Two weeks ago, I was sitting on a bed in Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital, waiting my turn for an outpatient surgical procedure. Tears were streaming down my face and I felt I owed the staff an explanation. I was not in pain. I was not frightened. I was grieving. The day before I had put Mugsy to sleep. On Saturday he’d woken up and clearly did not feel well. Soon, he was having trouble walking. The veterinarian thought he might just be tired — he’d had a torn knee previously and he was 13 years old. But before long, his back end was entirely paralyzed. Despite it being a Sunday morning, Dr. Hurty and Dr. Clunes met us at Grove Veterinary Clinic, quickly assessed the situation, and helped us give him a peaceful end. I will forever be grateful to them for that.
The next day as I lay on the hospital bed, I was reminded of another day 12 years earlier. We had brought Mugsy home only days before. He was still a pup and joined the pack of Linus and Doozie. On a Friday evening, Chan had complained of not feeling well. It was his stomach, but that was about as specific as he would get. Saturday morning, we awoke, and I saw that his eyes were yellow. Yellow!
But here was the problem — ever since moving here in the fall of 2000 we’d been warned, ‘If you get sick, go the valley. Don’t let them touch you here.’ But clearly driving 60-plus miles to the hospital in Corvallis was not an option. I got Chan to the hospital here, but as we stood outside the emergency room doors, he stopped. ‘Take me to the valley,’ he said. ‘You don’t have time,’ I said and hurried him inside.
The admitting nurse took one look at him and called for a stretcher. The nurse asked if he’d ever had trouble with his appendix and we told him about the time 23 years earlier when he’d wound up in the Anchorage ER. They diagnosed him with an infected appendix and sent him home with antibiotics. He’d never had a problem since. As they prepped him for surgery, I remembered the three pups who had not been fed or given fresh water and rushed back home to take care of them, then back to the hospital. But Chan was already out of it and on his way to surgery. Still, they allowed me to see him and have a few words.
I was scared to death. By then we had been married 21 years and had never had any kind of emergency medical event. As I walked the labyrinth in the hospital courtyard, I did my usual ‘what ifs?’ Then, remembering there were people I needed to call, I hurried back inside. That’s when the nurse found me. He’d seen me pacing, and wanted reassure me. Chan was going to be fine, though it could have easily gone another way. His appendix was four times the normal size and gangrenous. But they got it out. He was home the next day. And we were both thankful for the expert care he received.
And yet, in the 16 years I’ve been here, which included two surgeries, I’ve never been treated at Samaritan Pacific.
Now, here I was. Of course, I probably should have postponed the surgery. But it was for a painful condition I’d lived with all summer, and as raw as I was, I couldn’t even think straight to figure out how I might cancel something like that on a Sunday. So, I sat and waited and cried. One of the nurses had met with me the previous week for my pre-op, and, seeing her, I again explained my loss.
Not long after, she returned with a small envelope. I ran my finger under the envelope flap and pulled out a small card with a tiny angel perched on a heart. Above it was the word “Hope.” Opposite, she’d written:
“You are so brave coming in today. I am so very sorry for your loss. You are in my thoughts and prayers. May all of the sweet moments and memories help you find comfort.”
We hugged. I cried even harder, and I think she did a bit as well. My surgery went off without a hitch. And I gave thanks for the small-town medical team who went so far beyond the call of duty, who saw a woman mourning her four-legged kid and offered not only fine medical care, but heartfelt comfort.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.