It was our usual atypical school morning, when the dog may poop on the door mat or kids forget their backpacks.
The dog was gag/coughing under the kitchen table.
“Mommy, why’s he doing that?” Little Bro was picking at his bacon, the only thing he’ll eat for breakfast other than Ramen noodles.
The poodle pup had been coughing for a couple of days, like a cat trying to cough up a fur ball.
Even if I had an answer to why our dog was coughing like a cat, I couldn't answer; I was on the phone. With my mother. Who’d called before my first coffee to tell me her heart was beating irregularly: “It’s all over the place. I don’t know if I should go to the hospital.”
I was mixing pancake batter for Big Bro who will only eat pancakes for breakfast. If not pancakes, cupcakes.
The dog coughed again. “Mommmmyyyyyyy?” Little Bro was pale with fear, a strip of twisted bacon poised in the air.
“Eat your bacon.”
I moved out into the hall, uncomfortable with my boys having to overhear these conversations, as when I have to remind my mother Monday and Wednesday nights to take two rather than one coumadin pill. Which was prescribed after an arterial occlusion last December, caused by this, the fibrillation. An irregular heartbeat.
“You’ve had these spells before....” I said. Trying to remember if I'd let the coughing dog out to poop yet.
“These spells! They’re not new!” I yell, as her hearing is shot unless she puts her phone on speaker.
Little Bro is too quiet. Clearly having heard my yelling.
“I know. But not for this long. I've been lying here for two hours waiting for it to go away.” She soundesd irritated. “I’m not ready to go yet. I don’t want to die!”
She said this defensively as if I want her to die.
Which I don’t. (Whom else would I call daily to be sure at 94, she is still alive, and to complain to about Little Bro unable to keep track of his magic tricks, and Big Bro being mean to little Bro, stealing his weapons on Minecraft?)
“Then let’s call an ambulance,” I proposed, moving back into the kitchen where Big Bro’s pancake was burning.
“What’s wrong?” Big Bro came in, finally dressed. This is the part where I was supposed to nag him to get his socks and sneakers on.
“Gramma’s having a heart attack,” Little Bro said, finally eating his cold bacon.
Big Bro looked horrified. “Is she going to die?”
“She’s not having a heart attack,” I snapped.
“You don’t know that!” my mother yelled, and I was sorry I’d put her on speaker so I could simultaneously flip the pancake and prepare the dog’s breakfast – the only thing he will eat, dry dog food mixed with a bit of vanilla yogurt.
I didn't know, frankly, whether she was having a heart attack or not. I don’t know a thing in these moments. Except for the fact that the dog was coughing and I had a vet appointment later which I have to keep. Because nothing can happen to the dog...
...it would crucify my boys, especially food-allergic Big Bro who battles his own anxieties, fearing for his own life, as well as for Gramma’s, without having to fear for poodle pup’s.
“Oh, never mind,” Gramma said, before I had a chance to take her off speaker. She hung up.
And in the cutting of the line, I felt the distance, the sixty-odd miles between us, as insurmountable. I was parched, standing in the middle of drought-stricken land.
By then, we were running late. Little Bro had his shirt on backwards, but I let it go. I served Big Bro a burnt hard pancake.
“It’s burnt and hard,” he said poking at it.
“Then starve,” I snapped. At a food-allergic child who is afraid of a lot of foods and possibly would actually starve if I didn’t insist he eat...
But if I don’t snap, then I’m unable to make choices. To rationalize as to what I should do in the next few minutes. As when I was trying to help my mother open a chicken over the phone; or taking Big Bro to the ortho doctor while leaving my mother alone after a bad fall.
In these squishy-squashy-sandwich-mom moments, I’m being asked to make a choice, and I never know what or whom to choose. I freeze instead. I opened the refrigerator to stare into it for no good reason. At dumbfounded stock-still cartoons of juice and milk.
I shut the refrigerator. A decision was made. The boys would be late enough to get pink slips. Because I had to call my mother’s doctor before driving them to school.
Her doctor was able to squeeze her in that morning. I called my mother back who’s heart was beginning to settle down, and told her the appointment time. The woman who comes each morning to make her breakfast (always the same, an english muffin and egg boiled exactly six minutes) was able to drive her there. A plan.
Her doctor thankfully didn't send her to the hospital. She did tell her to go see a cardiologist.
So she wasn’t dying, and when I picked up the boys from school, and they asked if Gramma was dead, I could happily tell them no.
And listen to Little Bro ruminate about life after death on the drive home: “You know what I like best about heaven?”
“What?” I was expecting something moving and profound.
“There’s no taxes.”
And the dog made it to the vet. Now I roll pills into little dog-food meat balls for his breakfast.
So nothing serious. I was assured he’d be fine. Except I just noticed now he’s limping. I checked for bits of lead caught in his paw from pencils he's destroyed, but no evidence. And tomorrow is my mother’s cardiologist’s appointment which I have to take her to. Maybe the vet can squeeze pup back in again today....
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