The middle-aged woman rushes in with a cardboard box in her arms.
“Is anybody here?”
I look up from a February copy of Harper’s Bazaar (UK edition) which had been forgotten on the ugly and uncomfortable blue bench I am sitting on.
I point towards the bell next to the “ring here for assistance” sign.
The Latino nurse peeps through the glass partition and tries to understand the flow of words the cardboard box lady is emitting a mile a minute. I can make out her cat, possibly in the box, is dying, is 18, no he is 20 and was at the vet a few hours earlier. It dawns on me that her emergency is going to take priority over my emergency for which I have been sitting on the ugly and uncomfortable blue bench for nearly an hour, re-reading sentences over and over, trying to concentrate on a pre-Oscar interview with Colin Firth.
Something was clearly wrong when I had got home a couple of hours earlier. The dogs were not at the gate waiting for me and Portia was standing outside the garage, glued in place instead of jumping from joy. And Ottie was nowhere to be found. After calling at length, he emerged from the bushes, a Halloween pumpkin mounted on his neck, complete with slanted eyes and fat grin. Or, at least, that is what he looked like. I scooped him up and rushed to the emergency clinic.
Allergic reactions in dogs, especially to bee stings or insect bites, are not uncommon and I had seen such swelling before but this was different. There was a wound on his right eye, too big to have been caused by a bee. The blood work results I was waiting for on the ugly bench confirmed my worst suspicions – rattlesnake bite. When the vet touched the wound, Ottie yelped in pain and, once the area was shaved, the marks of two very large fangs were visible. It was either a snake or a vampire, with the former more likely.
It broke my heart (and my wallet) to leave him at the hospital – he had never spent a night away from home unless travelling with me – locked in a cage on a towel, not even aware I was saying goodbye. They had to monitor him, I was told, run blood tests again to see if the blood was coagulating properly. If all was well, I could pick him up in the morning. I was back at 6:30 am, after having called before going to bed to check on him. Fat Face was happy to see me but still a bit confused. I am given antibiotics, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory and pain medications – I have to clean the oozing wound, check for excessive lethargy (with those pills how can he not sleep the day away?), lack of appetite etc etc etc.
When sick, Ottie becomes insecure and sticks to my side, looking for reassurance. He lies by the shower while I get ready for work, he falls asleep wherever he sits and he looks uglier than sin. I toyed with the idea of posting a picture but, after all, even Ottie has his dignity and wouldn’t want to be seen with half his head shaved and pumpkin face.
He got lucky. The snake who got him was clearly older to leave such large marks and adult snakes’ venom is less potent. It still hurts like a bitch. And cost like a week in Hawaii. But it’s my Ottie and I am just relieved he is alive.
On my way out of the clinic, last night, fighting childish tears of worry, I catch a glimpse of the dead cat on a stainless steel table, expression frozen in place and I pray it’s not a bad omen. It wasn’t. I have never been so happy to nurse the ugliest dog on earth.
Now, saliva catching in the fat lips and leaving a trail of drool wherever he goes and looking at me through his half closed eyes, he seems to be asking “Can we get a refund on that rattlesnake avoidance class???