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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Day My Dog Bit Me

Today marks 5 weeks to the night that my mother's dog attacked me. 

I've tried to write about this before, but it was painful because I kept crying. In fact, that's one of the reasons I didn't post anything last week: I tried to write about this at the one month mark, but it coincided with my monthly depression, and I felt I needed to take a mental health break from writing in order to clear my head.

I acknowledge that no one is forcing me to talk about. Heck, no one has even asked me what happened, and that's a credit to them. I just feel like I need to get this off my chest. I don't know why I feel this way, but I do. Perhaps it's a kind of closure.

It was Tuesday, Oct 10, 10pm. I know what time it was because mom always turns off the TV and starts her bedtime preparations around 10, but it takes her between 30 and 45 minutes to actually get to bed. During that period, our dog Heath always became restless, and so I would play with him until it was time for him to get his teeth brushed and go to bed.
Yes, we brush our dogs' teeth. It does wonders for their breath and oral health. 
And yes, I would play with him right before bedtime. Dogs have this amazing ability to go from zero to 60, and 60 to zero, in seconds. 
So this night, like every night, Heath came to get me to play with him. He'd always do this cute little awroo-roo sound that wasn't a quite a howl and it was his universal code for "Play with me!" Some nights I'd find it annoying, especially if I was trying to get work done, or if I was tired and wasn't in the mood, but most nights I'd do it even if I didn't want to because I know too well how short a dog's life is and that I'd regret not playing with him while he was alive more than I'd regret the time lost, and that I'd miss playing with him while he was gone.

And now I'm crying again. Shit.

So he came to get me, and we played the usual games. Heath was an unusual dog in that he always needed to be the center of attention, always needed all the toys, hated to share.. but still loved to play. His ideal form of play was for him to get a toy, and for me to act like I wanted it and try to get it, but never actually take it from him. We played for a bit, and when he got a bit too stimulated I stopped with the hijinks and moved to generalized attention like petting, scritches and kind words.

He was sitting behind my chair in the family room, with a plush toy in his mouth. He was always a nice sitter and he looked very cute holding the toy like that, so I did something that both I and my mother have done literally countless times since we first got him back in 2009: I leaned forward to give him a kiss on the nose.

I had no idea that a dog could move that quickly, especially one with a plush toy in its mouth.

I'm actually not sure if I ever kissed him or not. All I'm aware of is moving up to his nose, while saying my usual "What a sweet boy", and the rest is a blur and a flash of pain before I'm holding my shredded lips in my hands and bleeding all over the carpet.

Here's what I have been able to reconstruct, based upon where the wounds were and where I found things later:
  1. He bites me in the upper lip on the center-left side. Although this split my lip in two places, this was a relatively minor wound as it only needed external stitches. This is probably because it was his incisors that caught me. 
  2. My head instinctively jerks up and to the left. This was unfortunate because it presented the dog with my lower right lip, and this was where the damage was most severe, likely due to a combination of one of his canines getting a grip on my cheek and my head continuing to move. 
  3. My head jerks to a stop because I have a 90 pound dog attached to my face. My glasses go flying, although I don't realize this at the time. 
  4. He lets go. 
  5. I realize I am in pain. To be clear, my body registered the pain when he first bit me, but all of this occurred in what felt like less than a second. If you've ever cut yourself, sometimes you see the cut and have enough time to think "Oh shit, this is going to hurt" before the pain hits, and this was similar; I felt the pain before my brain could process any of it. What's strange is that it didn't feel like a bite; it felt hot, like I was being burned. I also want to associate bright light with the event, but that's probably just my brain trying to integrate the blurry motion of the attack with the heat of the pain. 
  6. I realize the dog has bitten me.
  7. I see the blood on the floor. 
  8. I bring my hands up to my mouth and feel strips of bloody flesh hanging from my mouth.
  9. I see the blood pooling in my hands. 
  10. I realize "Oh, shit, this is serious."
This is the moment when time catches up to me and I have full memories and can act. I literally don't know how much time passed, because in my memories it happens all at once, like information coming in parallel. I don't see how it could have taken longer than two seconds, although I suppose it could have. On the other hand, if you told me it took a second or less, I wouldn't be at all surprised. 

I ran to the bathroom where mom was brushing her teeth, saying (shouting?) "I need to go to the Emergency Room!"  

Mom asked "What happened?", so apparently I didn't make a sound while I was getting bitten, which is something I find odd. 

"Heath bit the shit out of me!" I said, coming into the bathroom to look for something to stop the bleeding. "I'm going to need stitches." I noticed how much blood was dripping from my hands onto the bathroom floor and make some strange split-second decisions:
  • I'm bleeding like crazy. 
  • Fortunately, it's not spurting like an arterial wound. 
  • Head wounds always bleed like crazy, so since it's not spurting, I'm not going to bleed to death any time soon. 
  • I probably don't want to use a traditional gauze pad because it'll soak through instantly and I really don't want to put direct pressure on my shredded mouth. 
  • However, I need something to catch all this mess. 
  • I can't get to the blood-stopper gauze in the trauma kit because my hands are busy holding my face in place (at this point, I don't know how extensive the damage is, I just know that it's BAD) and I don't want to talk mom through getting it out because 1) she's terrible at taking directions under pressure and 2) I want her to concentrate on getting me to the ER. 
  • I look over to the hamper and see a clean red washcloth. I very clearly think "Oh good, it's red, that means it won't stain as badly". In retrospect, this is a very odd thing to be concerned about, but at the time I felt like this was a mission-critical piece of information. 
I told mom to hand me the washcloth and then did a sort of juggling act with my hands so that one of them was always holding the strips of flesh as I got the blood-catcher underneath them. 

This is the exact moment when I realized "Oh, shit, I might have pieces of my face missing." I don't know if I said this out loud or not, but I remember asking mom to take a quick look to see if she sees any parts of my face out in the room. I sent her to look because I didn't know if the dog would attack me again or not. I'm embarrassed to admit that it never once crossed my mind to wonder "What if the dog attacks her?" My only defense is that I was in survival mode, and that induced a form of selfishness; had I thought the dog was a danger to her I wouldn't have asked her, but it literally never crossed my mind because I was thinking only of myself at that moment. It's probably a survival instinct and therefore completely understandable, but it still bothers me.

At this point, mom was either getting dressed to drive me to the ER or was waking dad up, I'm not sure. There's a long story here regarding why dad can't just drive me, but the short version is:
  • Mom and dad sleep in separate bedrooms;
  • Dad went to sleep 2 hours prior;
  • Dad has Parkinson's and so doesn't react well to sudden changes, like being woken from a sound sleep;
  • My car isn't driveable due to electrical problems;
  • Dad's car is parked behind mom's;
  • I can't drive his car because I'm holding my face together;
  • Therefore, dad needs to move his care before we can go to the ER. 
I went looking for my shoes, my glasses, and my phone which had my ID in the case. I found two out of the three; the shoes were where I'd left them, but I couldn't find my phone because I didn't know where my glasses were. I eventually found them lying on the ground, ten feet away from where I'd been standing when I was bitten.

By the time I'd found my glasses and given up looking for my ID, dad had staggered out of his bedroom wearing only a pair of sweatpants. (He sleeps nude, so thanks for small favors there.) For whatever reason -- Parkinson's, groggy from sleep, both -- he couldn't figure out how to unlock the front door. Our front door has a deadbolt, you see, but the deadbolt is key-operated because for some dumb reason, there’s a window right next to the door. Since a burglar could easily smash that window and then open the lock, we keep the key out of arm’s reach.

Dad either couldn't figure out the lock, or was moving too slowly to make me happy -- I was scared and in pain and bleeding all over the place, and a grown-ass man couldn't open a lock in a timely manner, so I feel somewhat justified in that attitude -- so I took the key from him to unlock the door my own damn self.

Unfortunately, I had rather a lot of adrenaline in my body at the time, and "putting a key into a lock" requires more fine motor control than you'd think. I remember, quite vividly, missing the key hole and hitting the plate around it several times. I don't know how many times this happened; for all I know, it could have been only 2-3 times, but it felt like a dozen or more.

Again, this is where my brain gets weird, because I actually seriously considered breaking the window in order to facilitate getting the door open. I don't know why I thought this, because it's not like it would be easier to open on the other side; I think I was just scared and frustrated and willing to destroy anything which thwarted me. (It's probably a good thing I didn't have a crowbar nearby.)

In hindsight, what I should have done was have my father go out through the garage. That's where mom keeps her car, so we were going to open it anyway. But I wasn't thinking about that at all; I had tunnel vision and could only think of one way of getting outside.

I did eventually get the key in the lock by taking a deep breath and forcing myself to calm down before I finally got it inserted and the door opened. I turned around to do... something, I'm not sure what... and Heath was coming up to me to investigate the commotion. He wasn't aggressive any more, he just seemed curious about the noise and the door opening and all the humans scurrying around. This was weird, and is part of the reason I think that him biting me was some kind of psychotic break, because 1) while I know dogs don't have much in the way of long-term memory, this was recent enough that it shouldn't have passed out of short term memory and 2) in my 40+ years of owning dogs, every single time of them has accidentally hurt us, it either runs away to hide or acts submissive. Either way, the dog knows it has messed up. But he wasn't acting like he even knew what had happened.

Meanwhile, I was having none of it. "Get away from me! You're not my dog anymore!" I shouted, and he ran off. Then I heard a sound behind me and saw my father lying on the ground just outside the front door. He has fallen and broken his hip once before, and I figured because it was a fall onto concrete and because it would be just my luck, that he'd broken his hip again. I believe my exact words were "Fuck this, I’m calling an ambulance." as I stomped my way to the house phone. The only reason I didn't make the call is because I heard my mother coming around from the garage and helping him up; apparently she'd gotten the garage door open and her car started, and wanted to see what was causing the delay.

Incredibly, dad didn’t break anything when he fell, so he managed to get to his car and back it up. I made one final pass to look for my phone, and then I went out and got into mom's car.

All told, the entire thing probably took about five minutes, but it felt like it took about 30. The entire thing with dad probably would have been rather funny in a "Benny Hill total clusterfuck" kind of way if I hadn't been bleeding and scared at the time. 

This post is already pushing 2500 words and I haven't even gotten to the hospital yet, so let's save that part for my next post. 

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