The nights are getting cooler and the wind is no longer warm. Darkness descends earlier. Fall is close. I walk a lot but especially at night when it is just a little cool. I listen to music and look at the moon with a dog in tow. Life seems less antagonistic when you look at the ocean.
Last week on just such a night, I took Astoria for a walk to the water. It wasn’t late but the town was quiet. About a mile from home, as we walked down the block to the ocean, a man ran past us and almost bumped me. I turned to steady myself just in time to get coated in pesticide that was being sprayed from the back of a pickup truck.
I just stood there for several seconds because I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I was stunned. Astoria has saddlebags with her treats, water, bowl and bags on one side, and my epipen, IV meds, and emergency protocol in the other. My immediate reaction was to take benadryl but I was afraid I would contaminate the line with pesticides if I used it. We were close enough to my apartment that hurrying home would get me there faster than calling someone to pick me up and bring me to my place. I took the epipen out of the case and walked home as fast as I could with it in my hand.
I was home in under ten minutes. I took off all my clothes and threw them into the washer with Astoria’s collar, harness, leash and pack. I rinsed myself off so I could use IV meds and got benadryl and pepcid onboard. I took 50mg oral prednisone and gave Astoria a bath.
Astoria can be a lot of work sometimes but one thing that is never a problem anymore is bathing her. She loves water. She loves the hose. If I am trying to spray something with the hose, she would prefer what I’m spraying to be her face and will jump back and forth to body block whatever I am aiming at. If I wash dishes, she stands close to the sink so I can spray her with the little nozzle. She knows all about the bathtub and that the water lives there. When I get home from work and open the bathroom door, she ferries her toys from the bedroom to the bathroom one at a time, piling them on the bath mat. When she has all the toys she wants, she picks up her favorite dinosaur and gets in the tub. Just hanging out in the tub so she doesn’t miss bath time. If she is dirty (or not), she will actually get into the bathtub and look at me plaintively until I wash her. She is a ridiculous creature.
Well, it was her lucky day because after getting covered in pesticides, we had a long bath. She was pumped. I shampooed her all over and rinsed her really thoroughly while she repeatedly slapped me in the face with her tail. She shook off all over the bathroom because why not at this point and let me aggressively towel dry her, which meant she was at most 70% dry.
Since I was now covered in water, fur, dog shampoo and probably pesticides that I just washed off her, I took another shower. Fifteen minutes later, after I wiped down every last surface in the bathroom because they were somehow all coated in fur, Astoria started coughing. So she got another bath. More shampoo. More water. More shaking. More towel drying. More cleaning every single thing in my bathroom. She is having her best day ever.
As I’m changing over the laundry and loading a truly impressive amount of used towels into the washer, she is running in and out of the bathroom with her tail going so fast that she is knocking things off the coffee table. LOOK MOM THIS IS MY DINO. More wagging. More wiggling. She is at a cool 97 on the excitement scale if 100 is the point at which you actually detonate from euphoria. LET’S DO THE THING WHERE I WANT YOU TO PLAY TUG WITH A STUFFED ANIMAL THAT ISN’T BIG ENOUGH TO GET A GOOD GRIP ON. LET’S DO IT.
But I still need to shower myself again so I put some peanut butter in her kong for her to play with and I climb back into the shower. I am listening to music and trying to calm down as I scrub myself again. In the next room, Astoria finishes up with her kong and comes looking for me and then lets herself right into my shower. She is now 100% wet instead the 30% I was settling for earlier. She is slapping bottles of shampoo and body wash off the shelves with her tail. I have two towels left and it takes 1 ½ to dry her off. At this point, the dog has been washed and buffed dry three times in two hours. Her coat is so shiny, I can’t look directly at her without sunglasses. I’m bright red and developing my own cough so I take IV steroids and just plan to never sleep again.
My town was spraying for mosquitos that night, which is how all this happened. I have a landline for calls like the one I expect for spraying. I didn’t get a call. I usually do and realize that this was just an unfortunate glitch. I don’t think anyone is to blame for this situation. I didn’t make any mistakes and this still happened. You can plan and prepare but there is always an unknown element. The world is not entirely predictable and that means that there is always the chance that some unlikely thing will happen. I had my meds, I had epi if I needed it. I was responsible. I understood that I can’t always control my disease or my environment so I had to be ready to respond. A large part of learning to function with mast cell disease is understanding that you will never be able to completely control your exposure to triggers.
A completely different situation that also happened last week confronted me with a separate but related reality: that people often think that people with disabilities are just not doing it right. By which I mean being disabled and living with a disability. It is omnipresent and so frustrating and degrading. When we say that someone gave us trouble for parking in a disabled spot for which we have a placard, they say that if they were disabled, they wouldn’t park there because it’s not fair for people who have worse mobility.When we say that we are scared about not being able to get medication for chronic pain, they say that if they were disabled, they would meditate and rub themselves in [insert herbal remedy] and push through the pain by virtue of their willpower. When we say that we are worried about how changes in healthcare policy will affect disability payments, they say that if they were disabled, they would never allow themselves to need disability payments because they would continue to work fulltime. When we say that we can’t pay for our meds and copays, they say that if they were disabled, they would manage their money better. When we say that our insurance won’t pay for a medication that we absolutely need and should have, they say that if they were disabled, they would never let that happen to them, that they would just be so forceful and smart that no insurance would be able to deny them anything. (I just made a Michael Phelps face as I typed that last sentence. This point is a bit more sore than I thought.)
I realize that this response derives mostly from two things: ignorance, and to a larger extent, fear. It is terrifying to confront the fact that we live in a society where people can just refuse to provide you with things you need to function or even to stay alive. It is scary to think that you can become so sick overnight that your old life will never be manageable again and that you will need so much help to do anything. It is scary to think that providers and government agencies and pharmacies can refuse to alleviate your serious pain. It is much easier to think that disabled people are just doing it wrong than it is to realize how vulnerable we all are in so many ways. Few things are scarier than impotence. Maybe nothing is.
Hope you’re having a great summer.