Saturday, September 20, 2008

Elsa Goes to the Vet

I’ve always had trouble with the word vagina, ever since I first found out what exactly it was in my single-digit youth. It’s so personal and clinical, I still have trouble saying it in casual conversation…and one of my good friends is an OB-GYN doc too. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with him in the last five years that didn’t have the word vagina in it somewhere. Multiple times if it was an especially good story. Vagina. It’s one of those words you whisper to someone else, a confidant, someone you trust that can understand that you don’t mean to be sophomoric when you’re saying it. Don't worry, you want to assure them, there’s no punch line.

Only a few times in my life have I been forced to say it aloud, where I couldn’t skirt the issue and call it something else without sounding like I was in the third grade. I’ll save you the embarrassment of the stories, but needless to say I still felt foolish uttering the word vagina, like it was a racial slur only the people of that race are allowed to use. A man can’t say the word vagina outside of a doctor’s office; that’s a woman-only word.

Maybe I was just immature, but as a kid I had a theory that sometimes words are spelled symbolically; if a word was a true word with a pure definition, all the letters would look like what the word was describing. My go to example when I was 12 was boobs. How many round letters do you need in one word to describe something that is inherently globular in form? Now that I’m older and rarely giggle when someone says boobs, one of my go to examples when describing my theory is “stilt.” See how tall all of those letters are.

Along those same lines, when I looked at the word vagina in capital letters—VAGINA—all I saw were legs. The V, upside-down legs; the As, legs. The G in the middle? Think Gräfenberg and you’re spot on. The I? You know what that is, don’t you, right next to the N, more legs. I imagined Freud would have been interested in speaking to me, but like I said, perhaps I was immature…which is why I don’t bring it up anymore. It doesn’t change the fact that I have difficultly even saying the word vagina in regular conversation. And I’m 35 years old for Christ’s sake.

I know what you’re thinking: Ryan, you’ve said the word vagina like 15 times already in the space of four paragraphs, so you obviously lack some kind of mental hang up when it comes to saying it. Ah, but you’re wrong, I’ve written the word vagina. You’ve said it. That little voice inside your head that says each word “out loud” while you read it on the page, that’s not my voice. That’s yours. It’s a loophole.

Anyways, I was faced with this conundrum a couple of days ago when I had to pick up the phone, call the vet and set up an appointment for Elsa, who, for the past month or two, has been spending an inordinate amount of time, licking herself… you know… down there…

I clarified the problem to the receptionist who answered the phone. “She’s been licking herself excessively,” I explained and then let it go at that. That’s all she needed to know. Who cares where she’s been licking herself, but instead, let’s focus on a lot of tongue work on a very concentrated part of her body that’s now causing her physical discomfort.

“Has she been licking her paws?” she asked, apparently dogs do that enough to make an assumption.

“Ah…no…” There it is. There’s the moment. I’m going to have to say vagina to a total stranger. A woman, no less, who’s going to scowl on the other end of the line when I say it, thinking that I don’t have the proper clearance to utter such a word. I’m no doctor. I’m just a man, so what gives me the right?

I sighed, and with a flash, thought of something that might work. “No, she’s been licking herself where dogs usually enjoy licking themselves.” Enjoy? I slapped myself in the forehead. Enjoy!?! Apparently I was thinking of the off-color joke that if I could lick myself like the dog can, I’d never leave the house. I know, it’s funny after a couple of drinks (and a dog licking himself usually needs to be present), but “enjoy” wasn’t part of the plan. I winced, probably sounding just like a third grader.

At least I didn’t have to say the word vagina. Phew.

So, poor Elsa. When she wasn’t licking herself, she was either thinking about licking herself or had just finished licking herself, and we had waiting too long to take her in, hoping the problem would take care of itself. Life is busy at the house and sometimes the poor dog gets brushed to the back burner. Meanwhile, she is beginning to sit down with ginger care, and sometimes she would whine for no reason; all the while, Kara and I kept saying that we needed to call the vet for an appointment.

On Wednesday, Matthew and I took a very nervous and palpably tense and shedding German Sheppard in my truck to see the vet. She’s no stranger to the vet’s office. When she was younger, she had a form of mange that required weekly treatments at a special dermatological veterinarian in Irvine…and yes it was as expensive as it sounds. However, Elsa chatters her legs together when we push through the front door, apparently smelling the fear of a thousand dogs before her, that antiseptic pall mixed with a slight tinge of urine, drool and death. Elsa knows, the moment she steps paw inside the door, that many a fellow animal has not returned from within the deep recesses of its halls.

Once in the waiting room, she paced the floors with a worried look on her face. As I eyed the longevity and lifespan chart, gently trying to reassure her that it will all be okay, she probably wondered if she was here for the $35 shot and the peaceful sleep.

Not to be. Instead, how about a $560 anesthetic, a blood sample, a snappy Brazilian wax job, some horse pills, a tube of ointment and a new lampshade for your head? That sounds like a better deal.

We had to leave her there for the day. The good doctor tried to examine the area, but Elsa wouldn’t have anything to do with it, and I heard piercing whines come from the secondary examination room in the back of the office. She is very trusting of me. I can usually get her to lie down for a look-see with just a couple of encouraging words (if only most people’s love life was that easy), but inside the fortress of doom that is the vet’s office, she’s on guard. Nobody’s going downtown and still keeping all of their fingers, doesn’t matter what kind of medical degree you’ve got on the wall. The solution was to knock her out so he could shave the area and examine the problem.

As it turns out, Elsa’s got a little extra skin down there, like a pug with an extra fold of skin on the outside of her vagina…hey, the vet said it first. When she goes to the bathroom, some of the urine gets trapped in that flap of skin and, urine being what it is—mostly caustic ammonia—starts to irritate her. A dog’s solution to irritation and injury is to lick it. Unfortunately, what Elsa lacks in reason, she makes up for in zeal, because she licked herself completely raw. Hence the whimpering.

The temporary salve to the problem is antibiotics and the above-said ointment, which looks like little more than Vaseline in a tube. The permanent solution is cosmetic surgery to remove the extra skin, and imagine my surprise when the vet had said he’d done it before. It takes about a half hour and costs around $500 bucks. It seems, everything on Wednesday cost $500. I guess you keep a doctor from the greens, it’ll cost you $500.

Elsa emerged from the examination room later that afternoon with a lampshade on her head. She looked embarrassed, and I was embarrassed for her. Her head was hanging low, still groggy from the anesthetic, but mostly shamed by the contraption around her neck. I had them remove it. It was foolish to think that a 90-pound dog was going to patiently sit around the house with that on its head. She’d have it off and shredded in a matter of minutes. Plus, she barely fit in the backseat of the truck as it was, and she definitely wouldn’t with that cone of degradation dragging her down.

Elsa spent the rest of the day humiliated, feeling sorry for herself in a crumpled heap halfway up the stairs on the landing. Every time I went to pet her to make sure she wasn’t licking herself or to see if she was doing okay—yeah, I felt bad for what she had to go through—her eyes would sink to the floor and her ears would fold back. I escorted her outside to go to the bathroom several times that afternoon, but she would go to the grass and just sit down, slowly. It wasn’t until Friday morning did she actually take care of it. And I stood there and I stood there and I stood there. Natalie came over to the sliding glass door and asked me what I was looking at. “Elsa peeing,” I answered. Okay, she may have thought. When in Rome. So, we both stood there for about 30 solid seconds, watching an uninterrupted stream come out of the back of Elsa, like someone had left the garden hose on. It took so long, she even got tired of squatting, and instead stood back up and lifted one leg like a male dog.

Since she’s returned from the vet’s office, she’s been sitting differently too. She has only once or twice laid down on her side, but instead insisting on sitting on all fours, Sphinx-style as I like to call it, constantly shifting around, clearly uncomfortable.

But it’s not over for her yet. We still have to apply the cream, which is supposed to help heal the raw skin. Of course, she hates it and all we have to do is just show her the tube of ointment, and she quickly makes her escape to the stairs where she thinks she’s safe. Though she eventually allows us put it on her (it’s Kara’s job because she’s not strong enough to hold Elsa down), she’s sensitive in that area…you know…down there.

Vagina! There, I said it.

1 comment:

Ryan or Kara said...

I guess we should have had that surgery donw when Elsa was much younger. The quote back then was only about $300 and the doctor hadn't performed that one yet. I guess with time and experience comes money. I guess we were recovering from all of her expensive dermatology appointments. Poor Elsa. You should upload the sad photo of her for empathy.


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