I’ve just returned from a month in Prague. We receive our pug back from his grandparents. “He’s had a wonderful time,” they say. “He was an angel—absolutely no trouble,” they say, and I know it must be a lie because if there is one word in the English language that describes this pug, it’s trouble. To a T.
Next morning we wake up to the sound. Those of you who have four-legged furry pets know it—the *gulp, blurp, blub* that precedes a hairball or a vomiting episode. No big deal. Happens all the time. I rise, groggy and bloodshot, to clean the mess. Next morning: *gulp, blurp, blub*
Hmm. Odd. Like clockwork almost. Like a very regular, very nauseating alarm clock.
“Maybe he’s pregnant,” jokes my partner, wielding rags and Lysol.
Padraig (that’s his name, it’s pronounced “Patrick”) has been going through some changes lately. A month-long trip to Portland, being weaned off his puppy chow in favor of big-boy kibble, our feeble attempts at training him with little more than pleading tones and broken pieces of Milkbone dog biscuits, a recent move away from the only home he’s ever known. I know how he feels. So I begin with the little changes. No more Milkbones for a while. No trips to the dog park, where those ruffian Seattle dogs could be harboring any number of virulent diseases. A larger portion of puppy chow in his morning meal (I’d never heard of regression as a treatment for vomiting, but it can’t hurt, right?).
It’s the middle of the night and there’s that familiar sound again. I get up. I step in a puddle of mucous. I turn on a light and track mucous through the house to the computer, where I Google a number of combinations of “pug,” “vomit,” “symptoms,” and “treatment” until I find this sage advice: withhold food for 12-24 hours and begin a bland diet of chicken and rice.
The next morning, I leave Padraig starving at home to go grocery shopping. Raw chicken makes me want to vomit, but I love my dog, so I buy the least offensive and cheapest package in the meat case. I remember that we’ve got a package of basmati rice at home. I debate: Is basmati rice bland enough? I still don’t have a job, so I wonder, Is it cheaper to purchase new, crappy rice now or feed Padraig the expensive rice that I already have? I decide to go with the basmati and head home.
For dinner, I boil the rice and chicken in separate pots, keeping the chicken water for soup stock (I’m poor now, so it seems like something I need to do even though I never make soup and I have no idea how to use chicken water in the process). When the chicken is done, I cut it into miniscule, easy-to-digest pieces. I add the rice and smoosh it all together. I add water because Padraig might be dehydrated from all the puking. I smoosh it all again. I give it the smell test: smells OK. I wouldn’t eat it, but it smells OK. I give it to Padraig, who eats it with gusto and promptly vomits it all up again. And as I stare at it, lying on the floor like one of those perfectly shaped domes of rice they serve at Chinese restaurants except for having been in my dog’s stomach for all of 3 seconds, I wonder if maybe I should leave it there. Maybe he’ll eat it again. Maybe I won’t have to cook more chicken and rice and smoosh it and add water and smoosh it again if he just eats his own puke. And while I’m engaging in this fantasy, Padraig has already retired to the bedroom to sleep it off.
So I decide maybe I fed him too much. I go back to the drawing board. Boil. Cut. Smoosh. A much, much smaller portion this time. I wake Padraig up and coax him to eat. Never one to turn down food, he does so willingly. I spend the next two hours glancing at him, listening extra hard for the sounds of imminent vomit. Nothing. We enjoy the rest of our evening and go to bed. Three A.M.: *gulp, blurp, blub*
I’ve had it. This is where the metaphor comes into play. All of a sudden, my dog’s illness represents every anxiety of my life. I can’t do anything right. Something is terribly wrong and, despite all of my good-faith efforts, I can’t fix it. This is my life now: dog vomit. I apply for jobs; I don’t get them. I send books and chapbooks and poems to contests; I don’t win. Morning, noon and night for the rest of my days: dog vomit and my vain efforts to staunch it. I am inconsolable. My partner is tired and disgusted and in no mood to deal with my existential crisis. He sends me out to the couch to try and get some sleep, promising that he’ll deal with any other episodes that may occur during the night. But I can’t sleep. It’s gotten so bad that even in the silence of nothing happening I hear it: *gulp, blurp, blub*
It’s the morning of the fifth day of puke. We have broken down and taken the pug to the vet. The vet is a lovely woman. She is going to fix everything, I just know it, because her last name is Lamb and that's like Jesus and when she fixes everything I’m going to kiss her full on the mouth. She checks Padraig’s stool. Negative. Her assistant checks his temperature. Normal. She pokes around his abdomen, feeling for blockages. Nothing. She looks at his gums. Pink, slimy, perfect. There appears to be nothing wrong with my dog. So she prescribes some meds and some hydration and she subcutaneously injects a bunch of fluids into his shoulder and tells me he’ll absorb the stuff throughout the day and it should help and eventually the unsightly lump of fluid on his back will go away. Right now he looks like Quasi Modo with his quavering little back-hump. Or a camel. Or Fergi.
So it’s been almost eight hours with no puke. I haven't gone back to the vet to kiss her on the mouth just yet. Padraig is resting comfortably on the couch, having uneventfully eaten his evening meal. I am cautiously optimistic. Maybe, for now, this one problem has been fixed. Of course I am left to wonder whether there’s a subcutaneous hunch-back cure for chronic unemployment and rejection. But I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. At the moment, I’ll settle for vomitless nights.