We stood in the small exam room at the veterinary surgeon's office Friday morning as he explained the procedure he and our regular vet believed was the best course of action for our dog.
I tried not to wince because the concept of how he does the surgery made me cringe inside, in empathy. It sounded a lot like how childbirth hurts during and after, only without the balm of the baby.
The surgeon was a young, interesting man. Apparently our questions and perspectives were extremely revealing about the sort of people we are. He was intrigued, and shared how he and his wife believed similarly to us. We mentioned a change in lifestyle---which is either an understatement or euphemism, depending upon how you look at it---for us and the dog when we moved here.
"We do a lot less outdoors now. Before we moved, we hiked, walked the beach, took trips to the mountains...just so much activity, pretty much every day, some sort of activity," we told him, "But here, not so much. We just don't seem to get out as much."
"I know what you mean," the surgeon said, the first bit of non-judgment and sympathy we've received from a doctor sort, "Who wants to go outside when it's 200 degrees? Not much motivation for it, either."
"Yes, that's it!" my husband said, glad, finally, for some understanding, "At our old place we had miles and miles of woods directly behind our house. We could walk all the way to Gloucester, if we wanted. Or just walk down to the beach, socialize a bit, let the dog swim."
"We've kind of given up on the swimming here," I explained, "The dog seems to get sick or have an allergic reaction most of the time."
"Anyway, it's all led to being more couch potato-y than we used to be," my husband said, "Which is how the dog has ended up with the weight problem."
"Where'd you move from?" he asked.
"Massachusetts, north shore, up past Boston," we said.
"Boston!" he exclaimed, "My wife is from there, that's where we met, BU. I'm a New Yorker of course."
We smiled and nodded at one another. If you have lived elsewhere, there is a sort of camaraderie of difference. He knew we understood the language of the north, which is substantially different than the more coy language of the south. I relaxed too: no need to adopt the apologetic woman; I could speak plainly as myself.
We verbally strolled through the surgery, tissue sampling, testing, post-surgical tests and care. As the consultation wound down, he asked if we had any other questions. My husband and I looked at one another. We had the most pressing question of all, however moot it might be: cost.
The surgeon named a cost that seemed fair and reasonable. But I said, "Oh no," with some distress, before I could stop myself, "The same cost as the kitchen cabinets."
He was kind and sensitive and talked with us about how to control costs and choices to keep things less expensive, all without making us feel like we lost face. I wondered what it must be like to easily afford the daily costs, without difficult choices or sacrifices. There are people with that much money, with more money than is necessary. People who spend half a million dollars on a party, who think nothing of dropping $1000.00 on a meal. People who spend money without feeling at least a little sick about it. People who can afford what they need, and at least a fair amount of what they want. We pinch down to the penny, and when problems arise, as they do frequently in life, the "wants" get cut. We have been cutting a lot of wants for a while, now. This time, it is repairing and refinishing the kitchen cabinets, something we've wanted since we bought this house.
I shook off my pity party and resumed paying attention to the surgeon. As he concluded, we transferred the leash to him and handed over our dog to his care. It should have been harder to do, I thought, just a bit, at least. But the surgeon was the sort of person my instincts trusted and felt good about.
My husband and I parted in the parking lot, the day cold and wet, gray ominous sky overhead, as it has been all week. I went to run errands and before I knew it, it was time to get the kids, which was just a bit before the surgeon promised to call with the surgery update.
There were complications during the surgery, and the two procedures ended up being more challenging than anyone had been expecting. They'd had to change tactics during the procedure and there was a bleeding incident. However, our dog came through fine. Now it is the waiting game: malignant or not?
In the evening we went to join some friends for casual socializing. They moved here from England. As we had that morning with the surgeon, we talked about what brought us here, and how we felt about being here.
The thing about being here is that it's a bit of a flytrap: we all agree it is clearly idyllic---it's a good life. Our surgeon had pointed out that salaries were higher in Texas than in the Northeast, and cost of living was less. He said, "But you have to wonder about that...you know there must be a reason," and he looked significantly at us. We knew exactly what he meant. So did our friends.
"It's like something off the television, here," our friends said, "You can't beat the life. Nice houses, cheap, lots of work, friendly neighbors, coast just up the way, great for the kids. Our children love it here."
We agreed. "His whole family is local," I said, pointing to my husband, "And the kids really enjoy having family nearby. We benefit, too," I admitted.
We shared concern about the pollution, and how we felt our town is a bit of an anomaly in the area, a sort of oasis ringed by ugliness and pollution.
"It's fine if you are just doing things in the neighborhood, but it's when you want to take a day trip and go somewhere interesting or beautiful....that's when it hits you that there just isn't anything good around us. I took England for granted my entire life," our male friend said, "There was so much beauty and culture. I could take the kids to any number of places that had huge significance, or to a spot that was gorgeous, take your breath away, and have a hike."
"I've heard it's awfully tribal there," I said, wondering how it was for his wife, who was American.
She leapt in, "Oh it is. Two years, at least, to be close to being any part."
"But you were there where your husband was from, wasn't that any sort of help?"
They looked at one another and she said, "I'm The American."
I turned the conversation funny, relating my story/joke about being nicknamed Scottie in Provence, because apparently I fit the southern France stereotype of a Scottish woman.
But later, we went back to it. It was stunning to hear them talk about here versus there, where to go, when to go, and a sort of bittersweet indecision---because it so mirrored how we feel. In an area, no a life, full of people who seem so settled into place, it was a relief to know we're not alone and others do know how it feels to want the life here, but the place back there.
The next morning, bright and early, we drove back to the surgery center to get our dog. He was groggy, weak, but clearly glad to see us. The surgeon repeated his post-surgical instructions, and we loaded the family into the car to head home.
The interesting thing is, when we walked in to the surgery center, the day was stubbornly thick gray overcast. Fifteen minutes later, when we walked out, we could have tripped on the sunshine. The sky was azure and cloudless and the sudden light, missing for a week, hurt our eyes. We froze, stunned. But then we all smiled.
"Look Mama," Persistence said, "'S bright! So bright! 'S sun came out!"
We went home, lighter and brighter ourselves.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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