Spent half of Sunday last week at the emergency vet clinic with Bisou. As animals came in they were triaged, and since Bisou was not in dire straits (her problem had to do with anal glands), we had to wait. And wait. And while we waited I fretted.
As often happens with humans as well as dogs, now that we were at the clinic Bisou seemed less bothered than she had been at home. She’d had this anal gland issue before, and I knew what to expect. So what was I doing here, waiting for what seemed like an eternity? Couldn’t I make her comfortable with warm water compresses and take her to our regular vet in the morning?
Meanwhile, cats arrived yowling in their carriers. Energetic young dogs (not much apparently wrong with them) leaped and twisted at the end of their leads. Bisou looked around and was entertained. I pulled out my Kindle and went back to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, one of the best novels ever. You may have seen the BBC adaptation—it’s about the rise of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. Wolf Halland its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, are also among the most depressing books I’ve ever read, having to do with man’s (and woman’s) cupidity, cruelty, and stupidity.
As compelling as Mantel’s writing was, I couldn’t get into it. I kept wondering whether sitting hour after hour with a dog who wasn’t anywhere near death’s door was the right thing for me to be doing. Was I being silly, alarmist, absurd? Would the emergency vet laugh at me?
There were other things I should be doing. I had agreed to join a group to write letters to people in Arizona that afternoon, urging them to register to vote. What if, as a result of my failure to show up, half a dozen Arizonans didn’t vote, and my party lost the election? You know what they say about a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon… (on second thought, there probably aren’t any butterflies left in the Amazon).
Worst of all, I felt sure that any intelligent adult in my situation should be able to discern the right thing to do: whether to wait as long as it took for the vet to see Bisou, or pick up the leash and head out the door. So while in Mantel’s novel one side burned heretics at the stake and the other beheaded, hanged and disemboweled those who refused to go along with Henry’s wishes, I flogged myself with the notion that, whatever the right thing might be, I was failing to do it.
Two hours passed. Bisou was getting antsy, and I could neither read nor relax. And then out of the blue I had an insight: I had always lived with the assumption that for each situation there was an ideal response, and that it was up to me to figure out what it was.
But what if, I thought, gently moving Bisou’s muzzle out from under her tail, sometimes there isn’t a clear course of action? Perhaps, faced with my stay-or-go dilemma, even the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, and Stephen Hawking might have found themselves uncertain about the right decision.
If, like me, you are saddled with perfectionist tendencies, the thought that sometimes there isn’t a right answer will make you uncomfortable. On the other hand, how soothing to the dithering brain the acceptance of uncertainty, with its concomitant absolution from guilt!
Finally Bisou was called, her wound salved, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories dispensed. Back home after our four-hour ordeal, I gave Bisou her meds, applied a warm water compress to her nether regions, and put an e-collar around her neck. I didn’t make it to the letter-writing meeting. If my favored candidate loses in Arizona, I\’ll be sorry, but I won\’t flog myself about it.