Monday, August 31, 2009

A Bump In The Road (fiction)

Here's the short story. All of it. I couldn't bring myself to split it up, so you can read it in parts or move on to your next blog and I'll totally understand.

It was an accident, she thought. No. It was less than that. Random. Don’t stars collide everyday? No great master plan. Just by chance.

She was completely, utterly lost. She had gone exploring the back roads that surrounded this new town. It was a very old town, but it was new to her. How odd to find herself well past fifty, barely able to get to a Krogers without losing her way. Where she lived before, she had been since birth, and she knew the shortcuts to everywhere and back. Here, in this strange river town, roads struck out willy-nilly like broken bicycle spokes: no north, south, east, west. On a whim they took off in big circles, or worse.

I should have bought a map. According to the sun she was now driving north, and, she guessed, a little west. And then the road changed its mind and just like that she was heading southeast. It was late afternoon and she began to cry.

Then the road turned rudely, with no warning. Caught her right as she was wiping the blurring tears from her left eye with her left shoulder, all hunched over. She had to yank the wheel to the right.

She hit a horse.

Now, that’s not something anyone puts in their ‘to do’ list. What was I supposed to do today? Oh, yes. Take part in a little vehicular equinocide. Only the horse wasn't dead. Heather didn't even know what she had hit at first. She leaned back. That was a successful move as it stopped the horn from honking. Her head hurt, oh and her knees. Well, for the love of God she hadn’t fastened her seatbelt. She always fastened her seatbelt. She glanced in her rearview mirror. Her forehead was bleeding.

Her brain told her that she was seeing something beyond the rearview mirror, off to her right. Clearly her brain was playing a not so funny joke. She had left her horses back home. She had sold the young ones, placed the old retirees with generous people who thought they understood. She missed her horses with every breath. She missed them the way you’d miss a dead best friend. The way you’d miss church. She focused her eyes through the cracked, kaleidoscoped windshield. Apparently her brain wasn't lying.

She had hit a horse.

Heather stumbled out of the car. This everyday act caused her knees to demonstrate their dissent: they crumpled. That hurt. Behind the hissing of the engine and the creaking of various cooling metal parts, Heather heard her own pulse in her ears and the sonorous nasal blowing of horse breath. She got up.

Oh no. Oh my dear Lord. No.

It was a little chestnut. Fifteen hands, maybe. No more than fifteen-two. He looks like a thoroughbred. Can’t be. Not out here. The only horses Heather had seen in the counties surrounding her new town were Saddlebreds, Quarter Horses, Walkers, a few Arabians. Not that she’d been looking on purpose.

“Whoa, bud,” she said, low and soft. Damn. The horse was standing in the grass next to the road. A huge vee-shaped flap of skin and meat hung from his shoulder. The whole animal was shivering, and he was blowing like he'd run a race. But his eye was kind; he looked right at her. He had fine, tiny ears, laced with distended veins. Hot blood.

Heather took a few steps closer, steadying her undependable knees by leaning on the car. The scent of the horse hit her like a whip. In that smell was her son’s old pony, young still, with ten year old Charlie waving and smiling at her. Holding his little trophy over his head. We won, Mom! We won! In that smell was a deeply bedded stall, sweet oat straw, and a mare’s quiet whunkering to her half-born foal. Heather, magnified by a down parka, huddled there in the corner. Keep pushing, Scarlet. You’re almost done now. Good girl. In that smell were the last three jumps at the Olympic Trials. A young Heather gunning her brave Rupert toward a huge oxer, down over the drop, and then galloping hell bent for leather to the final jump, a simple post and rail, collecting him now, up over the last, and then draped around his lathered neck, hugging him from above. Good man, Rupe! We did it!

She touched the chestnut’s wet neck. It was a bad sweat. Cold. He was going into shock. “Easy, hey, we've got to stop that bleeding, bud.” Heather ran her hand down the horse’s forelock, down his face, gently grabbed his lip and checked the color of his gums. He didn't take his eye from hers. His gums were pale. His upper lip was tattooed on its inner surface. This was a thoroughbred. A racehorse. Well, now both of them were in shock.

Heather’s head pounded. Why did the back of her head hurt so much when the cut was on the front? She remembered something about a past concussion - you ride a lot of horses, you fall off sometimes - the brain would get bruised from bouncing against the back of the skull. Whatever. She went to the rear door of the car and got her old afghan lap blanket from the back seat. Her mother-in-law had crocheted the thing ages ago. Heather had thought it was ugly until this very moment. Her knees were still numb, which she found curious, but they were wholly unreliable, so she steadied herself by gripping the car. She hoped the horse’s injury was numb, too.

“This might hurt, bud.” He was swaying a little bit. He had widened his stance, like a foal trying to stay upright. Heather wrapped the afghan over his withers, around the front of his chest. She brought one corner in front of his leg, the other corner behind, where a girth would go. She tied those corners to the top two, pushing the huge flap of meat closed. The horse trembled more violently. And bled.

I need more direct pressure. She took off her shirt, surprised by the amount of her own blood on it, and balled it up. She wedged it under the afghan, directly over the wound. The bleeding slowed. Heather smiled and stroked the horse’s neck. I need to get help.

She reached in through the passenger window and got her cell phone out of her purse, which rested, unopened, upside down on the floor. 911. Nothing. Heather looked at the phone. Her own hands were shaking. Duh, push the little green send button. Nothing. No bars. She turned the phone off and back on. No service.

Heather looked at the horse. He was swaying badly, fighting to stay on his feet, his eye still fixed on her face. It unnerved her, as much as anything in this whole slow-motion otherworldly scenario did. Horses normally looked off, seeing the unseen, or they looked inward, sheathing their disappointment in humans the way God would. But this horse never for a moment took his eye off her. Heather expected to see blame in that stare. Instead, she saw trust. Charity. A wave of nausea brought her back to her senses. I've got to get help.

On both sides of the road were woods. She couldn't see around the sharp turn that had caused this mess. Ahead, she could only see as far as the next snaky bend and rise and it was just woods. The sun had dipped behind the trees when she wasn't paying attention. Think! Had she passed a farm? A house? Where the hell was she?

The horse went down.

Back when Charlie was seven, his pony had gotten a foot stuck in the fence while Heather and Charlie were at church. They had come up the drive trying to understand the scene before them. Grampa, who never had anything to do with the horses was holding the pony’s head. Charlie’s dad, who loved the horses but never handled them, was being whipped around like a kite, as he tried to put pressure on the pony’s lacerated hind leg. Blood shooting a full ten feet from the severed artery. The pony trying to kick free of the pain and of Sam’s attempt at a tourniquet. The vet had arrived a minute behind Heather and Charlie. They got the pony into a stall right before he went down. The vet started two IV lines and bear-hugged the bags to get the fluids in faster. “A horse won’t go down until he’s given up,” said the good vet. “Going down means he’s ready to be something's dinner. Ready for the wolves.” Heather remembered her profound relief and Charlie’s happy tears when, after the leg was bandaged and four liters of IV fluids had infused, the pony stood up and nuzzled Charlie’s pocket for a carrot. Their church clothes were ruined.

Only in the movies do horses whinny in the face of danger or pain. In real life, they whinny for their dinner, or in greeting, or to call to a friend. They are prey animals; when threatened it’s a better plan to be dead silent. No need to attract the predators.

The horse made a sickening thud when he went down. His legs just buckled. He landed like a foal, lying on his chest with his legs folded under him. His head up, still looking at her. Don’t you die on me, horse. Oh, God help me! She had stopped asking for help from God or any of His assistants years ago. He hadn't had time to help when Charlie had needed it in some godforsaken village in Afghanistan. God had been too busy when Sam’s heart exploded, not a month after they buried their only son. She had begged Him to let her go on with her life. Widows went on all the time. Sonless mothers went on. But she had seen Charlie and Sam in every corner of their farm. In every horse’s expression. Anytime she heard a tire crunching up the driveway she knew it was them. God ignored her, so she left. She left the horses, the farm, the graves, the friends. She tried to leave the memories. She succeeded in leaving herself.

Heather remembered that she had a bottle of water in the car. A liter. She had only taken a few swallows when she started out. It felt like it was a long time ago. She got the water. Her knees were no longer numb. Walking without supporting herself on the car was not an option. The fronts of both knees were split wide open, so crawling was completely out of the question. Heather sat on her butt and scooted backwards to the horse’s head, the water bottle jiggling in her lap. She unscrewed the cap, propped the horse’s head up and tipped the water into the corner of his mouth, where a bit would go if he were bridled. He swallowed, big horse swallows until the bottle was empty.

It was all she could do.

Heather was exhausted. Maybe she was ready for the wolves. The horse’s wound had started a fresh trickle. The makeshift bandage had shifted when he went down. I’ll lean against it. She scooted back until she could rest against the horse, one shoulder blade leaning on the wound. Her head hurt. The horse curled his neck around so that he could keep that eye on her. It looked like God watching her, soft. And then the horse’s eye closed. Or her eyes closed. But it was dark and she was distant and it was quiet and nothing hurt.

“Jay-sus Gawd in heaven! Hang on, lady, I’ll be right back. You useless sonofabitch bad luck bastard, now look what you've done. Jay-sus Gawd.”

Heather heard a truck door slam and tires spin and then the sound went away. She was thirsty and she hurt. The horse. She cracked one swollen eye open and looked directly into his. He was still curled around her; neither of them had moved a fraction. The morning light hurt her head. She drifted off.

“Lady, I gotta move you. Can I get you over to this blanket?”

Heather shaded her eyes. She couldn't focus. She tried to speak. It didn't work very well.

“I called an ambulance, but I gotta move you so I can shoot this goddam sonofabitch. Son of a bitch!”

“No.” She got that out.

“Lady, it wasn't my fault he jumped the goddam fence again. Jay-sus, I’m sorry. Son of a bitch hasn't been nothing but trouble. I got insurance. Where is that goddam ambulance? I gotta move you out of the way.”


“Okay, okay. I’ll wait til the ambulance gets here. But if that goddam sonofabitch tries to get up he’ll hurt you worse than you already are. No. I gotta shoot him now.”

“No!” Heather struggled to make sense. She couldn't move her legs at all, but she managed to get her eyes open. The horse looked from her with his eye soft, his ears pricked, to this man. His eye went wild, his ears flattened back.

“You won’t shoot this horse.”

“The hell I won’t.”

Heather felt a big fight come up from deep in her belly. It came from where her son had kicked and somersaulted inside her before his birth. It came from the place that had grabbed her when she first met Sam.

“If you shoot this horse, I’ll sue you for every penny you have. You know damn well if your horse is in a road, you’re liable. I can afford good lawyers. But. If you give me this horse, we’ll be even.” She could hear sirens in the distance.

“Lady you hit your head hard, I …”

Heather cut him off. “Be quiet.”

The ambulance, the sheriff, and other assorted wailing vehicles arrived. Heather said, “I want to talk to the sheriff.”

A sleepy-eyed, crisply uniformed man identified himself as the sheriff and kneeled beside her. She smelled coffee on his breath.

“Can you take a statement? Can you get these witnesses to sign it?”

“Ma’am, let the paramedics tend you now. You can deal …”

“Please! For the love of God, please,” Heather interrupted.

“My credit card is in my purse. I want you to call the best horse vet you know. I want you to save this horse. I’ll assume complete financial responsibility. I want you to write down that I said if that man over there harms this horse I will sue him for everything a high-priced attorney can think up, and there should be plenty. But I’ll take this horse as payment in full. As a settlement or whatever and I won’t sue him. Have you got that?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Do you know a good vet?”

“Doc Eugene is as good as they come. Not fancy, now, like some, but he’s got common sense and a good heart, ma’am.”

Heather felt herself melting. Sweet warm relief. She touched the horse’s neck with the back of her hand. “It’s going to be all right, bud. Thank you. God, thank you.”

(C) Patience C. Renzulli, all rights reserved

hug your horses and your hounds (and thank you for reading)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Limbo Land

If I were a dog I'd be good at this. Just living for the moment. But, as my many, many failings prove, I am not a dog.

[Hey! It's the Dog and Cat show on Prairie Home Companion right now!!!]

I'm waiting to hear my schedule from the hospital where I will be working. I only know that I won't be working on Monday (tomorrow), after that, it's any one's guess. I searched 'limbo' on youtube and came up with this:

I try to be of a generous nature. But, again I am not a dog, so I don't like what-his-name Hasselhoff, not one bit. In fact he makes me wish I hadn't just eaten. In some perverse twist of my psyche, I couldn't keep myself from playing this video for Bill. I posted it on my Facebook page. I kept the Youtube page up on my laptop in the kitchen and would click on it at will.

Bill and I started doing Hasselhoff Sexy Eyebrow Wiggles, and Come Hither Shoulder Jiggles at any opportunity.

Bill: Is the mail here yet?
Patience: Sexy Eyebrow Wiggle.

Patience: Should I pay the Discover Card bill, or did you?
Bill: Come Hither Shoulder Jiggles.

Bill expanded his repertoire to include the Hand To Ear Biceps Flex With Armpit Shot. That was my undoing. If Bill did a Sexy Eyebrow Wiggle, accompanied by a bonus Hand To Ear Biceps Flex With Armpit Shot, well, I would laugh so hard that I might, in theory, have to change my panties.

I've discovered that singing limbo songs - Chubby Checker does a mean Limbo Lower Now - is the best way to spend time in Limbo Land. Singing limbo songs is the second best mood elevator in the world. The first, of course, being watching whippets run. Or sleep. Or play. Or snuggle.

I can't share my whippets with y'all. So I shared the video. Hope it makes you smile. But don't view it on a full stomach.

And if you watch America's Got Talent, the whole time you're watching the above video, imagine three loud BUZZZZZZes and


I've written a short story that I'm nervously happy with. I'd like to share it here, but it's about 2500 words and I'm worried that it is too long for blog land. What do you think?

hugs to you and your hounds

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Hello, Dear Readers.

I want to whisper urgently, "Do you remember me?" I asked that very thing on my Facebook page just this morning. "Do you remember me? The lady with the sweet skinny dogs? I'm here."

I think that if truth be told, I am the one who is trying to remember me. There are some mighty big changes going on 'round these parts.

I've survived going back to work in the hospital. I had to write a journal detailing 'what I learned' during the clinical portion of the RN refresher course. Here is part:

My return to hospital nursing was not without a great deal of personal trepidation. The theory portion of my review course had prepared me well for developing and implementing plans of care for my patients. But, I wondered, could I manage the twelve hour shifts? How would I ever catch up on the pharmacology? What would electronic charting be like? I wished that the theory portion of my refresher course had touched upon some of these critical (to me) issues.

I will be honest in this journal; I have too much respect for my own time and that of those who will read it to be anything less. After my first twelve hour shift, I returned home in a cloud of gloom as thick and foul as the contents of a Kentucky slop jar. I told my husband that this was the biggest mistake of my charmed life. I was too old. I couldn't discuss it further.

I went the next day to a walk-in optometrist (my ophthalmologist couldn't fit me in until October) and paid $400 for new lenses for my Harry Potterish frames. I had been unable to read the microscopic type of the printed-out patient profiles. I couldn't read the computer screens over my preceptor's shoulder. My neck had screamed in protest at my constant hyperextension, trying to increase the magnification factor of my outdated bifocals, to no avail.

Over the course of the next eighty-four clinical hours I learned. I learned that instead of having to carry a Nursing Drug Handbook, all of the pharmacological
information I would need was easily accessible on my Computer On Wheels (COW).
The same COW which contained my patients' eMAR [medication orders]. I learned that my nursing skills still served me, and my patients, well. I learned that my uncanny ability to decipher physicians' illegible writing would still come in handy. I learned that electronic charting seems inefficient and onerous; that it takes the nurse away from her patients, until I learned that the charting can be done in the patients' rooms on the COW. I miss the section of written nurses notes in a chart. I learned that Crocs rock.

I learned that most things haven't changed. I learned that my clinical judgment is better than it ever was. That maturity is a blessing. I learned not to plan anything after doing two days in a row of twelve hour shifts. But that I would be fine during the shifts themselves.

And I learned that I am still a good nurse.

I'll tell you Dear Readers a few other things I've learned. The dogs are doing just fine. But there are subtle changes. When Bill gets up now, say he goes from the TV room to his study, the dogs watch him. Then they turn and look at me, saying, "Oh. You're here." Eventually they will know that when I'm dressed in scrubs I am leaving them. Now they all beg to go with me when I leave in the morning; it's walk time, after all. When I get home at night there is a great short display of E.G.D. (Excessive Greeting Disorder) Then they collapse into the sound exhaustion of dogs who have been listening for my car all day. They are too tired to beg while we eat.

When people used to ask me what I did, I'd answer: I have nine dogs! I write. I used to be a nurse. Now I answer: I'm a nurse. I have nine dogs. I write when I can.

It's a subtle shift, but it feels like an 8.0 on my personal Richter. A gigaton.

The weekend before I started in the hospital, I got to go to a dog show. (I'll get to do more of those once I have a schedule and I'm being paid.)

On Saturday, Emmett won:

On Sunday, Swede William won:

Heather and Lee and Dee went with me and it was so much fun. It was a gentle reminder that life is quite wonderful.

We had a horrible health scare with sweet Spice. The specialist confirmed what I already knew: I am blessed to have a Great Vet. Another reminder that life is quite excellent.

Bill got a nasty respiratory infection and had to sleep in his recliner instead of in our bed. (If he lay flat he'd cough his lungs out onto his stomach and his eyeballs would explode and that was just too messy.) Last night he slept next to me.

Ah. I get it. My going back to work in the hospital is, in the total scheme of things, not such a big deal.

Life is simply grand.

Hug your hounds
(top image from

Monday, August 17, 2009

For Ben: A Special Party

Once upon a time there was a very helpful little boy named Ben. Ben lived with his mommy Heather and his daddy Jason and his whippets, Edgar and Emmett.

One day, Emmett had a birthday! Ben, being a helpful little boy, suggested that Emmett and Emmett's sister Lindy Loo have a Pizza and Pupcakes Party. The big day arrived and Ben helped. He helped his mommy make the Pupcakes and he helped wrap the presents.

It was time! Patience came in the big Whippet Wagon with Lindy Loo. She brought even more presents. Emmett and Lindy Loo don't have thumbs, so it was up to helpful Ben to unwrap the gifts for his friends. Ben has thumbs. And a very cute tongue.

The Pupcakes were very fancy as you can see because Ben helped with the decorations.

Emmett got so excited about his first present - a squeaky stuffie birthday cake - that he got a little googly-eyed.

"Here you go, Mr. Googly-eyed Emmett," said helpful Ben, handing over the toy.

While Emmett enjoyed his gift, helpful Ben opened the next one, being as he still had his thumbs handy.

Emmett said, "Whoa, Ben! You ROCK!!! A squeaky duck for my birthday! Cool beans!"
Ben ducked, too.

"Woo-HOOOOOO!" said Emmett and his sister, Lindy Loo. "We love youooooooo, helpful Ben!"

Ben got right back to business and opened the next gift, ever so helpfully.

"Look, Daddy," said Ben. "It's a sock monkey lead. I like it!"

Then Ben's mommy lit the candles on the Pupcakes which Ben had helped to make and decorate. Ben helped the whippets contain themselves. It was pretty darn exciting, I tell you that!

Lindy Loo and Emmett had a terrible time making their lips blow, so Ben came to the rescue and helped blow out the candles.

Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday dear Emmett and Lindy Loo.
Happy Birthday to you!
"Yayyyyyyyyy!" sang Ben, helping the grownups remember the words.

Ben helped put the Pupcakes on the plates for the whippets. Emmett did not need any help eating his!
Chomp, glomp, slurp, gulp!

Lindy Loo needed a little help eating hers, but Emmett had learned from Ben how to be helpful, so he pitched right in.

Then it was Ben's turn. He chose a beautiful Pupcake with green sprinkles.
It was delicious and a half!

Emmett and Lindy Loo say
Thank you helpful Ben for our BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!
We sure do love youooooooooooo!!
hug your hounds

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy 3rd Birthday, puppies!

Three years ago today a magical litter was born.

My dear friends Jim and Sue let their wonderful Maggie Mae come and stay with me long enough to give us eight darling, precious gifts!

Happy birthday to (top L to R) Topper, Lindy Loo, Emmett, Nearly and Rexie,
(bottom L to R) Katie, Champion Simmer, and Elijah.

Yup, Simmer finished her Championship last week, handled to every single point by her owner, Laurie. (Same Minnesooooota Laurie who's taken all these magnificent photographs.) Here she is nowadays

Congratulations to Laurie and Simmer, and thank you to every wonderful puppy home! YOU are all champions in my world.
hug my babies for me today, please!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Separation Anxiety

Tomorrow begins a new chapter in my life.

I'll be working a twelve hour shift at one of the hospitals in town. I'll be working three of those every week. The first eighty hours will be for free; the mandatory clinical preceptorship portion of the review course. But I'll be working on the same floor where I'll be after the eighty hours are up.

I'm comfortable with my skill level. (I passed my RN boards in 1983, so I've got some experience.) If anything, my age has improved my judgement, if not my memory! I'm concerned about my feet. My knees. But the whippets have kept me in pretty darn good shape. We walk from 2.5 to 7 miles a day.

We did. Until tomorrow.

And that's my fear. I've been surrounded by a happy pack of whippets 24/7 for the last seven years. And since 1993, I've had a dog next to me while I worked. At our old office (Bill is an MD) the whippets came, too. They decorated our front office. Patients would check out and ask, "How many dogs are in there?" There were beds under the desks, next to the chart racks.

They would stay up front, unless a patient needed a therapy dog. Then Giacomino would come back and work his magic. Sam I Am wasn't born yet.

But starting tomorrow, I go off to work alone. Isn't it ridiculous? I'm fifty-frigging-five years old.

And I have separation anxiety.

Hug your hounds!
*** Bill is home all day for the dogs; they are in good, loving, whippet-spoiling hands***