A series of small failures

on dog bites and trauma






Pooka, my dear possibly-dalmatian-mix rescue from Puerto Rico, was attacked by a friend’s Akita a week ago today.  Knowing from past experience not to get in between fighting dogs (Gogo bit me twice when i was trying to break up his fights), i found i didn’t know what *to* do. I tried to separate them with my backpack, then my foot. I don’t know how long it went on… probably about 30 seconds, until the owner came out and spanked the akita and got her to stop. My memory is fuzzy. 

It was a traumatic experience. And it parallels another situation in my life, so I am using Pooka’s attack as a lens through which to get insight on learned and instinctive behavior.   My first reaction was, “it’s ok.” 

It was so not OK.

First, it was scary. The sound of dogs fighting —  the gnashing, or the crushing of flesh, the salivating, the gutteral sounds they make, all combine into a nightmarish noise i hope i never hear again.  I brought Pooka to the car and left her there while Tyler got his hair cut and bleached. I went out a few times, brought her water and a blanket, and petted her. My first reaction was “it’s ok. it’s going to be ok.”  it really didn’t look that bad. There was no blood. Looking back, I realize i was doing something I often do — I went into denial.

Back inside, I didn’t think I was mad, though Tyler said later that I was acting tense and upset. I totally don’t remember. I just remember sitting there waiting, checking Facebook, talking, getting some pink extensions (which I washed out later that night). Howevver, looking at a photo he uploaded to Facebook of me sitting in the chair getting my extensions, i look blank, checked out.

So first, denial. “Oh, it’s not that bad.” Second, check out, or disassociate. “maybe if i ignore it, it will go away?” 

When we got back to Tyler’s I decided to wash her wounds, which were barely noticeable, let her sleep, and see how things were the next day. 

The next day, she was in a lot of pain. I took her to the vet. He shaved her in a couple of places to check out the wounds. He said that the problem with bites is not so much the punctures themselves, but the crushing. Dogs can grab on and keep gnawing. The vet said to watch out for hardness — that the skin, muscles, and tissue can be damaged and die from the crushing, and that she might need to have some of it cut out if that happened.  He gave me antibiotics and pain pills to give her twice a day. 

Despite the antibiotics, she swelled up — just a little. I kept massaging her back and applying warm compresses. On Christmas Eve, however, the swelling ballooned. It felt squishy, like it was full of liquid.  And it looked bad. I took her to the emergency vet around 3:00, because it obviously wasn’t going away or getting better.

This is a different vet — the one that charges more because they’re open on Christmas Eve. They shaved more fur so that they could get a better look at the wounds. They had to sedate her so they could open her up. Apparently, there were several deep abcesses. They put in drains, which look like pieces of uncooked ziti poking out of her back. 

She’s miserable. That cone on her head is disorienting. I had to hold her head up and point it forward so that she could see where she was going when we got home. She was too disoriented to go to the bathroom in the snow.  It was slow, awkward going down the stairs. She went to sleep by the fire. And I started thinking.

Sometimes wounds close up and fester, and they need to be opened to drain and heal. Even though I washed the wounds with warm compresses and cleaned them with hydrogen peroxide and neosporin a couple of times a day, they closed up.  

She couldn’t heal on her own. She needed professional help.

I don’t want to make light of Pooka’s situation. I am so concerned for her right now. She’s doing much better. It’s just that there are some weird parallels between her situation and mine.

I have a wound that I haven’t properly treated. Yesterday I told my dad something I didn’t want to admit, something that I’ve done my best to medicate away in various methods for the past few years. It was a deep, festering wound, becoming as obvious as Pooka’s — through my depression, darkness, and anger. 

My dad was really pushing my buttons. First, he didn’t want me to drive to the post office to mail a package i needed to send. There was snow on the ground. Not on the street, mind you, just on the ground. The car they’ve been letting me use is from 1989, but it has new tires.  I love that he’s so protective of me — sometimes. I asked if I could drive his car (with 4-wheel drive) instead, but he said no, he wanted to drive me. Maybe he wanted to talk. And I was a captive audience. 

He said that he doesn’t recognize me these days — what happened to the courageous woman who lived in san francisco, new york, and puerto rico?  I reminded him that I’d lived a bit too much in the moment, spending my retirement to open a restaurant and a yoga space.  I’m just a bit beaten down by my financial situation, my seeming inability to get a job even at a grocery store, and this gnawing depression. I asked if he thought that what i was writing was at all courageous. He thought it was just angry. 

A few more pokes and prods, and i started reacting,  “Do you want to know why I’m having such a hard time? Why I’m so angry and depressed? I can’t even tell you.”

He poked some more, and suddenly it just came out. In the car, in the snow, in our driveway. I don’t want to get more into it at the moment, but I found that the simple act of confession was so liberating. It was literally like opening up the wound so that it can heal. 

At first it was really messy, just like Pooka’s draining tubes. We went in and talked to my mom, whose said that what happened was in the past, and that it’s not healthy to relive it. That’s her chosen way of dealing with her past. That’s the way I’ve chosen to do things for years, and it hasn’t helped. I feel that I have to examine this old wound and understand it and see how it’s affected my reactions and behavior.

On Christmas Eve, I had to leave Pooka with the vet for a few hours. I sat in the car in the cold and talked for about an hour to a friend who has had a similar experience.  Then I went into the bookstore in Orem and found exactly what I need to read:  “Breaking Down the Wall of Silence,” by Alice Miller.

She talks about repressed memory. “The capacity of the human organism to bear pain is, for our own protection, limited.” So we bury things. I was in a serious car accident in college. The trauma was so severe that I bit all the way through my right cheek. I don’t remember it at all. I remember seeing the car pull out in front of me, slamming on the brakes, but I don’t remember the impact, my seizure, the ambulance, or the plastic surgery (seriously). I woke up in the hospital. There’s part of my life that my mind is protecting me from. it was too painful to survive consciously, so i passed out. 

Two years ago, I started remembering something traumatic from my childhood that I had buried. Instead of dealing with it, I started self-medicating again. It is so clear that part of moving home is about finally opening up the old wounds so that I can heal — which is so necessary to moving forward in the next stage of my life.

It’s only been three days since I began opening up the wound and letting it drain, but i already feel less heavy and dark. I’m starting to feel like myself again. I know it’s going to be a difficult process, but it’s exciting to think about getting back to who I was before the trauma, before I learned inappropriate ways of dealing with life.

Resigning from the Mormon church was one step that got me closer. I used to think that once I was officially not connected to that organization, that I could get back to my fearless, creative, thinking self.  It’s interesting that within a month of resigning from the church, I confessed that secret that I’ve been trying to avoid. Being in a loving relationship has somehow helped me to feel safe about starting to deal with my repressed memory.  And being home with my parents I think is also necessary. I’m so grateful that they didn’t question me when I told them. They were shaken, not sure what to do, but they were so loving and supportive.  I can’t imagine if they had reacted the way my ex did two years ago. When I told him, the first thing he said was, “are you sure?”

I think that if I hadn’t learned inappropriate ways of reacting to traumatic events — denying, or burying them, or checking out — that maybe I would have paused to think and respond rationally to Pooka’s attack. Maybe instead of automatically denying it, I would have thought, okay, what just happened? Do I know enough myself how to deal with this? Should I get professional help — now?  Instead of hoping it will go away, and putting it off until it got infected and more serious.

Pooka’s attack has helped me explain to my parents why i need to open up the wound in order to heal.