $3,500 apiece).
I spent the next four days drifting in and out of sleep in the Intensive Care Unit, hooked up to machines, covered with my very softest vintage beacon blanket, my foot propped up in the air on a precarious pile of pillows and blankets, an oxygen tube in my nose, my hand on a little clicker thing that administered morphine for the pain, up to every 10 minutes if needed.
Every few hours a nurse measured the swelling on my foot, ankle, knee, and thigh with a paper tape. We watched in amazement as the pain and swelling and redness worked its way up my leg so the poison could flush itself out through my lymph system. My swollen foot was a greyish blue, and one doctor asked if my calf was all yellow because some sort of treatment had been brushed on it.
Friday was my birthday. Two giant slabs of chocolate cake, one of which said 'Happy Birthday' across the top in pale purple frosting, arrived on my breakfast tray, and I was told there was plenty more where that came from. The hospital administrator presented me with me an extra little container of vanilla ice cream when he brought in some of the staff to sing 'Happy Birthday.'
Joe brought me a flowered balloon and one of those neat little personal DVD players, and we scrunched up together on my hospital bed and watched movies and ate goldfish crackers during his daily afternoon visits. In the evenings I set the player next to my head and listened to Mozart's violin concertos on a continuous loop.
One of the best things about living in the midwest is that the people are very nice, and the hospital staff couldn't have been kinder. They also truly believe in the curative power of hot biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast, and were perfectly willing to grant my pencilled-in requests on each day's menu card for extra brown gravy with my mashed potatoes. I did not lose any weight while in the hospital.
While I was there, I heard myself referred to as 'the snake bite,' 'the snake bite lady,' and 'the infamous snakebite patient.' Nurses who had never seen a snakebite victim gathered around my leg and told me snake stories. Not one included a bite.
Copperhead snakes are common in this area, and I've probably seen several dozen of them since moving here. Years ago, we were fixing fence out in the sand field when Robin alerted us to a whole nest of little ones writhing in the grass not far from where we were working. Usually they won't bother you. Some don't even mind having their picture taken, as you can see from these photos I took of the treat room door on the old sheep barn last September. Fortunately I saw it before reaching for the latch. Snakes really are extraordinary creatures.
It was a fairly small copperhead that bit me, and I've since learned that their bites are often the worst; something about their being quick to bite and being too young to know when to stop with the venom. The ER doctor said it looked like I got a fairly big dose. Fortunately copperhead bites to humans are almost never fatal. The question people asked me most was whether we killed the snake. No. We were focused on other things—like panicking.
On Sunday I was moved out of the ICU, and on Tuesday morning my doctor said I could go home. I now have a walker and a handful of prescriptions, two of which are to countereffect the effects of the heavy duty pain meds. (Some of you reading this will know how tempted I was to toss the whole lot out the truck window during the ride home.) My arms are bruised from the four IV ports and all the places where blood samples were taken, and are still covered with creepy looking grey residue from the cement-like hospital tape that doesn't want to wash off.
I can't really do anything yet, and it looks like I'll be down for a while. Thankfully there were no complications with my kidneys, circulation, etc. My foot and leg are still really sore despite the pain meds, and I need to keep my leg elevated most of the time or it starts to swell back up. I've spent the last few days clomping around with my walker between the bed, the daybed, and my computer desk, where I sit and work for short periods before my leg and my brain start to protest. At night I pee in a five-gallon bucket next to the bed because it's too painful to make it all the way to the bathroom.
I take a lot of naps. I eat a lot of Oreos. I reread favorite books I practically already know by heart. I do a lot of thinking. I ache all over from suddenly becoming sedentary. One doctor told me I would be in tremendous pain for several months, but I decided not to believe him. I didn't ask anyone else for a prognosis. Everything is topsy turvy, and I'm just taking life one hour at a time.
Meanwhile, my hunky farmguy deserves a medal. He's been taking care of everything around here, including me, while feeling like crap himself and still barely able to chew. He even empties my pee bucket. He lived on ice cream and hardly slept during the week I was in the hospital. My snake doctor gave him a free spider bite consult (which is how we learned it was a black widow and not a brown recluse, as we had suspected, that bit him), and the full body rash, which is apparently a normal reaction to the bites, is just about gone.
Robin died while I was in the hospital. Joe found her curled up in one of her nests in the haybarn, as if she were simply asleep. He buried her in the garden next to our beloved farm boss Patchy Cat, whose recent death (along with Whiskers') I hadn't gotten around to telling you about. I know some of you are (do I now say were?) big fans of Robin, and I'll probably post a few more of my favorite photos from my personal files in memory of her soon. In the meantime, you can get to know her better here. Warning: that smile is contagious.
The morning I was discharged from the hospital, one of the nurses asked if I'd like help taking a shower, and I told her I would just wait until I got home. "There's no place like home," she said, and boy was she right. I missed mine something fierce.
This whole ordeal has been surreal. In time my leg will heal, but the farm and my beagle loving heart will never be quite the same. Robin had just about the best life any dog could ever hope for, and while her death was not entirely unexpected, I still can't stop the tears. And I sure do miss that smile.
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