It took me awhile to write that last post about my injury, and throughout the writing and beyond, I’ve been walking. A lot. Yesterday (Sunday) was my longest walk since Scottsdale. Two and a half hours, 16, 887 steps. I would say that six weeks after my slip on the ice, I am fully recovered. I suppose if I were to trip again, always a possibility, I could re-injure my hamstring, but so far so good.
It’s proper Spring, and yesterday was warm (23C) so Tom and I left early, around 10 am. The route I chose was down into the river valley, across the LRT bridge, and then a loop from the Kinsmen to the Walterdale Bridge, Rossdale, and then back again. Once we crossed River Road on the way back, however, we walked up the trail below Victoria Park Road.
Most of my walks have either involved walking to work (semi-weekly, for an hour or two, up Emily Murphy Hill and back home over the High Level Bridge), or various routes to ‘pick up’ Tom on his way over to my place. Since he spends most evenings with me, I often walk over to his place and then we walk back to mine. (He hardly drives anymore, preferring to walk). Lately, I’ve been walking to his place via MacKinnon Ravine and the steep hill up to Glenora. One thing I haven’t done yet is walk on an unpaved trail. The fear of tripping over a tree root is still there, but dissipating.
Walking is not what it used to be. People are still friendly but the social distancing can be awkward, and still feels super rude. However, it’s what we gotta do…
Because I haven’t written in the blog since early May, here are a bunch of photos from my walks, in somewhat chronological order.
April 27: “A sunny lunchtime walk in the river valley today, my longest walk yet (since the injury). Walked down Victoria Park Road, under the Groat Bridge, up through MacKinnon Ravine, up the steep hill to the bridge, and then back home through Glenora/Oliver. The ice has mostly melted from the river, but the shore still has bergs. Highlight – spotted my first snake in years, a little garter snake, sunning himself on a log. He slithered away before I could take a photo. I also ran into a friend, Teresa, and caught up on our remote working lives. Her sister also had a hamstring injury, requiring surgery. I am SO lucky I have almost fully recovered, without any medical intervention. About 18C.”
“Life can be painless, provided that there is sufficient peacefulness for a dozen or so rituals to be repeated simply endlessly.” — Kurt Vonnegut
My last post was Saturday, March 7. I have continued to walk, but in the middle of this life-changing pandemic, I was struck by another life-altering event. It was the perfect crime. The perpetrator disappeared, or more accurately, melted. I slipped on the ice on March 28, and suddenly, everything was different.
While on holiday in Scottsdale, I had an uneasy feeling about the proliferation of COVID-19 in China and around the world. However, in early March, with just a few hundred cases in North America, I was one of those who thought we were probably overreacting, that it would be no worse than seasonal influenza. But the fact that health experts were sounding alarms about this novel coronavirus made me mildly concerned about getting out of the US before it got bad. And we did, but just.
On March 7, there were no extra precautions at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. The question I was asked while checking in online on February 27 before I left for Arizona—had I been to Wuhan Province in China—was the same when I was leaving for Edmonton a week later. Nothing had changed.
Days before, when my sister Sharon and I went to a movie at a fancy theatre in Scottsdale, the ladies in front of us swabbed down the vinyl chairs with sanitizer. They did it while laughing, like they too thought it was ridiculous. Later on the plane, the aisle smelled like alcohol, and not the good kind, as we cleaned our trays and arm rests. When we arrived home, there were no calls for quarantine—it wasn’t even part of anyone’s conversation at that point.
Things started to ramp up that first week home. On Wednesday, March 11, my boyfriend Tom and I went to a hockey game. While checking my phone during a break, a NYTimes notification popped up. The NBA had suspended the season because one player had tested positive for COVID-19. The murmuring in the crowd spread like a bad rumour. This was serious. Would the NHL follow? Would this be our last game at Roger’s Place? And if so, why did the Oilers have to lose to Winnipeg?
That weekend, we had a family dinner but kept our distance from each other as much as possible, again in kind of joking way. We didn’t invite our 87 year-old step-mom over since there were cautions against entering long term care facilities, even though she had her own suite and wasn’t reliant on any sort of active treatment. (Addendum: after being exposed to and then testing negative for COVID-19, she was sprung from that facility and is now happily ensconced in southern BC with my step-sister and her husband until it’s safe for her to return.)
In my office, there was lots of talk about preparing to work remotely, but it felt hypothetical. On March 13, the University of Alberta suspended all in-person classes. By March 19, I, along with my colleagues, began working from home. It felt very strange to clear my office out of essential papers, plants and everything I would need for the long haul. Considering the university was also dealing with a 100 million dollar funding cut on top of the pandemic, the whole thing felt ominous.
Working from home has many challenges—and a few opportunities. One challenge is that without my daily commute, which included a bus and train in the morning and weather permitting, a long walk home, my life could potentially get a lot more sedentary. However, it also gave me free time to exercise, so for two weeks I went for a walk at lunch and sometimes after work. I was averaging about 13,000 steps a day, not unusual for me pre-pandemic, but prior to social distancing, I often worked through lunch or went somewhere with friends.
My walking schedule continued on the weekends, but on Saturday, March 28, my good intentions came to an end. It was cold and overcast, but I needed to pick up a recently framed picture from The Prints and the Paper, and also some milk. On the way home, a bag with my picture in one hand and the carton of milk in the other, I slipped on black ice. My right leg shot out in front of me suddenly and painfully, hyper-extending my upper thigh in an awkward split (I can do no other), sending the bag and the milk flying. I don’t quite remember landing, but there I was on the ground, in severe pain. For a moment, I just sat on the sidewalk.
As I got to my knees, I felt woozy, nauseous and strangely exhausted. I was able to stand up, but my leg was very wobbly. It felt like I’d had my bell wrung, and all I wanted to do was walk the half block to my apartment and lay down. A fellow across the street came over and asked if I was alright. I said yes, but I didn’t feel alright. He handed me the milk, which had survived the fall. These were the early days of social distancing, but he was helpful.
Somehow I made it up the steps to the inner door of my building. I noticed there were a few people in the lobby. I fumbled for my keys, and the next thing I knew I felt my head hit the ground. I had fainted, for the first time in my life. One of the women came and opened the door for me and asked if I needed an ambulance. I said no and made my way to one of the chairs. I continued to feel tired and discombobulated. Another person offered to go up to my apartment with me, and I accepted. I walked over to the elevator and remembered pressing ‘2’ and then I had some kind of dream, and when I opened my eyes I was on the floor of the elevator. “Did I faint again?” She said “yes”, and told me to “please, please” be careful. We walked to the door of my apartment, and I was able to open it with my keys and pull off my coat. She fortuitously told me to get my phone and asked if there was anyone I could call. I said yes and laid down on my couch. She put the milk in the fridge and said she would be calling in an hour or so.
Thank god (or reasonable facsimile) for the kindness of strangers.
I lay there in shock—in actual shock, I now know. I kept my eyes open, tested myself for cognitive deficiencies (like I would know if I were gorked?), and tried to figure out what had happened. At first I thought I was experiencing my very first concussion, probably from whiplash (not impact) since I fell very quickly and awkwardly but my head wasn’t sore. Nevertheless, I knew this wasn’t good, given that even though I hadn’t broken anything, my life for the foreseeable future would be inextricably altered. It felt overwhelming.
And yet, all I could think about was getting up to wash my hands.
On my back, I sent texts to my sisters and to Tom. Sharon and Joanne got back to me very quickly and said I needed to call for an ambulance. It didn’t feel like that was a real option. Hospital emergency rooms needed to be clear for COVID-19 patients, and I didn’t want to spread or catch anything. And even if I did have a concussion, they would probably just send me home to rest, which is what I was already doing. I had no intention of leaving my couch anytime soon because I had no faith that I wouldn’t faint again. There had been no warning both times. I was up, and then I was down. No swooning. No chance to break my fall. And my leg was still very, very sore.
The Condo Board President called and asked if I was OK. He then offered to open the front door for whoever came first, either my sister or Tom, which was incredibly nice. For security reasons, we can’t buzz people in, and the thought of making it downstairs again was impossible to imagine.
When Joanne showed up, it was a relief. Normally I’m pretty stoic, but as generally clumsy as I am, this fall scared me. She kept her distance (damn you COVID) but did check to see if my pupils were spinning in different directions. She then sat there calmly chatting with me until Tom arrived. It was very comforting.
At my request, Joanne accompanied me—at a distance—on my first upright journey to my bedroom so that I could (gingerly) change into more comfortable clothes, use the washroom and wash my hands. I wanted her near in case I fainted again. Everything felt difficult. Sitting down on the toilet was excruciating. I had to brace myself on both sides of the wall to land without falling on the toilet seat, and even then, I sat at an angle to keep the pressure off my leg. But I didn’t feel nauseous anymore, and in fact, I felt pretty clear-headed, but depressed. I popped some Tylenol because (apparently) Ibuprofen is not recommended after a concussion.
Tom called. As I had expected, he was half-way through his daily 22,000+ walk. As soon as he saw my message, he turned around and hoofed it back to his home to get his car and drive over. He arrived with two frozen pizzas and some spring rolls from his freezer (when not eating at my place, the guy lives like a 20-year-old bachelor). Joanne left and Tom stayed for the next 24 hours to keep me company and make sure I didn’t start speaking Klingon. By the evening I was a bit more ambulatory and fairly confident that my fainting spells were over. After watching an old Oilers game on Sportsnet, we went to bed. I used a stool to climb onto the mattress because my leg was not up to swinging or jumping.
It was not a restful sleep.
That morning, I lay in bed worried that things had gotten worse, that I would be dizzy from the concussion or wouldn’t be able to move my leg. As Tom lay asleep beside me, I gently swung my ‘good’ leg over the side of the bed and braced for pain, but it was manageable and I experienced no dizziness. I still had to make the same lurching manoeuvres to manage the toilet (and would for many days) but other than some general stiffness, I didn’t feel any worse than yesterday, so I figured that was a win.
Once up, I decided to check the picture that I picked up on the day of the accident. It was still where the neighbour who had accompanied me into my apartment had left it. I opened the bag, and as I had feared, the glass had broken in the frame. It was final confirmation that a crappy thing had indeed happened the day before. I felt defeated.
For the next few days, my gait was slow and wobbly and my right leg felt like it was a couple of centimetres longer than the other. Certain movements were very painful, including getting dressed and sitting, but I hadn’t broken anything and I could bare weight on it, so that was good, at least. A friend of mine mentioned the word ‘hamstring’ to me, and I realized that my predicament was most likely that—a hamstring injury.
My life-long ambition to avoid all things sport-related meant that my understanding of musculature was pretty scant. I thought the hamstring was in the calf area, but armed with a name and a location, I began a deep dive into Dr. Internet. Unfortunately, my friend’s injury had been severe enough to require surgery.
What is this?
Still immersed in a swirl of pain, I wasn’t so sure that I would avoid the same fate, especially when on Day 3 I noticed a purplish black bruise curving around the front of my upper thigh. I twisted myself in front of the mirror and realized to my shock that the entire back of my leg had turned a deep shade of eggplant purple. As a connoisseur of bruises and a frequent producer of them thanks to my thin Scottish skin, general clumsiness and a daily dose of 81mg of aspirin, I had to admit this was the most spectacular bruise I had ever achieved. Strange that it had taken three days to appear (although I only noticed when it became visible from the front). I now knew why sitting was so painful.
My first thought was to share the grisly image with my sisters. Not to be glib, but one of the worst parts of covid-isolation was not being able to drop trou and show them my bruise in person. Or really, do anything with them in person. Tom is wonderful, but sadly lacking in the shared sisterly joy of TMI. I took a photo, which really didn’t do it justice, and then I shot a video, which did. They were, as I was and as I expected them to be, thoroughly grossed out. Like many others, they said I should see a doctor, or at least talk to one, but I just didn’t want to take the risk of contagion. I also didn’t want to find out that I wouldn’t be able to go on my semi-daily walks anymore, which I had been doing for more than 25 years. Don’t borrow trouble.
It was clear that the bruise was not from impact but from a severe hamstring tear. I didn’t know muscles could do that. In fact, even though I was already fearful of falling on the ice, I had no idea this kind of injury was a thing. It was a shitty way to find out about the hamstring and yet another confirmation that any word that began with ‘ham’ was bound to be awful.
Joanne suggested that I might not have fainted from a concussion but from pain and shock. I kept looking for signs of concussion but my neck wasn’t sore and my head didn’t hurt, and once I stopped taking muscle relaxants, the general feeling of lethargy and fogginess vanished. It was a relief to think that on top of a pandemic, a budget catastrophe at work, a potential lay-off and a major leg injury, I wasn’t suffering from a concussion. A win is a win.
Weirdly, it was a good thing that I was already working remotely, because I wouldn’t have been able travel into work. As it was, I only worked a half day on Monday and Tuesday following the injury because I couldn’t sit for any length of time, and also because I wasn’t feeling great. The prospect of a long recovery, and weeks away from any sort of walking schedule left me feeling glum. Walking is my ritual. Walking is my emotional stabilizer. It is equal parts invigorating and calming. Would I be able to return to this part of my life?
Five days after the injury, I decided to try driving. I needed some groceries and my friend Sandy who owned and operated The Prints and the Paper had offered to replace the broken glass for free. His store is closed but still offering curbside pickup. I slipped my micro-spikes on my boots, and headed out. It actually felt OK. Something about the angle of my car seat put less pressure on my leg. I parked in front of the store, walked carefully and slowly to the door, and waited inside catching up with my friend (at a distance) as he replaced the glass.
I then headed to the grocery store. I felt like a derp walking on micro-spikes, but there was still snow and ice around and I was terrified of slipping again. I click-clacked my way around the aisles, and got the job done. It was a relief to know that I could take care of this basic need. Family and friends had offered to bring groceries, but I needed desperately to reclaim some normality. Also, prior to the pandemic, grocery shopping had been one of my absolute favourite things to do. Another ritual.
After about a week, I started some light stretching exercises, along with walking purposefully around my apartment (as opposed to shuffling from the dining room ‘office’ to the couch), lifting my knees as much as possible. I also started using the step-stool and stopped using the elevator, resuming my usual behaviour of taking the stairs (followed by a lot of hand-washing). It took awhile, but the bruise was fading from eggplant to an unlovely mauve with pops of green, and thanks to gravity, it had begun to seep down my leg. I also ventured out on foot to the Shopper’s Drug Mart about three blocks from my place, again using my micro-spikes. Spring had sprung properly, and I wanted to join everyone else wearing running shoes and sandals, but I still felt unsteady.
For someone who has developed a powerful walk after so many years on the trails of this city, it was disturbing to suddenly be the slowest one on the block. My gait felt restricted and tight. I wasn’t sure if it was physical or mental. Another friend of mine, Loraine, had broken her wrist falling on the ice last year. It was a long recovery, requiring surgery. She said the toughest part was psychological. That helped explain what I was feeling, which was a kind of PTSD. Part of me thought it was ridiculously self-indulgent, considering what the world was going through, but I couldn’t help feeling spooked. My confidence to blithely walk out the door, oblivious to surface variations and imperfections was shot. My confidence in my body was shot. The person who I had become through decades of river valley walking felt very far away. I was grieving all of that as I learned to work remotely and mentally manage the alarming news filling the airwaves.
My trails became the grocery store aisles. My cardio was a green step-stool. Like the Flintstones, it was an endless loop of living room, kitchen, hallway, bedroom, living room, kitchen, hallway, bedroom. This wasn’t so different than what many people around the world were experiencing and I was lucky to have a comfortable and relatively large home, but I missed the woods and the river. I missed the avian chatter of the river valley trails. The isolation wrought by virus was bad enough. The isolation wrought by injury made it worse. I’ve always considered myself an introvert, but this introvert was missing people. The busy work of humans, observed from afar, but affectionately. Happily, Tom came over every evening, but during the day, it was just me and my bruise.
Exactly three weeks after the injury (April 18), I went for my first real walk to Tom’s house. It felt great and terrifying. It usually takes about 25 minutes to walk to his place, but that day it took a little over a half an hour. I walked slowly and deliberately, obsessively checking the sidewalk for anything that could trip me, like a pebble. The landscape had changed considerably. There were still areas of ice and snow, but the sidewalks were clear and people were out in droves, keeping their distance for the most part. It was like I had emerged into a familiar and yet very different world. I gulped the fresh air and felt the pride building as I made my way to his Glenora home.
Two days later, I walked up and down my first hill – Victoria Park Road. It was no problem at all.
Since then, I’ve been walking daily and continuing my stretching routine. It’s hard to say when I will be back to normal, especially psychologically. My fear of falling has kept me off of the non-paved trails (for now). I have too many memories of tripping over tree roots. My hamstring is healing, but I know that I need to be careful. Sudden movements can send a shock of discomfort through my upper thigh. A full month since the injury, the bruise has migrated down my leg and is finally fading away. Every day, I can feel my stride getting stronger.
What I had feared a month ago has not come to pass. I am lucky. My walking will continue, and that feeling of one reclaimed ritual in the midst of this pandemic is a kind of victory.
It’s been awhile – more than a month – since I wrote in this blog! I haven’t stopped walking. On the contrary, since Tom and I decided to walk to the Oilers games from my place instead of driving all the way to the university and then taking the train, I’ve hit 10,000-plus steps on more days than would be normal for this time of year. Or, the new normal, since I don’t seem to be overall walking as much. I still walk home most days, but that is only 45 minutes, give or take, and about 6,000 steps.
Tom, on the other hand, has fully converted to the walking lifestyle. He was in mourning for a few years about not being able to run anymore because of his knees, and while he did walk with me fairly often on weekends, he didn’t see it as a viable fitness alternative to running. In late July, after a long period of inactivity, he started walking on his own. And, true to form, he has become obsessed, logging between 20,000 and 30,000 steps a day. Bravo to him! Over 25 years of walking, I have measured my walks in terms of time, not steps or kilometres, but the step counter app (Pacer) has become quite a good gauge, and in Tom’s case, motivator, to get moving.
As for temperatures, we had several snow episodes in November, followed usually by warm ups, so while it hasn’t been snowless, the sidewalks have been clear for much of the month. The freeze-thaw cycle has continued into December, but the landscape is now white. (Only recently did the river freeze over, however.) It always seems to snow whenever I need to drive somewhere. A few extremely cold days too, but because I haven’t been keeping up with the blog, I can’t say what days. I now have a much warmer coat that for the first time in years goes past my ass, so I am able to withstand whatever weather is thrown at me, for the most part. Last Friday (December 13), Tom and I walked to Padmanadi’s from my place (about 25 blocks) in a blizzard. We arrived, however, safe and sound and ready to partake in an all-you-can-eat-soy and soy adjacent buffet.
Very often, the weather between Christmas and New Year’s is a frozen hellscape, but this year it looks relatively moderate. Hopefully that means a lot of walking. Real walking, in the woods. Preferably with a dog.
About -6C today. Sunrise: 8:47 AM. Sunset: 4:15 PM.
These photos were taken on two separate days, one bluer than the other. My iPhone camera died for some inexplicable reason half way through my first official river valley walk home in the new ‘hood last week. I think it was just too damn cold. Today, I walked the same route and my camera was warm and compliant.
A frozen April river
I have to say, it’s not a great commute but it’s a commute, on foot, and that’s what matters. The problem is that it’s mostly in traffic. Down Saskatchewan Drive, over the Groat Bridge, up Victoria trail and then a set of stairs to 121st. It takes 40 minutes and less than 10,000 steps. This, I think, will be a walk I take in the winter and when I need a good, but not a great walk home. Once the river valley trails melt, I’ll take the woods. I also need a new pair of running shoes. I used a really old pair today because I threw out my shoes from two years ago that developed toe holes and were basically unwearable (or so my toes tell me). I usually try to get a new pair of running shoes every year, but I just didn’t last year.
I am not sure I feel settled. I haven’t landed yet in my new place, if that makes any sense. It feels like a home, and a nice home, but not my home. I don’t know why. I think I need to walk around more, get acquainted with the access points to the river valley. I kinda know them, but further east (Strathcona) and further west (in Glenora), not Oliver. I think it will come. I hope it will come.
A view from Oliver
The weather in April and most of March has been horrendous. Until today. It was above zero for the first time since the beginning of the month. I haven’t walked much, or really, at all. This weekend, I think the book dust from the boxes set off some sort of reaction and I was woozy all day Sunday. I walked to the grocery store, and the blue sky and warmth-averse sunshine felt great, but I had to make it short. This is worrisome. Am I just dead dog tired of packing and unpacking boxes (yes); am I really allergic to dust (probably not); or am I having some sort of psychological reaction to my acquisitive book habits that seem less of a good thing now that I’m having to sort, shelve, recycle and possibly re-home them? I feel overwhelmed, and strangely antagonistic to my horde.
But I digress.
I feel much better today. I hope this is the beginning of…or the return of…a new walking phase in my life. And possibly fewer books.
Shoescape from my very first blog post in April, 2010
Well, I finally launched myself out of my sister’s basement (hoisted might be a better word) and moved back into a walkable neighbourhood. It took six years, most of them very happy but largely unwalkable (from a commuter standpoint). I’m not going to belly gaze too much on that one. I already know I’m prone to inertia when it comes to major life changes, and the location in south Edmonton with my family – furry and non-furry alike – was just comfortable enough, and my career, at times, too precarious to make any sudden moves.
And so, six years later…
Instead of moving back into my familiar haunt in Old Strathcona, however, I’ve opted for downtown, in Oliver. It’s even more walkable, but alas, it is not two blocks from my beloved Mill Creek Ravine or ten minutes from my (also beloved) Whitemud Ravine. But, what it lacks in immediate ravine access it more than makes up for in walkability to work, amenities and the river valley. I just moved in last week, so between a spare room half-filled with boxes (mostly books), and building new bookcases for said books, I’ve not had much time to explore the ‘hood, although I am vaguely familiar with it.
I walked home once last week, and it was great. Not through the river valley, but across the High Level Bridge and then along the path that snakes around the edge of downtown above the river. It took about 45 minutes. Eventually, I will take the various river valley routes home, but it’s just been too busy. I don’t feel that relaxed at the moment. Far from it. There’s always a thousand things to do, in the evening, at work, and especially at home. I need a week off to get everything sorted.
It’s strange to be on my own again, which sounds crazy coming from a person who has done just that for most of my adult life. I am only about a 20 minute walk (or five minute drive) from Tom, and my sisters are short(ish) drives away, but when I come home, it’s just me. No Molly. No Maggie, or Stella, or Wanda. I might have to cat up. It’s awfully quiet.
I am looking forward to some actual leisure time that’s not about opening boxes or frowning at the visible consequences of my acquisitive book habits. Wandering in the neighbourhood. Walking instead of driving to stores. Walking to Tom’s. Walking in the river valley. Discovering new routes and pathways. Being in nature every day. Watching the river. Watching the seasons. Ending my work days in the woods, not underground waiting for the train.
Of course, there have been hundreds of walks since I moved in with my sister, and many of them have been in the company of either Maggie, or Stella, which has been a wonderful gift. I’ve learned the intricacies and intimacies of Whitemud Ravine, a total joy. And even with Tom, I’ve “discovered” the beautiful trails in and around Glenora. What I haven’t done, and what I’ve missed terribly, is my commute at the end of the day, on foot. It’s taken a big toll on my life, mentally and physically. Yeah, I periodically managed to find a way, but nothing sustainable over six years.
Oliver is my doorway back into the thing that dramatically changed my life for the better almost 25 years ago. Walking.
At the end of summer in 2011, I moved into my sister’s basement for what I thought would be about a year while they were on sabbatical – ostensibly to help with my two nieces, who were 18 and 20 at the time, and their dog Maggie. I have always been a dog person and I loved Maggie. I had been their designated dog sitter for years, and thankfully, my sister and brother-in-law traveled a lot. Every post-Christmas ski trip. Every summer holiday. A weekend here and there.
Maggie and I, in the woods.
She was a champion walker and my best dog pal. My snack buddy. My frequent bed partner. My mood lifter. On Tuesday, she passed away. Fourteen and a half years old. An old dog, yes, and very arthritic, but up until her last week, happy to frolic in the park behind the house; eager to eat rabbit shit and smell every pee hole in the snow. To the very end, a dedicated blanket messer-upper and family room ‘tapper’ (she liked to go around the room and tap the surface of things with her paw). The best part of my day was when I was walked up the street after work and my sister would open the door and Maggie would come running down the driveway. Always joyful. She was a joyful dog.
She had been in decline for a couple of years. Early in her life, she was full of energy, or as Sharon described it, full of the hybrid vigour that comes with being a mutt. I remember once, when she was still quite young, I was dog sitting during a couple of weeks of incredibly hot and humid weather. I got up at 5:00 to walk her for an hour in the cool of the ravine, and then left her in the house all day while I went to work, and then walked her again for another hour or more later in the evening. She needed it. I’m not sure I did (especially at 5:00 in the morning). We both loved to go for walks. We could walk for hours.
About three years ago, she began to hesitate, slowly at first. Sometimes she refused to go up a hill. Some days she would walk more slowly than usual. Sometimes she’d just stop. Our walks gradually became shorter, more destination oriented. We would drive her to Terwillegar off-leash because she loved the river, or the creek, or any pool or bog or puddle. She had a habit of sitting down in the water, no matter how dirty or shallow or icy. It always made us laugh, and I think she knew that.
Any water will do
I had been a solo walker for many years. I was used to walking at a fast pace, with few or no stops. Walking with Maggie over the years, but especially these last five years, I learned to walk more slowly. To stop and listen and drink in the landscape while she nosed about in the bush. I even wrote a post once about her snout. Such an admirable snout.
Her favourite bed
One of my favourite memories of Maggie did not involve walking but sitting on the stairs of the deck. She would sit beside me and I’d put my arm around her. She’d lean in a bit, her hot fur weight against me. I could smell her doggy scent, hear her light panting. Occasionally she’d look around and give me a quick lick on the face. I was truly present in those moments. Just sitting there, with her. We did that a lot. Not my dog but yet so deeply bonded. To be in the company of a dog, especially a dog like her, is really something.
In the last couple of years of her life, she was prescribed many medications: for her fading eyesight and her aging heart and her arthritis, creeping inexorably down her back and legs. Cubes of glucosamine, or as the kids called it, her medicinal jujubes. I was in charge (or at least, I took charge) of administering these concoctions. “Shooting” her and “pilling” her, multiple times a day. Making sure she ate something with her pills. Making sure her water bowl was full. Even now, five days since she’s been gone, I can’t stop looking over where her dish should be, anxious that she doesn’t have any water.
Last week Maggie was having more trouble than usual getting up. She was wobbly and sometimes she fell, and once she fell off my bed. She seemed to be listing to one side, her right side, and she just didn’t seem herself. She stopped eating her kibble, and few of her snacks. Milk bones were left untouched on the floor. She was also drooling, which was unlike her. Maggie was a barker and a licker, not a drooler. But also the most gentle dog that I’ve ever known.
She did not have a mean bone in her body.
The day she passed, Kate called me at work. Maggie had fallen and could not get up. When I arrived home half an hour later, Maggie was on the floor in the hallway wrapped in a blanket, wagging her tail and lifting her head. She tried really hard to get up. I told her it was OK. We put her bed into the back of the car and drove her to the vet. My other sister Joanne joined us there. (Sharon, her beloved mum, was in Scottsdale and her dad in Australia.) I ran my fingers through her fur and kissed her and told her I loved her. On the table she leaned very hard into me. All three of us were crying. The vet and the assistants were all very kind. They knew Maggie and loved her too. The vet even kissed her, which I will always remember. He said, this is the day. She had suffered a stroke, probably several, and had another one in the doctor’s office after they had taken her away to give her a sedative. He brought us into the room with her and she was calm. Her eyes were closed. We were there when he administered the final drug and she passed away. It was hard and peaceful.
I am thankful that so many of our walks have been recorded in this blog. All the photographs and wonderful memories. Maggie had a long and happy life for a dog, somewhere in the vicinity of 80-90 human years. I knew her days were coming to an end, we all did, but that didn’t prepare any of us for what feels like a sudden absence. This week hasn’t been easy. I see her everywhere. All of my routines have been disrupted. I miss her snoring. I miss her happy barks when one of her pack members arrived home. I miss her helicopter tail. I miss the tap of her paws on tile. I feel badly for Sharon and Vic, who just happened to be away on the day. I am glad, however, that it wasn’t in the middle of the night. We were there with her, and for her, and her suffering was short.
A weird thing happened. When our family dog Happy died in 1983, Cyndi Lauper’s song Time After Time, a hit on radio at the time, became inextricably tied to the memory of her death. To this day, the song, and in particular the lyrics, always makes me think of Happy, lagging behind on walks, peaceful and slow in old age. I was not as close to Happy as I was to Maggie, but I did love her. When we got home on Tuesday from the vet, steeped in grief, I went downstairs to my bathroom and turned on the radio. It was playing Time After Time.
Sometimes you picture me
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me, I can’t hear
What you’ve said
Then you say, go slow
I fall behind
The second hand unwinds
If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time