This morning I woke up to cold puffs of air tingling my cheek and warm jowls resting on my chin. Our bulldog, Frankie, who had been sleeping in his bed came up for a morning cuddle that is normally reserved for weekends. Had it been any other Monday, I would have been sitting at my desk already.
Instead, I found myself catching a quick snooze after being up all morning, responding to emails, rescheduling meetings, and waiting for news about whether I should come into work. Just after eight I received the go-ahead from my supervisor that telecommuting was the best option. All employees at our university had been advised to work remotely if possible. A few days earlier, an announcement had been made that classes would be moving online but staff were still expected to work regular hours.
Another reason I was up early this morning was to give Rusty, our French bulldog, medication for his eye infection. Amid all the chaos and uncertainty of these past weeks, a seemingly mundane occurrence gave me a reason to slow down and pay attention. Rusty started to get some redness around his mouth and nose. Maybe he has seasonal allergies, I thought. Maybe he’s annoyed that I’ve been at work all day, as he would often start scratching as soon as I came in the door.
Before long, his scratching increased in frequency and intensity, reaching its peak late last week when his left eye began to look puffy and discoloured. When I took a closer look, my heart sank as I saw a four-millimeter-long scratch on his cornea. Of course, I imagined it to be the size of a crater on the moon.
How could something small like itchy eyes balloon to a full-blown infection in a matter of days? I sat on the floor across from Rusty cradling his chin in my hands. I leaned in and he licked my face. Really I wondered how I could have let things spiral out of control. Much like a virus that spreads with ease, I immediately looked for somewhere to place the blame—myself in this case (and a little bit Rusty too). What could be so important that I could have missed this?
In that moment, my mind wandered to the coronavirus. Things had changed so quickly and everything that seemed so far away had now landed right smack on our doorstep.
The next morning we took Rusty to the vet. I felt sick to my stomach walking him into the examination room. With the glow of the flashlight and the green color of the dye solution, I began to see the full damage to his eye. As he looked down, I winced as I saw a dark pink line strewn across his eye just below the eyelid.
“No, that’s a good sign” the vet said. “What you’re seeing is the blood supply to his eye. It means that the wound is starting to recover on its own.” She gave us a course of antibiotic pills and eye drops and an anti-inflammatory medication.
Two days after our vet visit, I could already see a difference. His eye was returning to its normal brown colour and the divot was shrinking and becoming less pronounced. It’s humbling to witness the limits and possibilities of modern medicine. An infection clears up with the proper treatment while a virus spreads rapidly across the world. I imagine for Rusty that the antibiotics had a lot to do with speeding up the process. I also know from spending a lifetime with dogs that they have a remarkable capacity for self-healing, and so do we.
While not all of us are fortunate to have an animal in our life, one tip I would offer is to make time for caretaking in whatever small way this might take shape. Perhaps, it’s offering help to a friend or neighbor. It could also be reaching out to someone and sharing words of comfort (my co-worker emailed today to ask about Rusty). Caring for others can be good for us too.
As I worked from home today, I found myself paying closer attention to Rusty and Frankie, watching them play together and feeling their warmth against my skin. Caring for Rusty and watching his eye recover reminds me that healing happens whether it’s in our control or not.