Today I stop guessing and give you my heart
Today is a blessing
You’re far and I’m missing you
I can’t wait to be with you if only to say
Stay … Stay
— “Today” by Jennifer O’Connor
The morning of Skylar’s elbow dysplasia surgery, I was second-guessing myself. “Am I doing the right thing?” I asked Steve as we loaded Sky and Blue into the car for the drive to Mill Valley. “Yes,” Steve said with total conviction. “She’s not even two years old, and she’s limping so badly that people stop us on the street to mention it. Dr. Sams says she’s in pain; you know she’s in pain.”
As we headed over the Golden Gate Bridge, I turned to see Sky and Blue cuddled up sound asleep like two kids on a cross-country road trip. “I guess it’s good to be a dog when it comes to this stuff,” I said. “You have no idea what’s about to happen.”
“I wish I was a dog when I had my colonoscopy,” Steve said, and I laughed for the first time that day, which I definitely needed.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the Sams Clinic, Skylar sat up suspiciously. She’d only been there once, but she knew exactly where she was. Using the handle on her harness, I helped her out of the car, and she took off toward the street — her big green eyes bugging out, her ears back, dragging me behind her. “No, Sky,” I said sternly. “You’re going this way.” Steve brought Blue to meet us, and once Blue headed toward the clinic, Sky followed.
I handed the receptionist Sky’s food and treats and one of my t-shirts that I purposely left unwashed to comfort her during the overnight stay. Moments later a vet tech appeared, and I told her, “We’re going to have to come with you. Skylar is a scaredy dog,” Once again, Blue led the way and Sky followed. When we got to the surgery holding area, I handed Sky’s leash to the tech, and Steve, Blue, and I turned to go. It brought back memories of leaving Jazzy for her two TPLO surgeries and all the radiation treatments at UC Davis during her cancer, but Jazzy was so brave: As I slipped away, she would be giving kisses to the entire staff, her big pittie butt wiggling as they all giggled and hugged her and told her what a special girl she was. As the big doors swung shut, all I saw was Sky’s big green bug eyes staring at me with a look of total terror.
“Sky is certainly no Jazzy,” I said on the drive back to San Francisco.
“No, she’s Skylar, and she’s sweet and shy and a total love,” Steve said.
“There will never be another Jazzy,” I said, and tears filled my eyes.
“No, there won’t.” Steve agreed. “Jazzy was one of a kind; you can’t expect any dog to fill those huge paws. But Skylar is special in her own way, too.”
The vet tech said that Dr. Sams would call me after the surgery to let me know how it went, probably sometime after 2 p.m. So when 2 p.m. turned into 3 p.m., I got a little nervous, and when 3 p.m. turned to 4 p.m., I felt a pit in my stomach. The phone finally rang at 4:15, and it was Dr. Sams. “How did it go?” I asked. There was a momentary silence, and my heart started pounding faster. “It went extremely well,” Dr. Sams said, but I could tell there was something wrong.
“Is she OK?” I asked.
“She’s fine,” Dr. Sams said. “But we had a scary moment during surgery. Her heart rate dropped from 100 to 30.”
“Oh God, no …” I said, my voice shaking.
“Her heart rate is normal now and she’s resting comfortably,” Dr. Sams assured me. “That’s why I have a fulltime board-certified anesthesiologist on staff. He was with her the whole time, and he’s monitoring her now. Normally she would stay overnight here with the techs, but to be on the safe side we’re taking her to the 24-hour emergency vet in San Rafael so he can continue to monitor her heart throughout the night. She’s in good hands, Susan; she’s going to be fine. My anesthesiologist, Dr. Hawley, will be calling you in a bit.”
As I hung up the phone, I burst into tears.
“What’s wrong?” Steve asked.
“She almost died in surgery,” I told him. “Oh my God, Steve — I almost lost her.”
Steve held me as I sobbed. “I guess you love her more than you thought,” he whispered.
The phone rang again and it was Dr. Hawley. “Skylar is awake and alert and wagging her tail,” he said. “As far as what happened, we can’t find any problem with her heart. Unfortunately these freak things happen once in a rare while.”
I barely slept that night. After losing Jazzy in such a devastating way, I told myself that I wouldn’t fall in love with Skylar. I would love her, but I wouldn’t fall so hard. Now all I could think about was seeing those big green bug eyes.
In the morning, the tech retrieved Skylar from San Rafael, and called to tell me that the vet had monitored Sky’s heart all night, and it was completely normal. She texted me a photo of Skylar with her front legs wrapped in lime green bandages.
I couldn’t get there fast enough. When the tech brought her out, Sky had never been so happy to see me — or I to see her.
We rented a room at the Holiday Inn Mill Valley near the Sams Clinic so Skylar wouldn’t have to make the trip home the day after surgery. I figured — delicate fleur that she is — it would be a quiet night, but it turned out Skylar Grey is a lot tougher and braver than I gave her credit for. Within minutes of arrival, she was gleefully making a nest in the bed sheets. “She’s sure full of piss and vinegar,” Steve chuckled as he videotaped Sky turning in circles, nosing and tugging the sheets and blankets to her liking. Those clumsy green bandages didn’t slow her down a bit.
Once Sky settled into her perfectly imperfect nest, I scooted onto the bed beside her and pulled her in close as she tucked her adorable little pittie blockhead under my chin. “You win, Skylar Grey,” I said softly. “You have my heart.” Sky wagged her tail and licked my cheek with that Eighth Wonder of the World tongue as if to say, “You already had mine.”