Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time on my stomach, propped on my elbows as though I’m reading a book at the beach. Only I’m not at the beach. More likely I’m on the floor of my kitchen, or adjacent to a LEGO housing complex, wayward bricks sprawled around me. From this angle, dog hair sediment is unmistakable. Labrador detritus is no match for even the most conscientious vacuuming. I glimpse fur collections under radiators, and where rugs and walls intersect. Sometimes, if conditions are particularly humid, when I rise from my prone position, errant hairs stick to my thighs. This is life with a back injury and a black Lab.
Connor, our beloved dog, joined our family in 2011 after being surrendered by his prior owners. As for my back trouble, I can’t identify the exact origination point. What began as sciatic symptoms in the spring had deteriorated into debilitating pain by the Fourth of July. Jogging was out of the question. Soon thereafter, walking no longer eased the soreness, but seemed to contribute to it. Gentle swimming offered relief, as did ice application and sphinx posture.
Lying on my belly, Connor on the floor beside me, I am thankful to have herniated a disc. If not for central nervous system pain, I would be missing precious time with my aging pup.
Conn, as we often call him, has arthritis and an adrenal disease. When he turned 10, I lifted his velveteen ear and whispered, “I promise I’ll be brave enough to put your needs before my own when the bad days outweigh the good ones.” A reassuring, reliable shadow at my side, he is determined to focus on delight rather than discomfort. Each morning, no matter how stiff or creaky he might seem, he whines and brays by the door, overcome with anticipation. Varmints have prowled through the moonlight hours. He needs to get outside and examine the yard and neighborhood, see what transformations have occurred overnight.
In his younger years, Conn would dash ahead of me, glancing back over his shoulder for permission to explore without restraint. Now entering his last race lap, he lacks the stamina for too much exertion, but his spirit of adventure has not caught up with his body. If Conn wrestles with a younger dog, or his squirrel-chasing instincts get the best of him, later it will be difficult for him to find a comfortable sleeping position. He takes daily nerve and anti-inflammatory medicine. We give him glucosamine injections. It’s not time yet. But we are getting closer.
I love Connor with parts of my soul inaccessible to humans. Until my injury, I believed our friendship could not be stronger. I was wrong. As I type this, my feet are touching his rump. We are just back from a lunchtime amble. It is hard to say who would benefit more from an after-excursion massage. Soon, we’ll each have 300 milligrams of Gabapentin, then take it easy for a while down here together on the rug. Neither one of us can race through the days as we used to.
This afternoon, if it’s not too hot, we might bring a blanket outside for optimal lounging. He’ll stick his snoot in the air to catch a whiff of his frenemy, a jaunty West Highland White Terrier who lives around the corner. I’ll hold Zoom calls and do computer work, a sleeping colleague pressed against my side. There is no more calming sound than a snoring dog. Temporarily, I forget my aches and life beyond our carpet commune.
When my pain is particularly intense, I can rely on Connor to put his paw on my shoulder or stick his cold nose in my ear to make me laugh. In return, this evening I’ll rub his ears while singing lullabies. “I Will,” by the Beatles, is his favorite. When I serenade him to sleep, we both feel better about the fact that he will not be coming upstairs for the night. In his senior years, Connor has become fearful of steps and slippery surfaces.
For my back, prospects look good, but the same cannot be said about my heart. Someday, my most stalwart companion will communicate that it is time for me to make good on my promise. No part of me will be ready to let him go, but I will. With luck, there will be time for us to share one last song:
Who knows how long I've loved you.
You know I love you still.
Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
If you want me to, I will.