From a plastic chair beside a burbling aquarium tank occupied by one lonely suckerfish, I relayed our dog’s recent behavior to the veterinarian. “Moby’s been acting ... well, funny. He’s walking stiffly, favoring his left side, whining a lot, and he won’t get up for anything — except meals, of course. He is a lab, after all.”
The assistant distracted Moby with treats while the vet did several tests and drew a vial of blood. While pumping antibacterial gel into her hand from an enormous jug sitting near the examining room sink, she broke the news. “Mrs. Molinari, your big guy here has cervical disc inflammation that is causing him pretty severe pain. This kind of condition warrants aggressive treatment, so we’ll put him on steroids, Gabapentin, muscle relaxers and strict bed rest. Next week, once the pain subsides a bit, we’ll do X-rays and start physical therapy.”
Before we were released to wait for medications and paperwork in the lobby, the veterinarian’s assistant wheeled a suitcase-sized machine into the examining room. She explained that laser therapy could help to reduce Moby’s disc inflammation. We all donned protective glasses to protect our eyes, and she flipped the switch. Moby sat obediently, looking somewhat humiliated by the dog goggles that made him look like something out of a Snoopy the Flying Ace comic strip, while the assistant ran the humming laser wand up and down his stout neck.
After being given instructions on home care, we went out to the lobby. I sat on a bench with two old ladies stroking a cat with cataracts, listening to surprisingly loud baritone squeals emanating from a crate containing a tiny pink and gray pig, when a sudden wave of deja vu washed over me like a lukewarm flea shampoo.
The veterinarian’s words seemed so familiar ... Where had I heard them before?
Later at home, freshly-medicated Moby slept soundly on his kitchen dog bed while I relayed the news to my husband, Francis, over cups of coffee.
“He got a laser treatment?” he asked incredulously. “How come I can’t get lasered? For criminy’s sake, I got diagnosed with bulging discs at the VA two years ago and I can’t even get a shot of cortisone without making a federal case! I’m still waiting on the PT referral I requested weeks ago. But our dog had laser therapy ten minutes after arriving at the vet? Something is wrong here!”
I shrugged nonchalantly and went back to scribbling my holiday To Do list, accustomed to Francis griping about his sciatica. But then it hit me.
Just like Moby, Francis acted strangely. He walked with a limp, favoring his left side. He groaned, moaned, winced and whined at the slightest movement, especially if others were watching. A look of self-pity had taken up permanent residence on his face. He was prescribed — you guessed it — Gabapentin, among other medications. And he only got up from his lounge chair for meals.
Come to think of it, even without spinal ailments, Francis and Moby had become kindred spirits. They both lived for every meal, shed body hair around the house, yawned too much, scratched inappropriately, and were driven by their bodily functions.
How had I missed the obvious parallels?
Despite my husband’s tendency toward narcissism, the sight of our people-pleasing lab, in a drugged stupor, tugged Francis’ attention away from his favorite subject — himself — for a moment.
“Poor guy. What else did the vet tell you to do?”
“She said we need to make sure he sleeps a lot. He should only get up for meals and quick potty breaks. If he’s feeling better in a week or two, we’ll start physical therapy, which entails some kind of massage and exercises with treats for rewards,” I told Francis.
He stared intently at Moby, snoring softly from his cozy kitchen nest. “Sheesh,” he said after several beats of silence, “I want those doctor’s orders.”
I glanced at my lengthy holiday to-do list, and thought, “Don’t we all.”