The booster, the break-up, and a death in the family
Why can't life's bummers distribute themselves more evenly?
I was buckled up for a bumpy ride last week. Monday was the start of my online semester; my COVID booster was scheduled for Tuesday, and my step-daughter’s three children would be arriving Friday to stay with us for the weekend. Judging from my previous experiences with the COVID vaccine, I could be flattened for a couple of days, so that gave me Friday to check back in with my class and work on a couple of editing jobs. Then some other things happened.
I felt lucky that I got my vaccine booster only an hour after it was scheduled at my local 24-hour Walgreen’s. I was greeted at the front door with what was clearly a hastily printed flyer—all centered type, affixed with a single piece of tape at the top—that said “due to unforeseen circumstances, we will be closing at 8pm tonight.” Inside, the circumstances revealed themselves to be the precarious ratio of employees to clients. People were lined up inside the Pharmacy department and outside at the drive-thru. Photos, Beauty, and the registers were abandoned, their people hustling to help in the Pharmacy.
I am an editor for a group that supports allied health professionals, my step-daughter is an ICU RN, and I am a semi-attentive human currently inhabiting the planet, so I was aware of the labor shortage plaguing healthcare and, to be clear, just about every sector of our economy.
When it was my turn to talk to the frazzled pharmacy tech, I said, “I guess the question is how understaffed and overwhelmed are you?” He looked like he might cry, walk off the job, or both.
“Very,” he said. “Two people have yelled at me and insulted me personally already today.”
“I appreciate you; Please don’t quit,” I said.
I felt the same initial reaction as I had to the previous vaccine round: about an hour after the shot, my eyes felt tired, like they feel when I’ve stayed up too late reading in low light, like they need to close. By the time I finished lunch, I probably couldn’t have told you how a shoe functions, so—on the advice of my beloved friend Ariel1—I took to the sofa and leaned into the enforced downtime. I cuddled on the couch with my dog Jett and we dozed and watched basic cable. The house got messy and I let work pile up just a tiny bit.
The upside is that other than being dopey during the day and wide awake at night for a couple of days, the side effects were milder than with the first round.
I had just been asleep for a couple of hours Thursday morning when I heard Jett howl from the family room. I came peeling out of bed to find Mike on the floor with her where she was panting raggedly. He reported that she’d had breakfast, been outside, returned to her spot on the couch, and then suddenly jumped down and keeled over onto her side before the horrible howl. We’d been treating her congestive heart failure since we got her from the rescue, so we knew what we were seeing and I hustled her to the veterinary ER.
I was greeted by another interesting sign when I got to the ER, this one larger, more colorful, and clearly professionally printed, but personal. It said
In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
If you cannot be kind to our staff, please find another clinic for your veterinary care needs.
They’d had several printed: one was at the front desk, one was on the door to the exam rooms, and one was in the hall to the exam rooms. There were probably others in the parts of the clinic I didn’t see. When I asked the staff about them, they said they’d had an unusually large number of people verbally abusing and threatening staff. Like just about everyone else, they were overworked and understaffed and doing their level best just to stay afloat.
The young veterinarian who was talking to me about Jett’s treatment was appalled: “Like, ‘oh, okay, since you’ve called me a fucking bitch, I’ll move you up on the waitlist for an appointment.’ I mean, I get it. They’re scared and fear can make people aggressive, but, just, wow. I can’t believe how these people are acting!”
“Are we going to have to treat people like kindergarteners, now?” I asked. “You can think those thoughts in your head, but we don’t talk to people with our mean voice.”
For the second time last week, I told a healthcare worker that I appreciated her and their staff and begged her not to quit. If you count the pharmacist who gave me my injection, that would be three times.
People, this is why workers are walking off the job. Being mean and verbally abusive, sometimes physically abusive, is not improving the labor shortage.
The nature of Jett’s condition was that, if the vets could “get her through” a congestive heart failure episode—and they had, twice—she’d be back to her normal bouncy self until the next one. Previous intervals between episodes had lasted months. She didn’t survive this one. I came home without her.
By evening, I was exhausted from crying and Mike and I had settled in front of the TV to start the third season of “Last Chance U.” With a few exceptions, we watch popular series and movies after they’re well-aired popular phenoms and when college-aged son was home for winter break, he had recommended the series and we’d gotten hooked. Listening to JuCo coaches use the F word2 in many and creative ways was going to be comforting.
Then my daughter called to say that her boyfriend had dumped her and she was coming home. She was also about to lose her apartment. We agreed that she was well and truly fucked3. We both cried and bemoaned life’s refusal to distribute its challenges at more manageable intervals.
On Friday, the three young kids arrived. The youngest, who’d just turned four, was having a very hard time understanding why Jett was gone.
Same, little sister.
Weather trapped us indoors for the weekend, which caused the children to bicker, antagonize each other, and occasionally resort to hitting. My daughter’s stuffie “Chonky Seal” inspired a small but intense turf war; the middle child thoroughly polluted the front of the house by emptying several cans of spray deodorant; and the oldest took advantage of the chaos to quietly sneak way more TV than she is usually allowed.
There’s nothing like the reality of children to force one out of feelings and into the practical world of competing emergencies. I got a lot of distraction, hugs, and declarations of love. They were good medicine.
I have tried to write a couple of eulogies for Jett. I called her my Soul Dog. Because we’ve fostered and adopted seniors, we’ve lost four in the past three years. Friday was the first time since 1998 that I’ve awakened to a house without a dog in it. I’ve asked the rescue for young ones next. Houses don’t stay empty long when you volunteer with a rescue, thank goodness! I know I’ll love other dogs, maybe soon, stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s my tribute to my Soul Dog, Jett.
All, Hail Jett
House of Rescued Boston Terriers
First of her Name
Tree-er of Squirrels
Food Scrap Scavenger Extraordinaire
Occasional Finder of Withered Donut Halves at Construction Sites
Vanquisher of Squeaky Toys
Guardian of the Realm
Lover of Car Rides
Connoisseur of Puppuccinos
Confessor, Comforter, and Queen
Long may she reign.
Fair sailing, my Goodest Girl.
If you’re moved to do so, please feel free to honor Betty White, Jett, me, or just the fact that we humans are rarely deserving of dogs by tossing a couple of bucks at the wonderful Boston Terrier Rescue of North Texas or any local animal rescue.
A version of her name. I’m still sorting out names and privacy here, so you’ll see all kinds of names, pseudonyms, initials, and descriptions of people until I settle on a standard convention. All are real people.